15 Seconds of Fame: How TikTok is changing the music we listen to
Did TikTok just do a bad thing? Viral Times and Viral Hits
Max Ingleby talks TikTok and its relationship with music.
Last week, on a crisp September morning in Idaho Falls, Idaho, TikTok user 420doggface208 put Fleetwood Mac back on the charts with nothing more than a phone, a longboard and a bottle of Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry juice. That’s a baffling sentence let alone idea. But once you watch a viral video of a man cruising down a slip road, sipping on juice and lip syncing to Stevie Nicks, it makes perfect sense. It is, as twitter user @DrewFrogger succinctly put it, a “whole vibe”.
The most explosive social media success story since Facebook, TikTok has rocketed to over 2 billion global downloads, and at least 850 million active users, since its merger with Musical.ly in 2018. Part of the Chinese app’s success lies in its domination of both the eastern and western markets, as it is firmly established in India and the USA, not to mention the enormous userbase in China, where the app is called Douyin.
rocketed to over 2 billion global downloads
For so many people, myself included, TikTok has provided a welcome change of pace in an increasingly distasteful social media landscape. Facebook, irreparably clogged with dross, has become the domain of the dreaded boomers, whilst the dynamic duo of Instagram and Twitter slowly chip away at your self-esteem and your will to live, respectively.
For the time being, TikTok is a joy to use, and Generation Z has flocked in droves to become part of this exciting cultural phenomenon. Along with its super smart algorithm, what makes TikTok successful is the freedom to make a video sound-tracked to pretty much any song you like, without fear of a copyright strike or legal action. How, you may ask? Well, it’s a murky and ongoing process, but it seems that the brains behind the app have struck up licensing deals with music rights holders, and essentially given its users the keys to an enormous library of royalty-free songs (in exchange for the small matter of a frightening level of access to your personal data).
In what could be a new frontier for sampling, TikTokers can cut and splice, distort, drench in reverb or overdub anything from a dainty easy-listening tune from the 50s, to the number one single in the country, and net potentially millions of plays. Given the unusually high user interaction in comparison to other major social media apps, a smash hit like Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘Savage’, coupled with a catchy dance routine, can see over 30 million individual users making videos to the exact same 15 second sound clip. That’s 30 million people who were willing to learn a deceptively simple dance, film several takes, and then upload it for the whole internet to see – can you imagine how ingrained that song is in the minds of just those 30 million? The scope is enormous, and thrillingly unprecedented.
As our aforementioned juice-drinking friend 420doggface208 (AKA Nathan Apodaca) aptly demonstrated, TikTok has become an increasingly influential force in the music industry, and its hits are making waves that surge far beyond the confines of the app. In fact, I’d argue that TikTok is on its way to becoming THE most influential platform for music, and will redefine the very nature of pop music.
The most obvious examples that support this trend are the hugely successful crossover artists, like Doja Cat and Lil Nas X, whose burgeoning fame on TikTok translated perfectly to the Billboard 100, breaking chart records in the process. Like ‘Savage’, the success of Doja Cat’s chart-topper, ‘Say So’, owed much to a simple dance routine created by a teenage TikToker, which earned the teen in question (user yodelinghaley) a well-deserved, albeit two second, cameo in Doja’s music video.
But the app’s influence stretches beyond just chart performance, and into the way popular music is being written and structured. Take, for instance, how songs are being noticeably tailored to fit trending TikTok dance moves, the ‘Woah’ being the most prominent example. Created by the Dallas based artist 10k.Caash in 2017, and initially popularised by stars such as Lil Uzi Vert and Luka Sabbat, the dance move spread to TikTok like wildfire, and remains a staple to this day.
The move is best suited to a song with periodic, distorted bass hits, and hitmakers have not let this go unnoticed. The imaginatively named ‘Woah’, by Krypto9095, is peppered with these woahable bass hits, and serves as a soundtrack for an astonishing 12 million videos. Taking the idea of ‘TikTok music’ to further heights, you have the in-house, or in-app, producers like Ricky Desktop and Tiagz, who focus all their efforts on creating songs that are exclusively made for TikTok.
the platform will wield significant clout for a little while longer
Unlike Tiagz, who hijacks viral TikTok sounds and fashions jarringly unoriginal remixes, Ricky Desktop has mastered the art of the TikTok beat. His songs have little to nothing in common with the modern notion of a pop song; there’s no chorus, no verses, no vocals, and the tracks barely break the one-minute mark (which is, not-so-coincidentally, the maximum length of a TikTok). The names are hilariously utilitarian, too – his most popular songs include ‘The Banjo Beat’, ‘The Boat Beat’ and ‘The Chicken Wing Beat’. But, laugh all you might, these beats are still phenomenally successful.
So, where does this leave us? Well, the music industry is certainly taking note of the rapidly changing landscape. Even the notoriously snobbish Pitchfork has started a recurring series called ‘TikTok Report’, where they delve into the latest happenings on the Gen Z dominated-app, presumably from a safely ironic distance.
I have faith that the platform will wield significant clout for a little while longer at least, although the latest social media fazes never seem to last too long, either experiencing a premature demise, like Vine, or simply stagnating as its users grow up, like Facebook. For now, however, it’s a very exciting place for music, despite the ‘boomers’ and their agitated mumblings.
Speaking of which, I opened the app this morning, and was greeted by the sight of a very tall old man with a white pony tail, cruising along with a bottle of Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry juice firmly clasped in his right hand, lip-syncing to ‘Dreams’, just like 420doggface208. His username said ‘mickfleetwood’, or something like that. Seemed like a bit of a rip-off to me.