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Why TikTok’s Chart Influence Hurts Artists

To preface, I’m usually not one to defend the money-driven institutions that lie at the crux of popular art, whether it be fashion or music. But a worrying trend concerning a certain dancing and lip-syncing app (I’m talking TikTok, of course) has made me question whether its unprecedented influence on the music industry is a particularly good thing. Sure, a few obscure artists have been propelled to stardom due to some viral audios, and decades-old hits have made their way back into the cultural consciousness due to the app–-but at what cost, exactly? As TikTok music dominates your feeds and shapes the weekly Billboard charts, it looks as if artists in the industry are paying the highest price. 

A recent study by UK-based price-comparison service Uswitch showed to what extent TikTok sounds impact an artist’s revenue and social media following, and the results are about what you’d expect–TikTok impacts a lot. Take Popp Hunna’s 2020 “Adderall (Corvette),” a TikTok hit that soundtracked 27.1 million videos and generated over $35K for the artist in just a 90-day period. The app’s 2021’s #WAPChallenge saw Cardi B’s Spotify following jump by a staggering 400,000 in less than a month–surely that breaks a record of some sort. But while these statistics seemingly spell success for those lucky enough to break the algorithm, they’ve birthed an insidious new form of industry pressure for artists: their labels want them to have a viral moment, too.

Record labels are a big force behind anything a signed artist does, and their desire for a piece of the TikTok pie is forcing artists to take advantage of the app’s popularity in order to have their turn in the internet limelight. But let’s face it–that simply isn’t possible. It doesn’t make sense to expect singers to have viral audio on an app where trends are fast-changing and entirely unpredictable.

In May, singer Halsey complained that her label was forcing her to go viral on TikTok before she could release new music. Raye, a British singer, and songwriter, recently opened up about her struggles with her former label Polydor after they refused to release her debut album; she was six years into her contract at that time. Polydor said they needed her single “Call on Me” to get TikTok famous before her album could see the light of day. FKA Twigs has talked about similar struggles: “It’s true all record labels ask for are TikToks, and I got told off today for not making enough effort,” she said, has since deleted her TikTok account. Even Charli XCX was apparently forced onto the app; in a TikTok lip-syncing over a Naomi Campbell sound, she quips, “Well, I didn’t really wanna be here, so I was made to be here, so obviously I’m just, like, wanting to get this over with and get on with my life. It’s a big inconvenience for me.” The post was captioned, “When my label asks me to make my 8th TikTok of the week”. 

The aforementioned artists aren’t the only ones impacted by the TikTok takeover of the 2020s, and down the road, we will inevitably see more stories like theirs. I honestly find it sad; if these trends continue, then we’ll be witness to a mass killing of genuine creativity in favor of 15-second sound bites and the disappearance of beloved artists who want no part of such a culture. Is that the future of music we really want?

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