Tik-Tok has been a huge source of entertainment throughout Quarantine; from cute dances to easy recipes to inexpensive lifehacks, you can get just about anything on there. However, the platform has also had a significant impact on the music industry. In 2020, the industry has faced challenges like no other, altering how we find new music. Thanks to Tik-Tok, an artist just needs 15 seconds of their song to go viral for it to be at the top of the charts. We saw it with Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage.” Whether the song has been around for decades or if it’s a new release, chances are if that song is in a Tik-Tok that gets enough views, it can be a hit. It’s a new age of Influencers. Screenshots of Spotify screens are no longer enough. Tracks need some sort of visual; specifically, a dance routine that is simple enough to be learned by just about anyone, but creative enough to be offered some versatility.
It’s a bit strange to see the amount of power Generation Z kids have over the music industry. It’s completely altered how music is consumed, and even how music is created. But as artists have to turn to new marketing methods to release new music and to connect with their artists, it has its perks, especially for the Hip-Hop industry. Hip-Hop songs are getting recognition from audiences outside of their target demographics, helping underground artists achieve success at a very rapid rate. It’s a cool way to find new music, but also a fun way to revisit old songs; ones that we may have forgotten or never appreciated. It’s creating a sense of nostalgia while bridging different generations. Additionally, it’s given new meanings to songs, associating them with specific trends and dances rather than their intended purpose. While I feel bitterness towards it because it reminds me of my dwindling youth and how out of touch I am, I respect it. As cringeworthy as I like to think Tik-Tok is, I also truly admire some of these videos and the ideas people come up with. Maybe I come from a place of envy more than anything. Granted I do think a lot of the videos are just fucking stupid). Like the rest of social media platforms, it has its pros and its cons, and it has helped a lot of people get through the disaster that has been 2020.
Tik-Tok truly pays testament to our dwindling attention spans as well; just like how Twitter is so popular because tweets are short and to the point, Tik-Tok is a small clip rather than a full-length movie. Where you can go to Twitter for news briefs and staying up to date, you can turn to Tik-Tok for short entertainment. It also allows artists to showcase their best 15-60 seconds of their songs. At record labels and studios, when we ask artists to play their music, we ask for the first 30 seconds. Are the first 30 seconds the weakest part? Perhaps you have an excruciatingly long intro, full of clips and recordings rather than actual music. Too bad. That’s what is going to represent you. In this case, however, you get to pick whichever part you think is the best and use that to show for the whole track. For instance, I loved “Said Sum (Remix)” when I heard JT’s part that went viral throughout the app. However, when I went to Spotify and searched for the song, I didn’t even realize it was the same song. I listened to it like three different times trying to figure out if it was the same song but ending it too early because I didn’t like it. Frankly, once I heard it all the way through, including the bit that I came for, I hated the rest of the song. I think Yung Miami lacks musicality, and it isn’t the first song of their’s that I’ve liked for a few seconds, just to have to shut it off not long after. I have found a few songs like that, where I only enjoy the piece of the song that got famous. And yet, that’s all an artist needs to top the charts. I had no idea that the Renegade challenge was from K Camp’s “Lottery”. I just assumed that was the name of the song! Hell, I didn’t even know if it had words to it. The most terrifying reveal, however, was the artist responsible for the clip telling girls to “shake some ass.” It was catchy enough for a few seconds, but after digging deeper to discover 19-year-old Ppcocaine, I was astonished. I must disclose that I love the fact that she’s openly gay, and that she definitely doesn’t hide that in her lyrics. However, I equate her to being the female 6ix9ine, both in appearances and very, very screechy, irritating sounds. While I think it’s cool that a lot of up-and-coming artists are getting the chance to shine, especially those who may not necessarily have the means to do so, I think it’s also putting some objectively shitty music on the charts (I’m talking to you, Jason Derulo). In fact, despite how many big-named hip-hop artists have blacklisted 6ix9ine from the industry, Tik-Tok and this idea of internet fame has kept 6ix9ine on top with trends to songs like “Gooba”. Now that song leaves me at a loss for words. And while some people make videos ridiculing the video and 6ix9ine, others make real dances to it, straight face and all, hoping their video will go viral.
It would be unfair to completely discredit the platform, even if it has made songs that I genuinely love extremely annoying because I have to hear them on every discover page. Take, for instance, Wiz Khalifa and Ty Dolla $ign’s “Something New.” I adored that song. It felt sexy and intimate, and I’m just super attracted to Ty Dolla $ign. Not my fault. Well, at least I thought it was sexy before a bunch of families started doing some weird linear role-call to it, even though it made absolutely no sense and was completely taken out of context. However, it helped the song top the charts, and gave people a reason to smile and enjoy family time during a difficult year, so who am I to get mad at that. The same thing with Megan Thee Stallion; while “Savage” was one of my favorite songs until I couldn’t stand it because I heard it absolutely everywhere, I was happy that it did so well and that people had so much fun with it. Thankfully I wasn’t too crazy about “Body”. It is inspiring to see young content creators getting recognized for their impact and innovation when it feels like you have to be hot and rich to be a famous ‘influencer’. It’s made it more attainable, and definitely more diverse. It’s also acted as a really beautiful memorandum for artists such as Pop Smoke, Mac Miller, and XXXTentacion, whose deaths have impacted various generations. In the case of Mac Miller, a lot of his older music such as “Knock Knock” has resurfaced, allowing his fans to remember him for the beautiful music he’s released now while also reminiscing on his fun, youthful presence that first got him noticed when he came into the music scene. Pop Smoke has multiple songs on the charts including “Mood Swings” and “What You Know Bout Love”, giving him posthumous recognition that may have taken him longer to achieve. It provides fun memories for their legacies, and I think that’s important.
Tik-Tok has also introduced the younger generation to old-school Hip-Hop. It’s funny, as I was doing research for this post, I saw that songs like “Laffy Taffy” and T.I.’s “Whatever You Like” have regained popularity. And while I personally don’t consider them ‘old-school’ in comparison to my typical taste and the fact that they were released in the 2000s when I was in grade school, I forget that there’s a whole generation that doesn’t even know what Blockbuster is. Man does it make me feel old. Although those songs don’t have the same ‘boom-bap’ flair that a track like “It’s Tricky” by Run-D.M.C. may have, it’s fun to see how people can utilize them, especially because songs like “Laffy Taffy” and “Teach Me How To Dougie” already have dances that were created when I was growing up; ones that were a lot less complex with a lot less video proof (which is for the best). With the trend of “It’s Tricky”, which is sort of like a virtual game of this-or-that (although not going with Black Sheep’s “The Choice Is Yours” feels like a missed opportunity to me) it’s especially cute to see gen-Zers do this with their parents, considering they probably actually grew up on Run-D.M.C. I think I’d be hype if my future kids knew about this and asked me to do some fun trend with them to it. There’s also a new dance trend uniting both old-heads and young kids alike, compiling popular dances from the ’80s to the 2000s. The video includes MC Hammer’s shuffle, the ‘Aunt Viv’ (from the infamous Fresh Prince episode where Aunt Viv schools all the young white girls), the Humpty, and the Dougie (once again making me feel very fucking old). My one frustration with that is again, the choice of music. Why opt for Bruno Mars’ “Finesse” (although it’s a pretty dope remix), when you have so many choices that were actually from these decades! Either way, the creativity is mind-boggling, and it’s quite fun seeing a bunch of 40-year-olds killing it on Tik-Tok. Hell, young kids finally even learned about Too $hort’s “Blow The Whistle”, a song that has been sampled and quoted SO many times. And you know I will ALWAYS insist that you put some RESPEK on Too $hort’s name.
I think the frustration lies in this forced need to create songs that work for the app. Some just work because they’re catchy, and then others such as Drake’s “Tootsie Slide” have specific directions. Between the fact that the song has a dance to go with it by default and the idea that it was released during quarantine, it’s quite obvious that it was meant to go viral. And yet, those songs seem the most forced, in my opinion. It’s the dances where people look like they’re having genuine fun that seem to do the best. I think that’s why songs like “WAP”, Jack Harlow’s “What’s Poppin”, Roddy Rich’s “The Box”, and BMW Kenny’s “Wipe It Down” did so well. They were fun songs that allowed your imagination to go wild while having fun beats to go with it. And more than anything, they were silly, or simple, or controversial, while being solid tracks! While it’s a new idea that your song just needs 20 good seconds to do well on Tik-Tok, it should still be a fire track. Interesting production will get you far, and rather than restricting people to what they should do with the song by engraining particular steps, let other people get creative with it. If they can tell you enjoyed making the track, they’ll enjoy it so much more.
My favorite aspect of Tik-Tok is how it’s finally allowed for multiple female Hip-Hop artists to be on top. I think there’s no doubt that a lot of these songs are sexy and provocative. Not only has that taught women to be liberated without being slut-shamed quite as much because it’s just a viral ‘trend’, but it’s normalized feeling sexy and confident. I think that’s why artists like Megan Thee Stallion, City Girls, and Doja Cat are absolutely dominating Tik-Tok, and in turn, the Top 100 songs. And more than anything, these raunchy lyrics are everywhere! They aren’t being hidden away, or considered taboo the way sexy Hip-Hop songs used to be frowned upon. Everyone is embracing them. Megan Thee Stallion creates music that encourages young women to feel in charge of their bodies while showing that things like education and sex appeal don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Saweetie’s music is all about confidence and feeling like a bad bitch. City Girls are all about showing people who’s boss and emphasizing the idea of having fun while not giving a fuck what people say. Jhene Aiko makes it known that her opinion of herself is the only one that matters. Princess Nokia is all about empowering other women and individuality. And my girl Rico Nasty doesn’t take ANYONE’s shit. Rather than tearing each other down, this new generation of young, female rappers are all about collaboration, and it’s so dope to see. There’s finally a way for women to co-exist, and a lot of that is because of Tik-Tok. The people control the popularity, and especially in the age of feminism, if a female artist is known for tearing others down, they won’t be as likable. Instead, the girls collaborate. There truly is a rapper for every type of woman, and Tik-Tok allows girls to express this through dance, clothing, make-up, and other forms of art. The music simply provides the soundtrack and fundamentals.
While Tik-Tok has done so much to keep people happy and creating during quarantine while giving young artists new and exciting opportunities, I do take some issues with it. For starters, it definitely destroys my self-confidence. Granted, Instagram does that, and it is probably a ‘me’ problem, so I can’t fault anyone for that besides myself. However, I think the pressure from social media to maintain a certain appearance or live a particular lifestyle that may not be realistic is evident, and Tik-Tok is no exception. On a similar note, like Youtube, there is an elitist side of Tik-Tok that has mass-produced rich white kids. These kids seem to be the envy of everyone without doing anything of substance. And that is where my main issue lies. Hip-hop has been societally looked down upon for decades. A lot of these parents who are on Tik-Tok making videos to rap songs with their children would never have allowed them to listen to this music growing up. It’s like the ‘all lives matter’/Trump supporting kids who are gaining views for using songs by Black artists while voting against their safety and rights. And this is where the title of my post comes from. Sadly, Tik-Tok influencers like the D’Amelio sisters get more views on their videos than the young Black girl who started the “Savage” trend. It’s this mentality that keeps the rich richer while preventing young children of color from moving forward. There is also an extremely racist side of Tik-Tok. One that is full of young, white kids saying the N-word (in a very racist and hateful manner), while advocating for violence and very out-dated views. While I understand that we have the first amendment, I think that Tik-Tok allows for young white kids to profit off of Black culture, while failing the creators. In a larger context, Sasha Obama went viral for her Tik-Tok. She looks absolutely beautiful, she’s having fun with her friends, and she’s acting her age. However, when her video gains traction, it’s met with criticism and disgust. But when the D’Amelio sisters go viral for doing the same thing, they’re met with their own TV show. Just like how white girls twerking is impressive and artistic, but when Black women do it, it’s trashy. There’s a double-standard that needs to be tackled, and until then, social media will continue to feed into systematic racism. I also don’t want to say that it deduces music, but for the artists like Tierra Whack, who is so outspoken and particular, it feels weird seeing her music used for paint-mixing videos by middle-aged women just because it’s a trending sound.
Despite my personal views of the platform, and probably being way too awkward to succeed on it, I think Tik-Tok has done a lot for young artists. It’s provided relief, distractions, stupidity, and lots of laughs, but social media can be dangerous and addicting. In the same way that it has helped promote some artists, it does not work for everyone and has unfortunately gotten a significant hold of the music industry. I truly feel for my artists that hold their artistic integrity to a different standard. If the platform works for you and your brand as an artist, utilize it. If not, don’t force it, and don’t be discouraged. Although Tik-Tok has an elitist mentality that favors certain users, it’s erasing negative stigmas and stereotypes surrounding the culture. It’s raising awareness around new and up-and-coming artists. It’s giving them opportunities to network and collaborate. It’s getting their music heard. And remember: just because you may not feel like your music will work on Tik-Tok doesn’t mean that others will share the same sentiment. Go through your distributors to make sure that your songs are available. You never know who might find them and use them. Here’s to seeing what 2021 brings us.