Over the last year, TikTok has established itself as *the* popular getaway, drawing in the housebound who have needed a digital escape from reality. The video-sharing social networking app allows ‘creators’ to produce 15 – 60 second videos and publish it to the platform. It’s widely recognised for its ‘For You’ page, where viewers’ likes and watch history compiles a super-personalised catalogue of new content over an impressively short period of time. 

What started as an app designed for sharing short music videos, is now regarded as the hotbed for a huge range of online communities, such as BookTok, small businesses, and bakers – and the list goes on and on…! Here at MTM, we’re interested in how the app has evolved into a space for community, and has started to influence wider society, focusing on its impact on the music industry.

A fast rise to global popularity

TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, founded in 2012. A multinational internet technology company reportedly worth over $180 billion, it introduced TikTok in 2016 under its original name Douyin. However, Douyin has become a separate app (only accessible in China), while its counterpart, TikTok as we know it, was released in 2018 internationally. Both apps share similar interfaces, functions and logos but are two separate applications only available for either the Chinese or the overseas market. ByteDance took this decision to comply with China’s strictly controlled online environment that polices what is allowed to be published online and on user-generated platforms. The rise in global popularity has been astonishing. In April 2020, TikTok crossed the 2 billion downloads mark, just 5 months after it had surpassed 1.5 billion. And latest figures show that, as of January 2021, the platform has 689 million monthly active users worldwide.

A home for fast fame, and unique viral musical success

TikTok has provided a digital stage for ordinary creators to showcase their vocal talent. Ex-postman Nathan Evans went viral after posting a video of him singing a sea shanty named “The Wellerman”. Gaining 1.1m followers and signing with a record company meant he could focus on his newly-found music career and leave his old profession. Sea shanties have been trending and many renditions were presented by Ant & Dec, Jimmy Fallon, and even Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow – proof that the platform can transcend its heartland of teens and young people.

Apart from the (unexpected) acclaim that this genre has won recently, other genres like musicals have also gained renewed recognition and appreciation. Inspired by the Netflix series Bridgerton (which has rapidly increased the sales of corsets), is a TikTok musical. Abigail Barlow’s vocal rendition of Bridgerton’s protagonists declaring their love to each other sparked epic duets. Duets, trios and more are a unique TikTok feature that enables viewers to directly add to the content, ever evolving it and deepening engagement – and increasing reach. 

However, Barlow’s story is also an example of the short-lived moments of fame on TikTok. Major labels courted her, only to ‘ghost’ her later on. The addictive app thrives on these micro moments, and the pandemic has accelerated this. So while certain videos can amass millions of views and likes on the platform, the stardom is temporary for most, as users move on to the next video with a swipe of a finger. One second they’re watching a timelapse of someone’s property being renovated, the next, it’s an ASOS haul. Trends tend to be so short-lived that there are already sounds and videos that remind users of the beginning of lockdown; and even nostalgia for it. 

The ideal marketing tool for celebrity music culture 

TikTok has been an excellent instrument for celebrities who’ve used the platform to inspire their next hit. Jason Derulo released his song Savage Love in 2020, sampling a viral TikTok song by New Zealand creator Jawsh 685, which peaked at number one on the UK Official Charts. Olivia Rodrigo’s Driver’s License also gained huge momentum on the platform. Popularised by her love-triangle drama, the song offered a musical outlet for many TikTokkers who used the song to express their own relationship woes. The drama and TikTok has helped Rodrigo achieve record-breaking streaming numbers and claiming the UK’s highest number of streams in a single day for a non-Christmas song. 

On the other hand, some A-listers took the next step, creating music solely for the platform. Drake specifically created Toosie Slide for people to dance to which has been played three billion times, smashing Kylie Jenner’s record, with people following the choreography instructed in the song’s hook. Many creators strategically use the virality of the song to showcase other talents and content, raising their own views and reaching more people’s pages. 

TikTok has even managed to resurrect old gems back to the charts. Nathan Apodaca posted a TikTok of himself on a skateboard lip-syncing to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ leading to the song being streamed 8.5m times in the US and returning to the Top 100 in the UK for the first time since 2011. The platform’s success does not seem to be confined to the latest music but has helped relaunch songs that haven’t graced the charts in years. 

A uniquely influential platform

TikTok’s pivotal ability to influence the music industry and strengthen lesser-known genres tells us there’ll be more surprises in the future for the next trending song. It is influencing and changing music culture in a way few platforms have done. 

We’re certainly excited to see if another sea shanty will reach number 1 and if TikTok can inspire a West End Bridgerton musical.