TikTok and the Music Industry: How an App Affects the Charts

About two months ago, an internet trend called the “Silhouette Challenge” stormed every platform. People ran to make videos with red backdrop lights to a mash up of Paul Anka’s “Put Your Head on My Shoulders,” which smoothly transitioned into Doja Cat’s “Freak” and “Streets”. This unlikely pairing of songs, one being a classic pop song from the 1950s and the other from a rapper’s album in 2019, blew up because of TikTok.

The videos and song for this trend were everywhere, with even celebrities joining in on the fun. About a month after the initial videos, Doja Cat herself tagged along by including the “Silhouette Challenge” in her new music video for “Streets.”

TikTok is full of dancing trends, random tutorials, DIY videos and a little bit of an “Owa Owa” on the side. It has taken over everyone’s phones and can easily be considered one of the top trending social media apps of the year. With nothing to do during the beginning of the pandemic, it seemed as if everyone turned to TikTok to fulfill the boredom.

However, what seems like a wacky guilty pleasure app has made a huge impact in pop culture. People aspire to start trends on TikTok that can then get passed onto Instagram or Twitter; the app has become a legitimate pathway to fame. Some people have even quit their jobs to post full time, and successfully so. But what’s interesting to look at is significant influence on the music industry.

Artists are thriving on using the TikTok to expand their audience. Smaller artists post their songs frequently to attract new fans, while bigger musicians interact with admirers or gain inspiration for their own content by looking at what is hot.

But how does this app do this exactly and what makes it different from other social media platforms?

TikTok takes content creators to a place that Instagram, Snapchat, or other apps have never done before. When you immediately enter the app, whether you are new to it or not, there is content available to you. As you continue to explore, their algorithm is constantly learning what you like or don’t like to see.

Although that sounds creepy—and don’t be scared—the algorithm has changed the game. You don’t need to follow anyone to view videos, or, if you’re a content creator, you don’t need a following to be seen. TikTok throws your videos out there for people to view and essentially does the work for you.

From there, TikTok and its users have been able to influence what songs are trending, to the point where it has even affected the Billboard charts. Consequently, artists no longer necessarily need the help of big record labels; they just need that one viral hit.

For instance, actress and musical artist Olivia Rodrigo featured a video with a snippet of the song “Driver’s License” back in January. TikTok viral sensation, Charlie D’Amelio, later reposted a video including that song to her millions of followers. After that, the rest was history for Rodrigo. “Driver’s License” has officially been the first song of 2021 to reach one billion streams worldwide, and it was all thanks to TikTok.

The app doesn’t only work for new or unreleased songs. In the summer of 2020, a remixed version of Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” was used for a viral trend on TikTok. Although she had released 16 new songs, the song, first released in 2008, has been in millions of videos. Not only did Swift benefit from this, but so did the creator of the remix.

22-year-old music producer Disco Lines posted the song to YouTube in the attempt to make the song go viral on TikTok. From there, he gained recognition and was even interviewed by Rolling Stone.

As for Doja Cat? The “Silhouette Challenge” had not been her first time dabbling with trends on TikTok. Her hit song “Say So” took over the app with a dance challenge started by roller-skating TikToker Haley Sharpe. Doja Cat later paid homage to the trend by using the song in her video, as well as having Sharpe in some of the shots at the end.

It’s clear to see that there is a push for the use of TikTok within musicians. However, many fear that this could create a new musical generation of one-hit wonders.

In an interview for NPR, LA Times pop music critic Mikael Wood explained, “You’ve got folks who made a really cool song that resonated with people, and then you sign them up. And you’re sort of putting them into the chute of, like, major-label pop stardom, but they haven’t developed the kind of grassroots following that will actually see them through when their next song isn’t maybe a viral smash.”

It’s not clear yet as to where TikTok can take its power or what it can influence next. However, for now, a lot of us simply look, scroll, and let the algorithm do its thing.

IMAGE TAKEN from Billboard