Tiktok is known as the app where anyone can go from being just another Tiktok user to being an overnight musical sensation. This has caused a shift in the music industry and for artists on social media whereby they can amass a huge fanbase in a shorter time period. Due to this surefire way to gain success with music on social media, the music industry has shifted from a space of creativity and authentic expression to just another internet virality ploy. The for you page has transformed from an algorithmic reel of videos tailored for personal taste and ranging between various topics, to unending videos with perky singer-songwriters claiming, “I wrote this song, pre-save through the link in my bio.”
Tiktok presents a unique opportunity for artists to market themselves as any song can become the soundtrack to a viral dance and any viral song can skyrocket an artist’s listenership and change their life. 18-year-old indie singer-songwriter Gayle gained Tiktok fame when she responded to a comment asking her to make a break-up song using the alphabet. Her song “abcdefu” blew up on the platform and awarded her hundreds of thousands of streams and consequently, an exponentially larger fanbase. However, Tiktok users were disappointed when they discovered that the comment that sparked Gayle’s rise to fame was not left by a random user on the app but by her record label agent. So began the online discussion about the tiktokification of mainstream music and the impact of virality and quick fame on true artistry within the music industry. What happens when instead of producing high-quality and authentic music, artists start making music exclusively for Tiktok charts and an algorithmic peak?
It feels insincere to many Tiktok users.
The situation including Gayle and her record label is one of many examples of marketing schemes gone awry. Halsey posted a video claiming her record label would not allow for the release of her latest album if she was unable to reach a certain amount of Tiktok views, despite her being in the industry for years before Tiktok launched. One of the most liked comments on that video was, “This has to be my least favourite lie for marketing”, this indicates that Tiktok users viewed her claim with a certain level of scrutiny, even asking themselves in the comments whether her video was a form of reverse psychology.
It makes it harder for new artists to break through.
With a higher level of scrutiny surrounding hearing and supporting new artists, actual new talent is left at a disadvantage. Where they might otherwise have been able to get their music to reach more expanses of the internet, indie artists and record label represented artists are further placed at a great difference.
The music sounds…different.
Many people believe that mainstream music is worse off following the influence of Tiktok. Artists who used to make alternative music have moulded their sound to fit into whatever is trendiest and the same sound is made and repackaged throughout the industry. Creativity is affected as artists choose to fit into the prototype crafted for Tiktok that is; a catchy beat, less than three minutes duration, and with a punchline bridge that can be used for memes. Songs like Love not War by Jason Derulo and Made You Look by Meghan Trainor are examples of the kinds of songs made using this model. Artists could also take the other route and allow the sameness of popular music to inspire them to make what is most authentic and artistic for them.
On the bright side, Tiktok has inspired some good artists and allowed for the discovery of many new talented artists that might not have reached any recognisable amount of success without it. Without the algorithm that favours trendy snippets of songs and their accompanying challenges, artists like Stephen Sanchez and Lizzy McAlpine might not have amassed millions of monthly listeners on Spotify through the viral success of their songs; Until I Found You and Ceilings respectively. Some listeners benefit from the intersection between Tiktok and mainstream music because they truly enjoy the sound.
As with any social media phenomenon, there are so many positives and an equal number of negatives for artists and listeners alike. For artists, the possibilities of viral fame, easier discovery, and a huge potential listenership come with the risk of more barriers and diminished creativity. For listeners, everything might sound the same and what’s the point then? (Unless you like the way it all sounds!)