TikTok and I have a… complicated relationship. I download it, spend way too much time on it, then delete the app in a huff of frustration at 3 a.m. on a Sunday. A few days later, the cycle starts again.
When it’s not disrupting college students’ sleep schedules, TikTok gives musicians a platform to introduce their music to the millions of people who scroll through the app every day.
TikTok trends spread like wildfire. Whether a dance, a skit or simply lip-syncing, the trends usually have a specific song that accompanies them. Although creators often use the music of popular artists like Billy Joel, The Weeknd and Megan Thee Stallion, TikTok trends sometimes feature—and boost—the music of lesser-known artists as well.
Take Frances Forever, for example, who released “Space Girl” in March 2020. In October, their partner and muse Robin (@papa.squash on TikTok) created a dance to a short clip of the song, and the duo began uploading videos on TikTok, encouraging viewers to try the dance challenge. By Nov. 20, eight months after being released, “Space Girl” had slowly climbed to only 440,175 Spotify streams. A few days later, though, the “Space Girl” dance trend finally started to take off. On Nov. 26, TikTok user @sweetvirgocreature posted a compilation of people dancing to Frances Forever’s song—the video got over 15 million views.
On Nov. 28, Frances Forever celebrated one million Spotify streams. Because of its sudden spike in popularity on TikTok, “Space Girl” got more streams in one week than it had in eight months.
Although Frances Forever now has to deal with the app’s users dubbing their song “that TikTok song,” that’s a small price to pay for the level of success the app helped them achieve—“Space Girl” now has over 30 million Spotify streams.
One recent addition to my “Songs To Listen To When You Want To Imagine Yourself Starring in a Music Video” playlist is Ricky Montgomery’s “Line Without a Hook,” which I discovered on TikTok. Montgomery released the song back in 2016 on his debut solo album “Montgomery Ricky,” which didn’t meet as much success as he had hoped. However, after TikTok users started using the song in 2020, “Line Without a Hook” reeled people in and began climbing—and topping—Spotify charts late last summer.
Montgomery isn’t a TikTok one-hit-wonder, though. His song “Mr Loverman” also made the rounds on the app last year. Curiously, fans of the anime series “Banana Fish” adopted the song for their video edits of the show. Although it was only the background music, the song proved hard to ignore, with Montgomery singing its clever yet hauntingly nostalgic chorus: “I’m Mr Loverman/ And I miss my lover, man.”
“Mr Loverman,” also released in 2016, hit Spotify’s Viral Top 50 in the United States, Canada and Australia in August 2020. Montgomery signed with Warner Records last December, and, since then, he’s been releasing music videos, remixes, collaborations and merchandise—all for songs he released five years ago.
After years of trying to make it in the music industry, and even considering giving up, Montgomery crowned 2020 as the “best year of [his] career.” In September 2020, he wrote on Twitter, “I want to thank [TikTok] users…for giving me a real career in music…it’s nothing short of miraculous what this app does for musicians.”
Sometimes, the success of musicians on TikTok is deliberate, as when Frances Forever set out to popularize a dance trend to their song. Other times, it seems strangely random, like when anime fans suddenly claimed Ricky Montgomery’s music. Neither artist, though, could have anticipated the level of popularity their songs would reach on the app, and how much it would change their careers. This unpredictability gives TikTok its exciting, “miraculous,” anyone-can-make-it type of feel.
These success stories inspire other musicians, and they take advantage of the feeling of possibility TikTok provides. When I scroll through my For You page, I often see aspiring artists playing their songs and asking viewers to give them a listen. And I can’t blame them. With strategy, consistency and a little luck from the TikTok algorithm, one of their songs just might be the next big TikTok trend.