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The Deadly Influence of TikTok on Music Culture

The impact Tik Tok has had on worldwide society spans beyond just the realm of pop culture. The arts have become a slave to the app, socializing has been overtaken by the unshakeable TikTok zeitgeist. According to Business Insider, the platform is heading towards raking in a $500 million revenue just in the U.S. for 2020. Market trends are influenced heavily by what TikTok’ers of note are pushing. Considering all this, it’s a given that the charts have become dictated by the ever-fluctuating trends on the audio visual platform, and that artists can make themselves into an overnight phenomenon if they know the right influencer, or by a stroke of good luck.

Take Fleetwood Mac, for instance, whose single Dreams was released in 1977. A video of a chilled-out man on a skateboard miming the words to the song went viral via TikTok, leading to the cult band’s revival amongst teens who would’ve otherwise never heard of the band, and a re-entering of the song on the Hot Billboard 100 charts, peaking at number 12. This is no easy feat for any artist, even a critically-acclaimed band like Fleetwood Mac, but to influence a demographic (that would otherwise avoid knowledge seventies counterculture due to lack of interest) forty-three years after your heyday is impossible without the cooperation of a powerful entity. And few are as powerful as TikTok.

The trends of older songs remixed and manipulated to fit the current bass-filled trends of contemporary pop music are quite prevalent in the app too (including Dreams), proving the pure vacuum TikTok has created in terms of culture. Madism’s version of Pumped Up Kicks remixes a classic indie tune that helped popularize alternative music in the 2010s and makes it a full-blown club anthem. Inversely, Ritt Momney’s take on Put Your Records On by Corinne Bailey-Rae chills out the happy-go-lucky beat to mellow out the audience watching make-up challenges. With six weeks in the Billboard Top 100 list, the song has proved a hit - again. The list goes on: Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega (which has been an incredibly remixed song from its release) to the folk belter This is the Life, the TikTok overlords (or, more succinctly, influencers) have proven their power time and time again, taking a statement piece of a certain era and manipulating to suit this generations demands. They own music history now, and they can prove it.

If we look to the it-girls of TikTok music, many of them were unknown until app fed them popularity from the palm of its hand. Claire Rosencrantz, the brains behind the earworm Backyard Boy, has had her song used over 1.6 million times as the background of TikTok songs, and has had an “overnight success” with her recent EP BeVerly Hills BoYfRiEnd, according to her label. Doja Cat’s superstardom was fed by the dance that was coined over her song Say So, which currently has over 628 million streams on Spotify. SAINt JHN’s track Roses has spent 34 weeks in the Billboard Top 100 singles charts, and is his only song to chart other than a collaboration with Beyoncé for The Lion King soundtrack. If those who hold the power in the music industry is changing, then which ways must artists change accordingly?

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t optimistic. To be able to create a catchy enough earworm and/or riff in under 60 seconds, along with making it accessible to your audience in terms of technique (ethereal or bass-y are two leads I would follow) are only the first steps in creating virtual excitement around your track. Instead of record heads we’re dealing with influencers who are essentially bribed with sponsorship and in return they’ll subtly add your song to the background of their heavily-edited videos. There is no guarantee that the TikTok masses will chomp at the bit, and without sufficient marketing its unlikely overnight fame will kick in. The aforementioned Claire Rosencranz didn’t know her song became TikTok famous until months after it happened. To be noticed among the swamps of audio clips and songs that users edit into their videos is a tricky task, but could set you up for life.

The bolder the better, perhaps, as we see crude and empowering songs like WAP and Savage represent the more audacious sentiment that the generation in question embodies. With the ultimate autonomy that TikTok has over popular culture, the power dynamics between TikTok and those creating the culture is interesting to map. Is this trend of helping to popularizing black female artists a more liberated society that recognizes the value in the freedoms that the black women sing of, or is it a morally questionable system of co-dependence that a multi-national corporation has constructed? Would the cultural landscape of America have looked different had Trump banned the app way back when? The charts continue to be swayed by the platform; as it stands, the top 5 Hot 100 Billboard charts are all extremely popular TikTok songs, each with their own signature video which a viewer might associate with the song: Mood by 24KGoldn, Positions by Ariana Grande, I Hope by Gabby Barrett, Laugh Now Cry Later by Drake, and Blinding Lights by The Weeknd. The least amount of time spent in the Hot 100 is three weeks, as Grande’s Positions was released exactly three weeks ago today. The Weeknd's single has spent 50 comfortable weeks in the top 5. The platform keeps growing, and with Instagram's knock-off feature 'reels' (an in-built TikTok-esque component which features mostly TikTok content), it seems it's popularity won't be diminishing any time soon, meaning popular culture will bend towards its will until, perhaps, a newer, shinier platform emerges.


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