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How TikTok transforms music

By Erin Longney

One quick glance at the Spotify top charts reveals the undeniable influence of TikTok within the music industry. From ‘Astronaut in the Ocean’ to Olivia Rodrigo’s smash hit ‘good 4 u,’ songs from which popular TikTok sounds are derived have continued to dominate the charts. Which begs the question: how is the ever-popular social media platform revolutionising the way we produce and consume music?

As one of the fastest-growing social media platforms in the world, you’d be hard-pressed to locate the phone of a teenager without TikTok downloaded. At the core of the app and it’s entertainment value is the use of music: app-users lip sync to certain song lyrics and apply them to various scenarios in their lives, and develop short dances to popular sounds that eventuate into widespread trends.

Dylan Pasqua, Music Partnership Manager at Fanbytes noted that “TikTok is actually on another level to Instagram or YouTube. It’s much easier to get tonnes and tonnes of views on TikTok – it has a much higher growth rate.” The virality of TikTok has enabled artists to explode onto the scene after one of their songs ends up as a viral sound or the basis of a trending dance. Take the success of ‘drivers license’, which debuted at No. 1 on multiple streaming platforms, became the fastest song ever to reach 100 million streams on Spotify, and catapulted Olivia Rodrigo to international stardom, even attracting the attention of her singer-songwriter idol, Taylor Swift.

The overwhelming success and public acclaim received by ‘drivers license’ was undeniably influenced by the viral nature of the song on TikTok. After its release in January 2021, multiple TikTok trends were created out of clips from the song, and scores of videos set to music of the track filled users’ for-you pages. The song was a viral TikTok success, which translated to its immense success on the charts. The incredible virality of drivers license was largely due to a fascination with the love-triangle that it is allegedly written about – the heartbroken Rodrigo who observes the blossoming relationship between her ex-boyfriend and his new partner, supposedly Rodrigo’s fellow Disney stars Joshua Bassett and Sabrina Carpenter. Tiktokers feasted on the drama and compelling story behind the song, which in turn, enabled the song to explode and dominate both the social media platform and the top charts.

Aside from launching undiscovered artists into the spotlight, TikTok has enabled relatively well-known artists to boost significantly in popularity. Though Megan Thee Stallion was already making the top charts, the incredible virality of the TikTok ‘Savage’ dance launched the song to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it her highest-charting song. Doja Cat’s ‘Say So’ featuring Nicki Minaj, the basis of one of the most popular TikTok dances, reached No.1 on the Billboard charts after popular creator Haley Sharpe developed a short dance to the song’s chorus. Haley even appeared in the official music video for ‘Say So’, due to her pivotal role in catapulting the song to international success. ‘Say So’ reached an excess of 20 million video creations in the months after the dance went viral, and following its incredible success, Doja Cat’s music has continued to dominate TikTok. Though the virality of some artists and music on TikTok is short-lived, both Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat’s music continues to circulate around the platform, revealing the significant role TikTok can play in boosting the careers of music artists.

TikTok has become an incredible vehicle for artists to launch and promote their music. Methods of musical advertising and promotion have been revolutionised: artists can go viral within minutes, simply by uploading a 60 second video to the platform, effectively cost-free. There has been suggestion that artists are creating music specifically designed for TikTok, produced with the intention of becoming a viral TikTok trend.

TikTok has even facilitated a resurgence in popularity of decades-old songs amongst the younger generation. Fleetwood Mac’s widely popular album ‘Rumours’ surged to the Top 10 album list, after a video using ‘Dreams’ as a backing track went viral. The song even charted at 7th on the Billboard 200 chart, its first appearance in the top 10 since 1978.

As TikTok continues to grow in popularity, its influence on the music industry is becoming increasingly recognisable. The way music is produced and consumed is being undeniably transformed.


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