As much as I can claim to dislike TikTok or attempt to avoid the app entirely, I still find myself singing TikTok hits like “Roxanne” by Arizona Zervas or “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa. From grocery stores to the radio, these songs are becoming ingrained into my mind in a seemingly permanent way.
TikTok is an overhaul of the influential social media app, Musical.ly, created by Chinese-owned company ByteDance. Clearly, it has been effective in its rebranding goals, boasting over 800 million active users worldwide. Unlike Musical.ly, which limited creators to lip syncing videos, TikTok users are able to create unique and personal videos, ranging from fashion designs to the infamous viral dance trends. With its simplified means of content creation, overall accessibility and likelihood of success, TikTok seems to pose a unique threat to rival apps like YouTube and Snapchat.
With or without downloading the app, TikTok videos can be found on YouTube or Instagram explore pages, making the viral trends and catchy songs nearly inescapable. Hits like “Blinding Lights” by the Weeknd, “Death Bed” by Powfu or “Say So” by Doja Cat seem to be playing on repeat in almost every video.
TikTok music is, in a sense, becoming its own category of music. Try looking up “TikTok music” on Spotify or YouTube, and you’re met with hundreds of playlists, filled with many of the same songs and thousands upon thousands of listeners.
While on the app, users have the option to add songs they particularly enjoy to internal playlists, beyond those found on Spotify or YouTube, thus further bolstering these musicians’ success. They can then add those clips to videos in the future, furthering specific trends and challenges on the app.
What does this mean for the music industry? How has TikTok taken the reins in determining musical success? Take Lil Nas X. Many people know him from his top hit, “Old Town Road.” The song, in fact, gained much of its popularity from a TikTok challenge to quickly change into country clothes by the time the song reaches the beat drop. A few months later, Lil Nas X signed with Columbia Records, bolstered by his newfound viral success.
Another obvious example of TikTok’s influential power is with musician BENEE. A few months ago, not many had heard of artist BENEE outside of New Zealand and Australia. Now, since the March 2020 dance challenge, it’s hard to go through TikTok without coming across a video using her song, “Supalonely” and more recently, “Glitter.” Even Lizzo’s claim to fame can be attributed in part to her success on the app. Through the online #DNAtest challenge, her own 2017 song, “Truth Hurts,” became a chart topping hit.
There’s something to be said about songs released a few years or even decades ago now finding a second life. Songs ranging from Lorde’s “Team” to Patience and Prudence’s 1956 rendition of “Tonight You Belong to Me” are suddenly gaining relevance within the TikTok generation.
This trend has been done before with the classic Running Man Challenge on Vine that saw the revival of 1996 song, “My Boo,” by Ghost Town DJs. Thanks to this challenge, many of us can now sing the intro of this song by heart.
This isn’t to say that all TikTok songs follow a similar path from obscurity to fame. Many of the songs were radio hits prior to their use in viral dance trends or other TikTok videos, like Billie Eilish’s “bad guy.” But the app helps musicians maintain and perhaps, to a degree, solidify their precarious place in the music world.
TikTok videos are transforming the meaning of one-hit wonders. Previously obscure musicians like Aunty Hammy and K Camp are rising to fame with single songs thanks to viral trends. It grants unique power to users and fans worldwide in determining the pop music scene.
The question that remains is how musicians will use this system to their advantage in the coming years. Can this permanently transform which songs become popular in the mainstream media?
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