When virality becomes the priority, will artistry come second?
Since its rising popularity, TikTok has evolved into the platform to be. From relatable influencers, talented actors to underrated musicians, a random video can catapult a career to unspeakable heights. Likewise, a song can turn into a radio hit overnight, garnering over a million videos using music as the backdrop or gaining an unexpected dance challenge. All the engagement leads to streams, making record labels more than pleased. After witnessing the success brought to BENEE’s Supalonely, Doja Cat’s Say So and many other songs from the early 2020s, they hope to replicate the streams and popularity received by these hits. Sadly, it’s often against the will of some musicians.
Over the past few weeks, pop stars who built their following before the age of TikTok sounded off against faking organic viral moments for their songs. Halsey, Florence + The Machine and FKA twigs, in separate TikToks, hold up the camera to their faces, often lip-synching unenthusiastically to their own tracks. The overlaid texts read differently but often send the same message: “My label is forcing me to make another TikTok to make this song viral.” Others can’t help but wonder if these singers are calling for help. But on the other side of the coin: could this be a marketing ploy to receive sympathy streams and listens?
but some artists also told the truth, not just you ! pic.twitter.com/i1iS7X5OAK
— aldana (@halseyscardigan) May 23, 2022
Doing it for the Tok
Many are yet to crack the code on going viral on TikTok. While Instagram heroes carefully curated photos and Twitter loves the most unhinged opinion, TikTok favors both. Someone can have a hit video and flop in the next upload. Engagement proves to be consistent only when your followers are loyal.
Many strategists recommend posting consistently to beat the algorithm and put your content on the map. They say that the more videos you make, the more people you can attract to watch and, maybe, join in on whatever trend.
Now, major record labels are trying to plant the seed for such success to happen. Song snippets get teased ahead of time through highlight reels and TikTok sounds. In addition, some artists upload their song drafts and ask fans if they should release them before officially releasing the songs. These give the platform and its audience time to pick or conjure up a trend that goes well with the track. All in the hopes that TikToks will generate more videos. More duets, stitches and posts using the song could lead to streams, sales and other parameters that make record labels make more profit.
…And the Tok only?
Many businesses often rely on social media to promote their products. As it became a human necessity, sometimes an obsession, standing out in a sea that’s already saturated has become the priority to many. Now that social media discovery has provided a faster, painless method, everyone wants in. After all, taking videos and building a following sound less stressful than constant rejection from different outlets. But the usual ideas don’t yield the same results. Some trends can be too predictable, which brings us the trickier side of this coin.
Internet humor can only be described as “complicated.” It’s ironic, satirical, hyperbolic, shitpost-y and exaggerated, to say the least. To make it hit, you need to blow it out of proportion. Case in point? Charli XCX. The singer also uploaded a TikTok insinuating that her label forced her to make another TikTok, only to admit that she lied for fun. This further breaks down the possibility of seemingly meta posts used for marketing, the way self-deprecating jokes resonate with many. A meta marketing ploy. Publish a sentiment that would have other people engaging with the TikTok either out of support or doubt. Bottom line: you get engagement, and your song gets exposure.
@maisiehpeters what he says will SHOCK you 😮 #livelaughlove ♬ original sound – maisie peters
They’re telling us something either way
Notice how women artists often push back against this practice? Before the wave of FKA twigs, Halsey and Florence spoke up, Adele protested the move to promote her song on TikTok. In an interview with Zane Lowe, the singer exclaims, “If everyone’s making music for the TikTok, who’s making the music for my generation?” While, of course, Ed Sheeran also spoke up, we all see that female artists experience more pressure to agree. Have the music industry’s double standards changed, or is it still rigid in 2022?
It’s also important to note that earlier TikTok hitmakers never expected their songs to blow up. It just so happened that their songs had catchy hooks and verses that people enjoyed. More often than not, these musicians use social media to get their material out. They use these platforms as extensions of their art, not the sole reason they create. So while blowing up on social media is an awarding honor, a viral video shouldn’t be the one-all-be-all solution to getting music—art—out into the world. But record labels begin to think otherwise—the way they did with constant radio #1s and music videos always playing on TV.
Whether or not these musicians did the TikToks to call for help or meet their contractual obligations, it shows us how the music industry is obsessed with immediate success and virality. While the pressure to make hit after hit existed in the industry for a long time, TikTok offers instant results. As opposed to radio and song charts’ results taking a week, engagement can balloon in a matter of hours. A song going viral promises the honor of “Overnight Sensation.” But it’s the same song and sound—just a different form if you look at it. In the 90s and 2000s, success meant constantly appearing on TV and the radio. But now, in the 2020s, it means getting over a million views and streams.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver