TikTok is taking over – not just social media, but the entire music industry. 

It’s no coin­ci­dence that the five most-streamed songs in the U.S. on Spotify were all “TikTok Famous,” a.k.a. trending on the app this year. 

In order, the top songs were “drivers license” and “good 4 u” by Olivia Rodrigo, “Kiss Me More” (feat. SZA) by Doja Cat, “Heat Waves” by Glass Animals, and “Lev­i­tating (feat. DaBaby)” by Dua Lipa. 

Though TikTok may not be known pri­marily as a music app, Ole Obermann, TikTok’s global head of music, said otherwise. 

“The dream is that an artist is able to find their voice and find that first com­munity on TikTok,” Obermann said in an interview with Music Business Worldwide. “And then they become famous enough where they are able to get a record deal or perhaps even a pub­lishing deal off the back of that and go on to become a superstar musical artist and creator.”

Rodrigo, who holds two of the most-streamed songs, did just that. She went from being a B‑list Disney star to holding top Spotify streaming spots both nationally and globally. 

The sharp rise of Rodrigo’s debut single “driver’s license” and “good 4 u” marks her as the newest pop star of Gen Z. While her celebrity may not last, as TikTok shuffles in the new and outs the old, Rodrigo ruled 2021. 

According to Music Business Worldwide, a recent study showed that 75% of TikTok users in the U.S. said they used the app to dis­cover new artists, and 67% said they were more likely to seek out a song on a streaming platform if they heard it on TikTok.

Two of last year’s top five songs were released in 2020, not 2021. These songs were evi­dently streamed on Spotify after a user heard them on TikTok, seeing as they were released over a year ago. 

Prior to 2021, Glass Animals was a name that never reached the main­stream. After their song “Heat Waves” was picked up by the TikTok algo­rithm nearly a year after its release, the group marked its musical ter­ritory. The same hap­pened to Dua Lipa’s “Lev­i­tating (feat. DaBaby).”

“Heat Waves” appeared mostly in TikTok edits that evoked a sense of strong nos­talgia. It explores the end of a rela­tionship and the feelings that linger. “Kiss Me More,” released in April 2021, quickly erupted into a TikTok dance trend. Mil­lions of users posted videos of them­selves repli­cating a dance that was chore­o­graphed to the song. 

The rapid success of these new and old artists reveals the iron grip TikTok has on the music industry. Whether it’s through mon­tages of romantic partners, trendy dances, or song covers, the short-form platform creates easily digestible bites of content and pairs them with catchy songs. The songs then hit the charts, and both old and new artists enjoy the tem­porary fame. 

Not only is TikTok digging up buried songs and pro­viding an outlet for budding ones, it’s also allowing users to effec­tively package and sound­track their lives – and don’t we all want to be the main character?

This pro­tag­onist-syn­drome is rampant on TikTok. Everyone posts “A Day in the Life” videos as if it’s the trailer for the movie of their life. Users are taking in every­thing that TikTok feeds them in order to keep up with the trends. 

But what happens when the trends don’t actually align with our reality? Hun­dreds of teens imitate Rodrigo’s angst and emotion – even if they haven’t expe­ri­enced a break-up. 

The desire to have purpose can’t be sat­isfied on TikTok. Trends come and go, hit songs even­tually fade away, and though Rodrigo is swimming in the success of her latest album, there’s no guar­antee it will last. 

Regardless of whether or not we view TikTok as a musical app, it’s clear that this algo­rithm-driven platform is seeping into the music we consume and create.