Lately, it seems TikTok is unavoidable. From hearing students and professors make references to the platform in chats and conversations over Zoom calls to seeing the popular short-form content infiltrating the feeds of Twitter and Instagram — whether we like it or not, TikTok is becoming ingrained in contemporary pop culture.
Formerly known as Musical.ly, the app was created for users to share videos of themselves lip syncing to their favorite songs. Though that trend still exists and is widely popular among users, the use of TikTok as a catapult to fame and greater success in the music industry has also seen a significant rise in the past year.
Social media and the virtual world have been taking the reins over pop culture even before the pandemic began. But with further onset of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, TikTok, now reaching over a billion downloads, quickly became the place for new artists to share their music and old artists to have a second wind of stardom.
Songs have topped the charts with viral dance challenges to accompany them, singers have been signed to record deals and old music has been brought back into the mainstream — one wouldn’t question why artists are being told by their record labels to hop on board the trend.
The magnitude of social media’s power to completely uproot people’s lives hasn’t changed since the beginning. In the same way social media always has, TikTok is being used to propel the new wave of young (and old) talent forth at a time when people are searching for a sense of entertainment, relatability and belonging.
Remember the term “one-hit wonder?” Old hits such as “Come on Eileen,” “Tainted Love” and “Take on Me” fall under this classification, granting mainstream popularity to artists solely for their one piece of work. But if that term still applied today in a new way, what would we use to describe those that gain almost instant popularity and fade out from the scene soon after? Has the phrase “15 minutes of fame” turned even smaller? I would argue so.
People are going viral these days faster than ever.
Now instead of “15 minutes of fame,” it’s become “15 seconds.” Even Spotify has playlists dedicated to “Viral Hits” and “Internet People.” Though social media allows more artists to rise and flourish during the pandemic, I can only help but wonder if these “Viral Hits” will sustain the same stamina and longevity of the “one-hit wonders” that came before. With content getting shorter and media entertainment becoming more accessible than ever, young people become the pacemakers in deciding the next big trends in music.
There’s no doubt that TikTok is bringing new tunes to the turntable and even reviving old ones such as Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit “Dreams” and even more recently popularized in the 19th century — the sea shanty. However it all went down, I know I’m not complaining about it.
By now, if you’ve been steeped in pop culture phenomena for the past few months, you likely know of the TikTok that brought a significant rise in streams to the iconic song “Dreams” and made the track suddenly relevant again among Generation Z who didn’t grow up in the era when the song was at its height. Does Ocean Spray cranberry juice ring a bell? In Oct. 2020, an Idaho man went viral, blissfully skateboarding to the song while drinking from a gallon bottle of cran-raspberry juice. Later retweeted by Stevie Nicks herself, the singer also took to TikTok to strap up her roller skates and sing along to her infamous hit.
Don’t stop there, though. If you’ve only discovered Fleetwood Mac within the past few months or haven’t explored much of their discography, I suggest giving “Rumours” a good listen.
So, what will be next in line to have a 21st century pandemic comeback?
Look no further. You probably would’ve never guessed it, but sea shanties are on the rise. And I’m not mad about it. It began with a man named Nathan Evans’ viral sea shanty cover of “The Wellerman,” which landed him a record deal. That’s right, a real life record deal with Polydor Records. Not many people can say they have signed with a label because of a TikTok video gone viral, let alone a sea shanty cover. Given Evans does have a noteworthy voice, this just goes to show anything is possible these days and the world is your oyster.
If you’re among the shanty-loving fanatics of today, check out “Blow the Man Down” — the song and the movie. It’s a catchy one and a plus if you like an indie film with a great score and cast.
Almost daily, the music industry and social media platforms are growing more and more interconnected, bouncing off of one another to find fresh talent and reach new heights. Just a few days ago, Universal Music Group and TikTok announced a global alliance that allows the platform full access to UMG’s catalogue of artists. This would benefit both the users along with the artists signed to the label.
As exciting as it is, I love that songs from decades ago are regaining recognition, specifically among the younger generations. It’s almost surprising to see. Though I didn’t grow up in the ‘60s, ’70s, ’80s or ’90s, I have an immense appreciation for the music produced during those decades and believe music is capable of being cyclical, maybe just reproduced and reimagined in different ways than before.
Whether it’s 19th century melodies, early 2000s hits or classic ’70s jams, trends come full circle and the beat always lives on.
Emily Sagen is a senior writing about music’s lasting impact. She is also an arts and entertainment editor at the Daily Trojan. Her column, “The Beat Lives On,” runs every other Friday.