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Is TikTok a force for good in music culture?


When TikTok initially started to infiltrate popular culture in 2019, music lovers were fearful about the detrimental impact that it would have. While it is undeniable that the platform has indeed shaken up the status quo, the question still remains: has this app been a positive one for the industry?

Unquestionably, the shift towards TikTok has made artists less like musicians and more like 24/7 content creators, but this cannot be blamed on the latest platform alone. The industry has been heading slowly down this road since MySpace, and then Tumblr, and with TikTok representing the trend’s latest evolution.

Additionally, it must be said that overnight success on the aforementioned platforms can have a catastrophic effect on mental health. A recent documentary by the BBC, Legends Never Die, a feature about the deaths of SoundCloud rappers XXXTentacion, Lil Peep, and Juice WRLD, is a harsh reminder that blowing up too soon online can lead to devastating circumstances.

However, musicians struggling to adjust to fame is nothing new, although the emphasis on living their lives online does seem to have amplified the issue. It remains increasingly difficult to break through as an artist without accepting that social media is an integral part of curating a fanbase. Currently, there is no more vital tool than TikTok.

Back in November, Sam Fender song ‘Seventeen Going Under’ began to be used as the backing track on a new trend on the platform, and despite being released months prior, the track began to chart. The lines from the song, “I was far too scared to hit him, But I would hit him in a heartbeat now, That’s the thing with anger, It begs to stick around,” were looped as people shared heartbreaking photos of their tales of suffering abuse as a childhood followed by an image of them now as an adult.

‘Seventeen Going Under’ has been used in over 161,000 videos on TikTok and peaked at number three in the UK chart last month. Rock music simply doesn’t penetrate the singles charts anymore. However, that could all be changing as the platform cuts out the middle man, and songs have an opportunity to grow organically.

Watch Sam Fender cover Amy Winehouse song ‘Back To Black’

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Oxfordshire group Glass Animals also have a similar tale, albeit on an international scale, with their 2020 single ‘Heat Waves’. The song was released in mid-2020 and then had a second lease of life the following year, thanks to a TikTok trend. After a record-breaking 42-weeks in the Billboard 200, it finally climbed to the top ten last November before later peaking at number three.

Furthermore, the winner of the prestigious BBC Sound of 2022 award, PinkPantheress, is another artist who has TikTok to thank for her success after uploading her first video on the app on Christmas Day in 2020.

After she soon gained viral success, the experimental popstar from Bath was signed by Parlophone, and it’s not just TikTok where she now reigns supreme. On Spotify, PinkPantheress boasts over six million monthly unique listeners, and she’s set for prominent slots this summer at Parklife and Reading & Leeds, as well as a support slot for Halsey in America.

The way in which people discover music is changing, and hearing a short loop of a song is an indictment of the attention spans of Gen-Z, which has aided PinkPantheress as her most popular song, ‘Pain’, lasts just over the 90-second-mark and is perfect for looping. 

Admittedly, not everyone is looking to storm the charts or have songs that can become the hottest trend, making them a household name in the process, but that’s not the only reason it’s valuable. Take 18-year-old political songwriter Seb Lowe from Saddleworth, for example, who boasts over 230,000 followers. A video of Lowe parodying the state of British politics in his bedroom armed with an acoustic guitar has been viewed over 3.7 million times.

Lowe has seen a direct result on his career, too, even on a smaller, independent scale, and it caught the attention of The Coral’s James Skelly, who produced his debut mini-album that arrived last year. His debut headline show at Manchester’s Night & Day sold out, and he’s since gone on to announce another concert for this May at the 600-capacity Gorilla.

Like any platform, the most important thing is authenticity, and their magical algorithm will then serve this to the appropriate audience, with some more niche than others.

Not everybody bedroom artist will achieve monster levels of success like what lies in store for Pinkpantheress. However, similarly to MySpace back in the 2000s, TikTok is the perfect way for musicians to skip out industry politics and amass a natural fanbase without treading down the traditional path. 

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