TikTok is reshaping the music industry; changing the way hopeful artists write songs, shifting how A&Rs hunt down new talent, and reshaping major labels’ PR strategies to land songs on the charts. It’s also making half the world’s millennials feel like old heads.
The app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, claims more than 800 million active users worldwide—that’s all of Australia 32 times over. Four years after the mannequin challenge propelled Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles” to #1, TikTok has taken over as the music industry’s favourite viral hitmaker. For independent artists and major labels alike, it’s an exciting alternative to traditional radio and hard-to-crack streaming playlists. In this world, the best tastemaker to get a co-sign from is 16-year-old TikTok superstar Charli D’Amelio.
The songs that dominate TikTok are uptempo, percussive, more hip-hop than pop, and increasingly written with the specific intention of going viral on the app. Artists who grew up online usually compose TikTok hits more intuitively than megastars, but everyone’s trying. The audio for Justin Beiber’s TikTok “Come Around Me Challenge ” mashes together two separate verses from the original track (a fairly downtempo album cut) over new percussion to create a more challenge-friendly 15 second loop. And while dance challenges typically power the biggest TikTok hits, helping them crossover from the app to the charts, they’re not a necessity. Tiagz’s “They Call Me Tiago” and the bbno$-y2k collab “Lalala” first gained traction on the app without signature dance challenges, just soundtracking whatever users were into filming at the time.
Here’s a guide to some of the biggest songs to pop off on TikTok—from slow burns and surprise hits to juggernauts you can’t escape—and how they changed their artists’ careers.