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What Music Goes Viral On TikTok?
By now, you've probably heard Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road Remix" a few times over. The song's viral moment—culminating on its record-breaking run on the Billboard Hot 100—was inescapable for the better part of 2019.
Yet before the young rapper rode his way into the spotlight, he uploaded a clip of the original song, along with a "challenge," to the popular social media video app, TikTok. Users, the bulk of whom are Gen Zers, can upload and view 15-second videos set to music, with the song title/artist displayed.
Consequentially, an ever-growing handful of catchy songs have gained fame within the app and, in the case of Lil Nas X, Lizzo (her #DNATest Challenge recently helped catapult her 2017 bop "Truth Hurts" to the charts) and a few others, in the greater popular culture and pop music landscapes. A recent story on Haulix's blog looks at last month's biggest hit songs on TikTok to unpack the trends behind the trends, to help more artists take a shot at getting their viral moment.
Haulix points to several key elements of songs that have gained traction on the app recently, highlighting the importance of "memorable lyrics," especially ones TikTokers can act out in their videos, as well as a danceable beat and a bass drop.
Since the video clips can only be 15 seconds long, the app only plays a short segment of the featured song. The audio content of TikTok videos is the song itself and not the user singing, rapping or talking over it, meaning songs with clever or quotable lyrics tend to be the most popular.
While some tracks that make waves on the platform may be fun and catchy and continue to gain traction in its whole form on streaming platforms and the like, what is most important in successful TikTok hits are the catchy bars that hook people in and allow them to use their bodies and facial expressions—from dance moves, costume changes, creative makeup and more—to put themselves in the song.
As Haulix pointed, "The greatest songwriters from previous generations made an impact on culture with songs and albums that told elaborate, sprawling stories of the human condition. Some of those tracks may find an audience on TikTok as well, but most users are seeking out 4-16 bars that make an immediate impression on listeners. Lyrics that may seem silly or outright ridiculous to average music consumers often take TikTok by storm."
They point to user @schmidtyqueen's video to Yung Gravy's song "Magic" about as an example of how she used his outlandish lyrics ("Heard my voice now she trying to have whoa. / Flexing ain't too complex, baby./ Ala-ka-f***ing-zam") to create a cute, engaging and simple clip.
The article also points to the popularity of rap, EDM and anything with heavy bass on the platform—anything with a catchy trap beat or a big bass drop is likely to get users attention, and find them inspired to try out their dance moves in hopes of gaining other users attention, likes and shares.
Haulix includes a 7-minute compilation video of some pretty fun TikTok clips set to bbno$ & y2k's viral hit "lalala," which features a simple trunk-rattling bassline and nonsensical lyrics with a humorous opening line ("Did I really just forget that melody?"). The video currently has over 39 million views on YouTube alone and found its way to the top of Spotify's Viral 50 chart in June.
Similar to bass drops, drastic beat changes or chord shifts (not unlike the journey of Travis Scott and Drake's GRAMMY-nominated 2018 No. 1 hit "SICKO MODE") can also inspire creative videos and viral moments on the platform. Haulix points to Kesh Kesh's "Vibin" as a popular example of this, where the beat itself (the only words in the clip are "One, two, three / let's switch this up.") leads, switching from banjo-led chords to a spacey G-funk beat.
In summary, if you're trying to give your music an extra push, make sure it's a trunk-slapper, one that could get the club going up or at least has funny, catchy lyrics, you can try your luck and viral fame and upload it to TikTok. It's always time for new challenges!