WXPN Best of 2020: The year in Tik Tok
As the year winds down, we’re continuing our look back at the music of these past twelve months with an ongoing series of XPN Best of 2020 deep dives. Today, The Key’s Regina Schliep reflects on the rise of Tik Tok and it intersection with the music world.
So much of the past year has been massively unpredictable, with unknown and uncertainty being around every corner. If The Key’s Best of 2020: Album Picks didn’t make it clear enough, amongst it all, music was always there, and perhaps for many, it was more important than it ever has been, despite much of its traditional spirit included in the abrupt change. The social media hit TikTok has been similarly unpredictable to 2020 and yet simultaneously unifying like the music this year. While the app has many downfalls, one of the most enjoyable things it provided for me was the different connection to music during months of isolation, especially with the absence of live shows.
TikTok has become a hotbed for music, whether it be discovery thanks to the algorithm that pushes videos with popular songs, or the recommendations from accounts that function like a Pandora radio station. Classics like “It’s Tricky,” “How Bizzare” and “We’re Going to Be Friends” have resurfaced into trends that take over the app, opening windows of music discovery for younger users. One of the more unique features the app brings to music is the accessibility to make engaging videos that people want to interact with, making it easy for musicians to share their music, and sometimes it works out, really, really well. As a music fan, if you’ve narrowed down your For You Page (the app’s home feed) through interacting with certain hashtags or topics, you can probably find a whole other discourse about your favorite music happening, like song rankings on albums, lyric analyses, or the breakdown of instrumental arrangements from those who know much more about music theory than most.
It’s too soon to tell whether TikTok is ultimately a friend or foe to the music industry, but its growth in the past year has been the catalyst for musicians’ careers, familiar faces have made their way on the app, and the connection fostered by music was only made clearer. Check out my favorite music moments on TikTok from the past year.
Megan Thee Stallion is having a breakout year with the release of two projects, her Suga EP and full-length album Good News. She’s also dominated TikTok, with her songs “Savage,” “Body,” and number one spot holder on several year-end lists, “WAP,” being the songs to viral dances, racking up over 30 million cumulative uses of the tracks. After being a victim of assault, and the subsequent public response downplaying the seriousness in the situation, witnessing Meg’s success on the app and in the broader music scene held even more reason for celebrating her rise in hip-hop. She spoke via The New York Times in a powerful Opinion piece about protecting Black women, emphasizing the crudeness of online response to her assault, as well as the seriousness in the disproportionate rate of violence that Black women experience.
As a follow up to a Twitter promise, Phoebe Bridgers released a cover of The Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” with Maggie Rogers as a surprise guest on the track. Its Bandcamp Friday release raised 173,703 dollars for Stacey Abrams’ voter rights organization The Fair Fight. The duo made an appearance on TikTok celebrating the track’s success.
if trump loses I will cover iris by the goo goo dolls— traitor joe (@phoebe_bridgers) November 3, 2020
�ȭ y’all raised 173,703.95 for Fair Fight �ȭ♬ original sound – Maggie Rogers
Sometimes there are songs that just seem like they cannot be more perfect or dealt with the same in the hands of someone else. Frank Ocean’s “Godspeed,” off his widely celebrated 2016 LP Blonde, felt like one of those songs until James Blake, who worked on the album, posted a piano cover to the app, which quickly grew popular as a sound for other TikToks. Blake released a studio version of the cover afterward, and although the original still shines, his sparse and emotive vocals over a piano ballad make a unique rendition of the track.
New decades resolution was to spend more time at my instrument than at a laptop. Here’s a cover of a song I helped write – Godspeed by Frank Ocean.♬ original sound – James Blake
Women in Music pt. III is HAIM’s third studio album released this past summer and recently Grammy-nominated for Album of The Year. The project features their work in a variety of styles yet still remains in the aesthetic of their overall identity, with personal songwriting unfolding in a catchy manner. The trio delayed the LP’s release due to COVID-19, but while fans waited they “took the steps” to TikTok with fun, lighthearted dance tutorials to its singles.
don’t wanna/ little of your love dance REMIX. have u listened to “don’t wanna” yet??♬ original sound – haimtheband
You never know who you will see on TikTok, as its popularity has prompted many celebrities and musicians to find their way onto the app. Alongside the success of tracks like “Dora” in the sound section, Philly’s Tierra Whack has become an entertaining personality as well. There often isn’t a whole lot of sense to her short clips, but it the same idiosyncratic, imaginative and clever aspects found in her music that radiate through her humorous bits.
On a more technical side of music, accounts like SongPsych explains phenomena and unique features about popular songs in simplified terms of music theory or the psychology of music. Topics anywhere from the difference between and history of the often-conflated shoegaze and dream pop styles, as well as answers to questions like why we love Kid Cudi’s hums and why Mario music is so memorable, are synthesized with easy-to-understand language, emphasizing the app’s accessibility to different areas of knowledge.
TikTok has turned into a labyrinth of music discovery as well as giving rise to songs or artists who’ve been making music for quite some time. New Zealand indie-pop star BENEE saw a breakout year with her track “Supalonely,” which amassed millions of uses on TikTok with its signature dance and became one of the most popular songs of the year.
Almost a year after its release, “Sofia” by indie-pop act Clairo became her first career entry on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, namely thanks to its rapid-fire spread on TikTok.
A wholesome viral moment of a man riding a skateboard holding cranberry juice with Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” used as a sound, quickly became an internet meme, so much so that Stevie Nicks made an account to join in on the moment.
The boom of TikTok in 2020 has made it even more clear that music isn’t a passive experience for many people. Whether it’s going to shows, interacting with artists, talking about your favorite track of the year or arguing the position of a track on the 2020 Countdown list, there is so much room to lean into and interact with music, and for many TikTok was one of the places to do that in 2020.