Stop the TikTokification of music

Stop the TikTokification of music

Chicago’s Lincoln Hall was at capacity. Hundreds of teenagers filed into the auditorium and stared starry-eyed — almost drooling — at the stage about to be graced by the presence of yet another TikTok star. But instead of the evening being filled with sing-alongs, it was embarrassingly silent except for the chorus of one song. 

This is what many people in the music industry call the TikTokification of music. When songs go viral on the social media platform, they garner millions of uses and streams, which sets up a promising future for aspiring artists in a notoriously difficult industry. But when it comes down to live shows, merchandise purchasing, and career longevity, we’re running into some major problems. TikTok has radically altered our consumption of music and in this process has harmed artists, listeners, and the industry as a whole. 

Despite this, TikTok has reshaped the music industry in many positive ways. Artists used to require the backing of a major label in order to be even remotely successful, and although there are still many perks to being signed to one of these, artists can succeed without them. TikTok offers an avenue of free, creative marketing that when done consistently, almost always works. 

It has also helped resurrect classics like Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (a Deal With God)” and Baby Tate’s “Hey Mickey” sample. It has the ability to breathe new life into old tunes and expose younger generations to older music. But when audiences are not given the tools or even the expectation to engage with artists on a deeper level, we risk losing the very things people love the most about music: the community, the in-person experiences, and the connection.

This artist at Lincoln Hall signed to one of the biggest record labels at the age of 18. He has amassed millions of streams on every platform imaginable and has built a steady following of fans from all over the world. And yet, at a sold-out live show, the audience knew 20 words of his music.

TikTok cheapens music as an art form because it demands virtually nothing of listeners. Instead of actively searching for music to listen to — whether that be at a record store, on the radio, or even scrolling through streaming services — TikTok users are served the songs that everyone else is consuming on a silver algorithmic platter. They’re even spoonfed the exact few-second section of virality in a track. Used as the backdrop for their videos about clothing hauls and relationship advice, listeners aren’t expected to even tune into the song at all. 

The TikTokification of music saw its peak with Steve Lacy’s hit song “Bad Habit.” The song spent three weeks at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 last year and on TikTok, clips of it reached hundreds of millions of viewers. However, when people started coming to his live shows, the numbers meant nothing. 

In a viral video from a performance in Maryland last fall, Lacy says to the crowd, “You’re telling me you woke up early to queue for tickets online, spent your (parents’) money, got your outfit, traveled to the show… and in between all of that time you didn’t learn one other word of the song than the hook? The audacity!”

This outburst marked the beginning of Lacy’s frustration with TikTok crowds. It continued to build after his sophomore album “Gemini Rights” was released and culminated in a scene where he broke an audience member’s camera after it was thrown on stage. Lacy’s onstage actions might not be excusable, but it’s becoming clear that TikTok’s effects are wearing out artists. 

If live shows used to be a long-term committed relationship, TikTok is a one-night stand. Live shows have the potential to be intimate and unique but have quickly evolved into the awkwardness levels of a middle school dance. 

If we continue supporting the TikTokification of music, artists will fall off the bandwagon faster than they got on. Distinct decades and subgenres rich with cultural impact and meaning will cease to exist. Our canon of foundational music for our generation will become shallow and ironic, composed only of random clips.

We shouldn’t delete all our social media and streaming service accounts in the name of enjoying art “purely.” But we should be more engaged and conscious of the art we consume and how we do so. If we don’t, we won’t have one-hit wonders. We’ll have seven-second wonders and silent concert halls.

Stop the TikTokification of music

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