Podcast Editor Matthew Seaman on the rise and impact of TikTok in the music industry.
I was recently scrolling through the ‘for you page’ on TikTok, when I came across a user asking their viewers who they considered the modern equivalent of ‘The Beatles’ to be. With suggestions of ‘The Arctic Monkeys’ and ‘One Direction’ following, I began to question the effect of contemporary music. The stylistic precedents set by ‘The Beatles’ and the cultural and social impact of their work, has remained unmatched. But with TikTok encouraging shorter, more concise music, has the lasting legacy of 20th Century artists been replaced by temporary obsession? Has TikTok had a negative impact on the music industry?
TikTok currently has around 700 million monthly users, which is more than triple Spotify and Apple Music combined, technically making it the second biggest music consumption platform, after YouTube. With most videos ranging from fifteen seconds to one minute in duration, it is clear that contemporary consumers are favouring the shorter, snappier bites of entertainment. Whilst this seems great for content creators, who are encouraged to get to the point and display a snapshot of themselves, it feels somewhat reductive to artists, whose songs are often being limited to a single chorus as a catchy accompaniment. A friend of mine told me that she listens to TikTok songs because she ‘likes one part of the song, but not the entire song’.
What does this mean for the way we consume music?
I am learning that songs are not gaining popularity due to the artist’s vision, style or lyrics, but rather from the way in which they aid TikTok creators to ‘blow up’. A piece of music with a message or story is unfortunately less favourable than one with a brief, catchy hook, such as Dua Lipa’s “Levitating”. This song has recently skyrocketed on the platform all because of the line: ‘You want me / I want you baby’, which has aptly aided a TikTok trend, whereby creators indicate something in life that they are too tempted by to resist. That being said, success is still success, and the British singer has benefitted accordingly, with this chart-topping track recently hitting 500 million listens on Spotify alone. Lipa attempted the TikTok trend herself, following her doubleÂ win at the BRIT Awards last week.
I often find myself listening to Capital FM, with Craig David, Ariana Grande and The Kid LAROI being played over and over, and I’m reminded of the days where Absolute Radio would pride themselves on their ‘no repeat guarantee’ (I don’t know if they still do). Yet, it seems that in the 21st Century we crave repetition and familiarity. Maybe it’s a comfort thing, or maybe we just aren’t imaginative enough to explore new art.Â
Is Olivia Rodrigo a cause for some hope?
Another artist who benefited immensely from TikTok is Olivia Rodrigo. The eighteen year old Disney star has surpassed a billion listens (across Spotify and Apple Music) on her hit: “drivers license” since its release at the start of the year. With the song credited as the fifth most used on TikTok, as of March, it is clear that Rodrigo has the app to thank for much of her success.
This raises the question – does popularity on TikTok undermine success in the music industry? My answer would be, in Rodrigo’s case, no. I was stunned by her performance at the BRITs, as she elegantly belted her track, accompanied only by a pianist, in front of all of her idols at the O2. It appears, in this instance, TikTok got it right. Her subsequent releases: “deja vu” and “good 4 u” have also been impressive, and the future is looking bright for this young artist, whose debut album: “Sour”, came out on Friday. I predict it will be received similar to that of Billie Eilish, somebody who was initially apprehensive to enter the TikTok world.
Are TikTok ‘musicians’ damaging the music industry?
Whilst Rodrigo told NME that it is “important to [her] to be taken seriously as a songwriter“, we have recently seen certain TikTok influencers ridiculed for their involvement in the music industry. Last week, Dixie D’amelio released “F*ck Boy”, her fourth single which has, once again, been mocked by TikTok users, commenting: “I find it hilarious how she thinks she’s a true artist” and “the second hand embarrassment I’m getting”. On the same day, US army ‘vet’ Bella Poarch released “Build a B*tch”, reaching a meagre 2 minutes in duration, and subsequently receiving comments such as: “bruh they all wanna become singers” and “music industry is a joke now”.
Addison Rae’s debut single “Obsessed” was met with an equally negative response. But whilst the torrent of hate on social media must be somewhat damaging for the creators, these moderately catchy tunes are bringing in the big bucks, with D’amelio having an estimated net-worth of $2 million+, she’s the one reaping the benefits. In my opinion, as long as these songs remain on the edge of the charts, we’re safe for now.
What did we learn from the BRIT awards?
Despite this heavy focus on what’s current, and don’t get me wrong – I love some of the current sounds (Lana Del Rey, Billie Eilish, Girl in Red, Harry Styles), it appears there is a constant echo of the past, that shone through at the BRITs, with Elton John and Years and Years’ Olly Alexander performing a ‘Pet Shop Boys’ hit. Even the ‘album of the year’, Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia”, is constructed with samples of older tracks, including ‘INXS”s “Need You Tonight”. Whilst we appear to be moving in a strange direction, with the media focusing more on the clothes worn by the nominees, than their actual music, it is evident there are some diamonds in the rough.
I was lucky enough to meet rising star (BRIT award winner and three-times nominee): Celeste, before the ceremony, who told me that her summer shows seem to be going ahead, in light of the restrictions being eased. It’s the rich voices, like Celeste’s, with a jazzy, Amy Winehouse-esque sound, that help us to clutch on to the integrity that the music industry once held.
Whilst TikTok may have introduced a disposability to the songs that will characterise the 2020s, it is reassuring that artists like Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish and Lana Del Rey continue to pursue their musical and artistic visions, ensuring we, as fans, can follow a journey, rather than a fifteen second hook. Because, let’s face it, we won’t be talking about the D’amelios in fifty years’ time, but with any luck, some of the indie tracks that maintain purpose and sentiment will be remembered in years to come. The only thing that is for sure, is that our children’s children will still be hearing the echoes of John, Paul, George and Ringo.