The Relationship Between TikTok and Music

Reviewed by Franchesca Judin
Written by Zaneta Ng
And you’re on TikTok again.

How predictable. A minor inconvenience while doing work leads to three hours of scrolling through the endless pit that is TikTok and suddenly...what you know about rollin’ down in the deep? When your brain goes numb, you can call it mental freeze…

You got to keep your focus, but how do you do so if all you can think about are the songs you hear on repeat on TikTok?

Music is inescapable from TikTok. In fact, new TikTok music trends pop up and change all the time. According to research compiled by music analysts MRC data in 2021, 75% of users say they discover new artists through the app and 72% of users associate certain songs with TikTok videos. You’d probably think of songs like Doja Cat’s ‘Say So’ dance which went viral in January 2020 and ‘Levitating’ by Dua Lipa, whose music video later got made in collaboration with TikTok.
For users, the short-video platform is a great way to get introduced to new music. A simple search of ‘TikTok’ on Youtube and search results appear with the word ‘song’ immediately — evidence of TikTok’s push to change passive scrollers to active consumers who will ride on its dance trends and check out the 15-second clip of the song in full.

TikTok sounds like a surefire way to get a loyal following, and Lil Nas X can attest to that. The rapper’s record-breaking debut song ‘Old Town Road’ started off as a self-created TikTok meme before becoming MTV Video Music Awards’ Song of The Year 2019. Following this, he continues to find success from chart-toppers ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)‘ and ‘Industry Baby’.
Similarly, Olivia Rodrigo found fame overnight. Surrounded by Taylor Swift-like song theories and fuelled by authentic lyrics, her ‘drivers license’ music video formed the basis of a viral TikTok where users fall onto their bed in dejection, similar to how Rodrigo hangs at the back of a car during the song’s bridge. The song eventually led to the success of her highly-anticipated album sour, which launched Rodrigo further into the limelight with its individual TikTok trends.
See Lyn Lapid, Youtube cover singer turned record artist, or TikTok influencer Bella Poarch who now has her own song, ‘Build a Bitch’- they are all people who have found their place in the music industry because of TikTok’s influential power. Thank you, Gen Zs!
So, it’s easy to go viral on TikTok? Well, maybe.

‘Old Town Road’ blew up out of Lil Nas X’s own humble accord but record labels or well-known artists who take music promotion into their own hands could be pulling all sorts of strings to make a song fit for content-hungry TikTok users.

Justin Bieber’s heavily-promoted track on TikTok, ‘Yummy’, faced criticism for trying too hard to be viral but K-pop singer Zico’s #AnySongChallenge proved to be catchy and simple enough for users to join in the fun.
Even classics like Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’, Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ and ‘Bills, Bills, Bills’, by Destiny’s Child have found a new lease of life. In short, anything has the chance to go viral and half the time, you don’t even know why. Like, really— why is ‘Helicopter Helicopter’ even popular?
Then again, surely there has to be some sort of secret formula to making a viral song?

Findings from AI analysis platform MyPart in 2021 show that TikTok songs ‘tend to be exceedingly simplistic, demonstrating less musical complexity than average chart-topping songs’. They are also more angsty, energetic, sexual and romantic & feature more repetition and perfect rhymes in their lyrics. All in all, the songs are simple and relatable. It’s especially important for the chorus or hook of a song to be this way since that’s usually the part we hear on TikTok.

Majority of the songs that are used on the app range between 10 and 20 seconds long (yes, I had fun scrolling through TikTok... for research only, of course), meaning that you won’t get to listen to a huge chunk of each song.

When only the chorus falls prey to virality, the user misses out on much of the lyrics, instrumentals and overall message of a song, which makes the artist’s work wholly underappreciated.

From TikTok or not, listeners are integral in building the reputation and fanbase of an artist. So, as you explore what the app has to offer, make sure to also stream your favourite songs in full on YouTube and Spotify to show your love. Better yet, buy official merchandise or look out for virtual concerts. 

Users like me and you are royalty on TikTok. In the last year, the music industry has started looking to the app’s algorithm and its users to drive trends, challenges and get creative with their music. This is where the fun of TikTok comes from, bringing about positivity and a sense of belonging in a larger community.

With its slew of user-generated content, TikTok proves that anybody has the capacity to be creative, so why shouldn’t musicians follow suit? For better or worse, one thing’s for sure: music has been and will continue to evolve; TikTok is the only beginning.


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