By Grace Toovey: Music Columnist

A mere 2 years ago, the words “tiktok” held an entirely different meaning which, to the younger generations, has been almost entirely monopolised since the release of the mobile app by the same moniker worldwide in 2018.

Prior to being rolled out in its current form, the TikTok app existed in the form of a much smaller, more obscure app by the name of Musically. This app was the brainchild of Chinese app developers who saw the ways in which young people interact with online media – music streaming, consuming very short videos on apps such as Vine – and had the idea to merge the two. This app made small ripples across the internet amongst youngsters who took enjoyment in combining social networking with their love for music.

It wasn’t until the coronavirus pandemic, however, that TikTok had the monumental breakthrough that was waiting on the horizon for a while, bringing it to the forefront of everyone’s mind. The app has seen 200 million downloads since the start of 2020 with a 25% increase in March from February’s statistics. Clearly there is an unprecedented desire in the current climate for consuming musical content in small doses. But what does this mean for the music industry as a whole?

It is quite apparent that since the mass movement from physical album sales to online streaming, the way that albums are produced has changed: according to the Grammy’s albums are shorter, more songs on an album are more likely to be released as singles, and listeners have much shorter attention spans than in the past – they don’t want to listen to full albums anymore. So it is no surprise that apps such as tiktok are changing the way we consume singles.

The majority of Tiktok’s videos average at 15 seconds each and songs are chosen accordingly; users will select the most catchy part of a song which will then be taken by other users to add to their own videos. Given the sheer mass of people who use TikTok every day, it could be that millions of people hear the song, but only 15 seconds at a time.


Tiktok is quickly becoming a household name the world over but how is this Chinese mobile app surreptitiously changing the music industry as we know it?

The first time the benefits of these 15 second clips could be seen would be through the staggering popularity of the hit Old Town Road, completely facilitated by the TikTok dance trend which came along with it. However, it is worth noting that, aside from the catchy chorus of this song, little more of it is memorable.

And this is where tiktok’s impact on music comes into play: music producers have copped onto the fact that songs with repetitive and catchy elements sell because they have the widest appeal on mobile apps. This has resulted in a pop music scene of hits with these exact characteristics.

Looking at the Global Viral charts, both the number 1 and number 2 songs are songs popularised by the TikTok app. Let’s Link by the previously little known WhoHeem is at number one with 20,000,000 streams. His other songs top at just 100,000 hits. The majority of the songs in the chart demonstrate the exact same pattern: short, repetitive, catchy songs which launched the artists to popularity. Evidently, using TikTok to push songs has great effects and music producers would struggle to be more blatant in their efforts for viral hits.

The main area of contention here is this: is this pattern of catering to music apps a bad thing? The gut reaction of many music fans is to say yes! Is it not disingenuous to only produce songs with viral popularity in mind? However, it is reasonable to assume that this is harmless in many ways: these apps are aimed at very young people who would generally consume top 40 hits, anyway, hits which are meticulously crafted to be catchy earworms. How is TikTok any different?

Perhaps the question music fans have to ask themselves is whether, in this new digital age, whether we evolve with the way music is consumed and accept that times are changing, or do we pine for a bygone era of music consumption that may be dying out?

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