Over the past two years, the popular entertainment app TikTok has changed how songs perform in the United States on music-streaming platforms and record charts like Apple Music, Spotify, Shazam, Amazon Music and the Billboard Hot 100.
In late 2018, artists like Ariana Grande, Drake and Post Malone were finding success with their own hits throughout the year. As always, musicians heavily relied on streams, digital and physical sales, radio play, and a sprinkle of online promotion to put listeners onto their music.
However, an upcoming artist from the newer and Gen Z-heavy digital age was bubbling up and putting these artists’ tracks to shame: Lil Nas X and his world-famous hit, “Old Town Road.”
Then a small artist, Lil Nas X originally released the song as a joke onto the music-sharing website SoundCloud in December 2018 before sharing it on TikTok as well.
There, it blew up and TikTokers started using the song as background music for the “yee yee juice” trend, where users recorded themselves sipping from a cup aptly named “yee yee juice” and suddenly shifting into stereotypical cowboy clothing.
@mytiktokcatsI couldn’t find a tiny hat #yeeyeejuice #cowboy #foryou #foryoupage #ilovemycat #cat♬ Old Town Road – Lil Nas X
TikTok user @mytiktokcats taking part in the “yee yee juice” trend with their cat (@mytiktokcats/TikTok)
The song saw rapid success thanks to the trend from March until May 2019, when the craze died down. But that didn’t stop “Old Town Road” from growing in popularity outside of the app.
In Alpha Data’s (formerly known as BuzzAngle Music) 2019 Year-End Report of U.S. Music Industry Consumption, the track was shown to outperform others released years before in on-demand music streaming platforms.
“Old Town Road,” now featuring country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, was eventually certified 15X platinum in the Recording Industry Association of America and spent 19 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the longest-running number one in the chart’s history.
More songs like Doja Cat’s “Say So,” Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” and Saweetie’s “Tap In” also grew in popularity with their own respective trends in and outside of TikTok in the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic.
@yodelinghaleyand here’s the dance🤪🥰 and THANK YOU FOR 10 MILLION HEARTS OMG THAT’S CRAZY♬ Say So – Doja Cat
TikTok user @yodelinghaley starting the “Say So” dance trend (@yodelinghaley/TikTok)
As a result of nationwide lockdowns, Americans found themselves bored at home for weeks on end with nothing to do outside of online work and school.
A lot of these people turned to social media as a distraction from the chaos and flurry of tragic news constantly surrounding them.
Like it was fate, TikTok also found a growth in new users on its platform during this time.
Business of Apps published TikTok’s Revenue and Usage Statistics in 2021, showing a steady increase in users since ByteDance launched the platform internationally in 2018.
The app’s boost in national users didn’t go unnoticed, and record labels flocked over to promote upcoming songs.
Dan Whateley, a media reporter at Insider, focusing on TikTok, YouTube and the creator economy, has covered what strategies record labels and marketers have used on the platform to promote songs and get them trending.
“There’s a few different approaches that marketers take,” said Whateley. “There’s hiring influencers who can use the song in a video, maybe as a dance challenge that they start, maybe they’re just playing it in the background, but it still gets listens and some attention that way.”
Artists themselves have also taken to the app to make their own videos and gain viewers, which in turn leads viewers to their music.
“Lizzo posts vegan cooking videos and so, it doesn’t always have to be specifically about the music, but it’s a great way to bring attention to an artist,” said Whateley.
@lizzoSick day soup .. starting to write my recipes down♬ Sunny Day – Ted Fresco
Singer Lizzo cooking a sick day meal for herself on TikTok (@lizzo/TikTok)
Record labels and the TikTok app itself have a hand in what songs trend as well.
“Record labels can pay to get more eyeballs on a sound on the app,” said Whateley. “The TikTok in-house team also does things like playlisting and highlighting certain sounds in-app.”
These methods of getting music to trend on TikTok have clearly worked since users are being led onto streaming platforms to listen to the songs they discover while using it.
Malena Fernández, a 19-year-old student at Florida International University, is one of the numerous TikTok users discovering new music from the platform.
“I discovered Don Toliver through TikTok and only listened to him because of ‘After Party’,” said Fernández. “I added ‘After Party’ to my playlist after listening to it multiple times on TikTok.”
Fernández is thankful for the app since it exposed her to music that she wouldn’t have heard otherwise.
“Without TikTok, I don’t think I would have ever listened to him as an artist,” said Fernández.
TikTok user and influencer Charli D’Amelio skating along to “After Party” (@charlidamelio/TikTok)
As Americans move onto the new year and a new phase of the pandemic, even more artists are embracing TikTok as a way of promoting their songs and getting them to trend.
The Kid LAROI, Justin Bieber, Olivia Rodrigo and Eurovision Song Contest 2021 winners Måneskin have also found success on the platform.
Songs from these artists blowing up on TikTok are also (not coincidentally) currently charting high on U.S. charts like the Billboard Hot 100, Spotify’s Top Songs U.S.A., Apple Music’s Top U.S.A. and Shazam’s Top 200 United States.
TikTok user @maxtaylorlifts dancing along to The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber’s “STAY” (@maxtaylorlifts/TikTok)
Now that TikTok has officially reached 1 billion global monthly users, the app is expected to continue growing in popularity and shifting the music industry.