The Power of TikTok on the Music Industry

By Alex Manley

In the era of the internet and social media, many doors have been opened for a range of In the era of the internet and social media, many doors have been opened for a range of professions. Instagram allows a painter to show their work to a worldwide audience, LinkedIn allows the white-collar worker to network with both current, and future employers. For the musician however, with a survey indicating that 80% of TikTok users used the app to discover new music, it’s clear that no site comes close to matching the power of TikTok when it comes to opening their doors.

Some of pop music’s biggest newcomers can thank TikTok for their newly gained success. Lil Nas X burst onto the scene with ‘Old Town Road’, a song used in a TikTok trend where people would turn into a cowboy after drinking “yee yeejuice”. The trend took off in early 2019, giving Lil Nas worldwide exposure, and the second biggest selling song of 2019 globally. It’s clear to say that since his rise, Lil Nas X is much more than a one trick pony, having had several other hit records to his name including ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’, and can now be regarded as one of pop music’s biggest names.

2021 shows no sign of stopping TikTok’s ability of bringing new names into the pop circuit, with Olivia Rodrigo’s ongoing success tracing back to the breakout hit ‘Drivers License’, currently 2021’s biggest selling song, and featured on 1.7 million TikTok videos. Later hits such as ‘Brutal’ and ‘Good For You’ both feature prominently on TikTok, showing Olivia Rodrigo knows a thing or two about creating songs that appeal to the TikTok generation; a valuable skill at present.

Whilst people were in their feelings over Rodrigo’s debut hit during early 2021,  there was another trend storming its way around people’s TikTok feed. 

Shanty man Nathan Evans began the year as a postal worker, but after a video of him performing the shanty ‘Wellerman’ went viral in January, resulting in him kickstarting a sea shanty craze and appearing on Saturday Night Takeaway and The BRIT Awards, Evans will now end 2021 with a No.1 record to his name.

As newer names such as Lil Nas X enter the charts, the oldies of pop music watch the TikTok generated success of these upcoming artists, and begin to want in on the act. They’ll do this by creating songs that aim to be compatible with TikTok trends and dances. The most notable example is the Canadian rapper Drake, who in 2020 released ‘Toosie Slide.’ The song, which has lyrics providing listeners with instructions such as “right foot up, left foot slide”, ensured a clear choreography for TikTok dance routines. It encouraged 4.5 million videos featuring the song to be made, which have now racked up a combined viewership of 6.5 billion views. These videos provided Drake’s song with the necessary promotion to it into a lucrative No.1 hit in both the US and UK charts. Based on Drake’s ‘Toosie Slide’ success, it’s a safe bet to predict that other pop ‘oldies’ will soon be releasing songs with TikTok dances in mind (my money’s on Pitbull). 

Sometimes, however, the familiar names of pop don’t need to write new songs for the TikTok age, with songs from the pre-TikTok archives managing to gain new leases of life after being used in TikTok videos. One only has to see the impact that a skating Ocean Spray drinker’s TikTok had on Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’, which returned to the US Top 100 for the first time since 1977 in 2020, placing at No.21. Another star of the seventies, Billy Joel, can thank TikTok for a rise in interest towards his song ‘Zanzibar’. Never released as a single, and previously viewed as nothing more than an album track, Billy would have been forgiven for thinking that this song would be ignored and forgotten by future generations. However, following the song’s use in a viral dance choreographed by @maxmith_, the song now features on 377K TikTok videos and has introduced the lesser-known works of Billy Joel to a younger generation.

Some acts from the archive gaining exposure via TikTok probably never planned for musical success in the first place, especially the cast of the hit animated children’s show The Backyardigans who now have several hit records thanks to TikTok virality; most notably the 2005 song ‘Castaways’ which topped the Spotify Viral Chart in May this year after appearing regularly on TikTok videos, kickstarting a mainstream appreciation of the work of The Backyardigans, leading to the subsequent success of other Backyardigan bangers such as ‘Into the Thick of It’ and ‘International Super Spy’. 

Overall, it’s clear that TikTok is a powerful tool for the musician, but like many things it’s unpredictable. Up-and-coming musicians should view TikTok as a necessity to promote their music, but so too can the ‘dad-rockers’ of the seventies and eighties who find their stardom declining. No one truly knows what songs will become viral and it’s often down to luck, but TikTok’s an open playing field for any one of any age, and playing right can do a career wonders. Even fictional characters, as proven by The Backyardigans, can attain musical success from TikTok. But if we’re going to give fictional characters some TikTok kudos, can the Hex Girls please have their time to shine.

**This story was originally published as part of our digital Freshers 2021 edition on 20/09/2021. Read the full edition here.**