Since the advent of the internet and social media, the distribution of commercial music, that is music you are likely to hear on the radio, has become a whole new ball game. Despite its shortform video format, the social media app TikTok has become an incredible way to get a song to go viral. All it takes is the right formula and you’ve got yourself a hit.
TikTok as a platform takes most of its idea from Vine. It only extends the outer limit of a video’s length to a full minute rather than just the six seconds. However, because of TikTok’s design, it allows music to travel very quickly. TikTok was originally a lip-syncing app known as “Musically” and this has remained a main stay of the platform. Hundreds of millions of videos are created as lip-syncs to various songs and that kind of viral power directly in people’s hands is a music industry force to be reckoned with. What happens when the recording industry no longer controls the reins of what’s popular?
Of course, there comes a downside to all of this. To use a crude metaphor, the warden can make the inmates believe they are the ones running the asylum. All this really means is that there’s nothing saying record labels can’t contract out so-called “influencers” to push the music that they want to be pushed. These influencers include the likes of Noah Beck, Charlie D’Amelio, or James Charles. This method of “stacking the deck,” so to speak, can stop at merely pushing particular music or it can come a little more nefariously. 2020 saw this firsthand when musical artist Sia was receiving some major criticism for the production of her movie, “Music.” The movie featured the story of an autistic girl played by a non-autistic actress as well as using extremely stereotypical portrayals of autistic people. She received a lot of negative press for this including her responses to criticism. She said things like, “Autistic actors can’t handle the kinds of sets that I wanted to do.” Seemingly by coincidence, one of her songs became something of a viral meme on TikTok with many people attempting to the “Snowman Challenge,” which involved singing the entire chorus of Sia’s “Snowman” in one breath. Many people suspected this to be a PR campaign utilized on the platform to try and rehabilitate the singer’s image and possibly save her movie. It didn’t work. The movie still flopped, but the fact that the whole process was carried out is concerning enough.
TikTok has created a social media universe that is easy to take part in. It operates on the infamous “Algorithm.” If you like certain things, you see more of it and so do others who like similar things to you. Communities, especially marginalized ones like the LGBT+ community, can rally behind artists that share their values and can help to disseminate music outside the framework of the music industry. I know that several of the songs on my Spotify playlist have come from memes or sounds I’ve heard on TikTok and with the type of community engagement present on the app, it doesn’t appear that will change any time soon.