Background: In my first semester at Georgia College and State University, I was tasked with writing a research paper on a topic of my choosing for my English 1001 class. I was intrigued by the latest social media phenomenon, TikTok. The app is incredibly popular among young people in the United States and China. The article is below.
15 Seconds of Fame: The TikTok Revolution
Since the invention of the internet, the world has been changing faster every day. When the social media revolution began fifteen years ago with the creation of Facebook, vast opportunities opened for artists to promote their music. TikTok is the latest social media application sweeping the globe and provides artists a spectacular platform to reach target audiences. The application has nearly one billion downloads in the past 12 months and is catching on quickly due to its accurate algorithm, appeal to the short attention spans of the younger generation, and catchy challenges. TikTok is leading the next greatest revolution in music and has turned a bevy of young musicians into overnight millionaires.
In order to argue that TikTok is the source of a sweeping change to the music industry, one first must examine the genius and innovation behind it. TikTok is a platform where users create meme videos of themselves acting, dancing, or lip-syncing to a 15-second clip of a song. Launched in 2016, the application’s popularity began to explode after the company acquired Musical.ly, an app with a similar concept and appeal to the young American audience. TikTok’s creators advertise the platform as a center for creativity instead of a social media platform. This allows it to bypass the gatekeepers and parents of young generations who do not want kids to spend a lot of time on social media. The app is centered around the “For You” page that allows users to see popular videos, even if they do not follow its creator. This contributes to the unique ability of clips on TikTok to circulate and “go viral.”
In the marketing industry, professionals say that wherever large numbers of people are, there is a potential to make money. Unfortunately, in the past, applications like TikTok have proven to be hard to monetize. Ads can be placed in between clips but are usually skipped and do not tend to be effective. In early 2019, a way to cash in on TikTok’s massive audiences came to fruition. The song Old Town Road, by Lil Nax X was the subject of one of the first major challenges on TikTok. As many influential users on the app made videos of themselves doing the challenge, the catchy song spread like wildfire. The 15-second clips were heard by millions of people in just a few days. The challenge on the app itself did not make Lil Nas X much money. However, he went from a small “country trap” artist to one of the most prominent in 2019 after the TikTok videos translated to millions of listens on Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube. The genius behind the music on TikTok is that the videos act as trailers, similar to advertisements that give people a sample of one of the best parts in a song.
As people were beginning to wonder whether Lil Nas X would be a one-hit-wonder, marketers and record labels were wondering the same about TikTok- asking whether it could be a platform to make songs go viral and generate cash. It didn’t take long to answer either question. Less than two months later, pop singer Lizzo’s two-year-old single, Truth Hurts became the subject of arguably the biggest TikTok trend to this point. The song’s lyrics, “I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m a 100% that B****,” sparked a trend where people would lip-sync the line but replace the last word with a random object, while they visually acted something out in the clip. This challenge resulted in a dramatic increase in Lizzo’s online streaming numbers and worldwide popularity.
Music is an ever-growing billion-dollar industry. After the success of Lil Nas X and Lizzo, record labels began to find ways to ensure their artists would be a part of the online sensation. In August 2019, RollingStone.com broke a story about multiple record labels’ use of TikTok to get their artists’ songs to go viral. The article detailed the story of a woman from Kentucky who owns a popular channel on the app: over the past handful of months, she has been paid thousands of dollars by Arista Records to put their artist’s songs on her videos. The woman mentioned that she gets 10-15 inquiries a day from labels and artists that are willing to fork over thousands of dollars to attempt to become the next TikTok viral sensation. This cashflow put TikTok on the map as an application that Artist Partner Group CEO, Mike Caren, described as “the short-form version of YouTube” (Yglesias). Instead of record labels making deals for songs to be placed in video games or ads on TV, the industry is focused on promoting artists through TikTok.
But it’s not that easy. Not any song can go viral on TikTok. Songs that are clever or quotable tend to be more popular. It takes a special recipe for a song to blow up on the app, “There are several key elements of songs that have gained traction on the app recently, highlighting the importance of "memorable lyrics," especially ones TikTokers can act out in their videos, as well as a danceable beat and a bass drop” (Lal). In TikTok videos, the rule of thumb is that the catchier the hook, the more likely it is to gain traction and result in plays streaming platforms like YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music, where artists make money off each listen. This is changing the way songs are written today. Instead of longer songs that tell stories, “Lyrics that may seem silly or outright ridiculous to average music consumers often take TikTok by storm" (Yglesias). Because of TikTok, the industry is beginning to lean towards shorter songs with catchy, repetitive hooks accompanied by two verses containing quotable and silly lines.
TikTok is not only changing the way lyrics are written in 2019, but it is also changing the beat behind them. A common characteristic of songs that blow up on the platform is a heavy bass drop or bassline throughout the song; “Anything with a catchy trap beat or a big bass drop is likely to get users attention and find them inspired to try out their dance moves in hopes of gaining other users attention, likes, and shares” (Leight). Bass drops are popular on the app because they allow TikTokers to create routines to spark new challenges within the app’s community. It is a smart move for musicians to tailor songs towards the app because, “They don’t need to make the content, they have other people making the content for them. It blows up and becomes a meme organically on this app” (Bereznak), according to TikTok star Sueco the Child. The platform’s users make videos and promote your content for you. If a musician can follow these trends, the app will do the rest.
Sueco the Child’s use of TikTok to promote his song, which has both a spectacular bass drop and catchy hook, resulted in him becoming a millionaire almost overnight. Over the summer, he released his single, “Fast.” After being the subject of a TikTok challenge, started by a good friend with over 100,000 followers, the song has been streamed on Spotify over 35 million times. Fast’s music video has over eight million views on YouTube. The song’s popularity sparked what was called, “a seven-figure bidding war among major labels before he signed with Atlantic Records” (Bereznak).
If a musical artist wants to get famous on a new and growing platform, TikTok is the place to be in 2019. If an artist can write funny lyrics with a splash of bass in the background, they will have a chance to “blow up.” Lil Nas X, Lizzo, Sueco the Child and countless others have already taken advantage of the amazing platform TikTok offers. Now that TikTok is creating pop stars, a new musical revolution is underway as artists create music to fit a platform, unlike any before.
Bereznak, Alyssa. “Memes Are the New Pop Stars: How TikTok Became the Future of the Music Industry.” The Ringer, The Ringer, 27 June 2019, www.theringer.com/tech/2019/6/27/18760004/tiktok-old-town-road-memes-music-industry.
Lal, Kish. “How TikTok Changed The Way We Discovered Music In 2019.” Junkee, 3 Oct. 2019, junkee.com/tiktok-music-industry/224016.
Leight, Elias. “'If You Can Get Famous Easily, You're Gonna Do It': How TikTok Took Over Music.” Rolling Stone, 16 Aug. 2019, www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/tiktok-video-app-growth-867587/.
Yglesias, Ana. “What Music Goes Viral On TikTok?” GRAMMY.com, Recording Academy, 6 Nov. 2019, www.grammy.com/grammys/news/what-music-goes-viral-tiktok.