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Is TikTok Changing Our Music Tastes?

TikTok-creator-turned-musician GAYLE’s viral single abcdefu signaled the beginning of the feel-good indie artist trend, but is everything as it seems?

Credit: Daniel Constante/Shutterstock

TikTok-creator-turned-musician GAYLE’s viral single abcdefu signaled the beginning of the feel-good indie artist trend, all while being backed by influential record labels and lots of money.

Even if you don’t use TikTok, there’s a good chance at least one song that went viral on the app has been stuck in your head recently. Whether it’s another breakup anthem or a cover that just hit differently, it’s tough to figure out how many careers have been kickstarted by the site. It’s no wonder that on streaming services like Spotify, TikTok-inspired playlists are plentiful.

But taking a step back, are we actually enjoying these songs that are worming their way into our playlists, or is something going on behind the scenes?

TikTok video featuring GAYLE previewing her song abcdefu.
In this TikTok from July 30th, 2021, GAYLE debuts the first version of her viral hit abcdefu, inspired by commenter @nancy_berman.. Image: GAYLE/YouTube

The Indie Appeal

GAYLE’s alphabet-inspired anthem abcdefu went viral in 2021, flinging her into the spotlight. Overnight, she went from nobody to somebody, all because she was creative enough to come up with a song based on a comment by an internet stranger.

A life-changing coincidence, then. Or, more accurately, a life-changing chain of events staged to kickstart a lucrative career.

See, that internet stranger – posting under the username @nancy_berman – was less of a stranger than you’d think. In reality, she was a digital marketing manager for the little-known label Atlantic Records. And coincidentally, following her rise to fame, abcdefu was set to be released by the same label. The setup and the payoff were all there, a straightforward feel-good story for everybody involved. When indie creators and small businesses struggled, it was hard not to cheer her on.

With almost 700k likes on the original TikTok and hundreds of millions of streams on sites like Spotify, it’s not hard to see the effect this viral marketing campaign had. Image: Ground Picture/Shutterstock

So, is TikTok Changing Our Music Tastes?

I think so. We love to feel involved in the media we consume, and music is no different. GAYLE became famous because of the audience’s involvement. The idea that anybody could prove they’d been there before she became a mainstream artist was desirable. They could claim they gave a talented young artist the idea for That Song. The platform’s core means we’re listening to the same section of a song until it’s stuck in our heads.

Is that a bad thing, though? Well, it’s hard to say. The faux-relatable persona can be off-putting once you know these rises to fame were all carefully planned out. But if a song is fundamentally sound, maybe it isn’t so bad that it ended up in your playlist. These days, people want more content, and they want it now. Marketing is constantly changing; maybe your FYP is how musicians must keep up. This is a way to ensure you remain relevant in the industry.

Video Sharing Killed the Radio Star

There’s a good reason these record labels are turning their attention to TikTok. Whether it’s using a strong influencer fanbase to start a music career or releasing sped-up or slowed-down versions of an old favorite, it’s hard not to watch for the next viral moment.

Perhaps this is just the evolution of radio play being a sign you’ve made it in the industry.

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First-year creative writing student at Nottingham Trent University.

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