Photo: Jens Kalaene/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa (Photo by Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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In 2019, Lil Nas X captured the No. 18 spot on Forbes’ top-earning country stars, fueled by his viral hit “Old Town Road” and its many remixes. The track, which holds the title as the longest-reigning Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 in the chart’s history, first went viral on the popular social media video app, TikTok.
An influx of TikTok videos emerged inspired by the country/trap mix, which showed users sipping “Yee Yee Juice” before changing into old western outfits when the beat drops. Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road – remix,” re-recorded with Billy Ray Cyrus, exploded on streaming services and climbed the Billboard charts, propelling the Atlanta-native into stardom.
But the song’s initial popularity on TikTok, and the 20-year-old’s subsequent success, helped him earn an estimated pretax income of $14 million in 2019 (in the scoring period from June 1, 2018 to June 1, 2019), according to Forbes. He signed to Columbia Records and released his debut EP 7, just four months after posting the song on TikTok in February 2019.
“It’s been incredible to watch Old Town Road grow from its start on TikTok in February – as the backbone of an accessible and engaging meme that generated millions of creations and billions of views – to a record-breaking smash hit that has all walks of life listening on repeat,” said Vanessa Pappas, TikTok U.S. General Manager, of the song’s success in July 2019.
TikTok is owned by Chinese media film ByteDance, and has increased in popularity since the company absorbed the lip-syncing video app, Musical.ly, in August 2018. The deal was part of an acquisition allegedly worth up to $1 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Although TikTok thrives from memes and viral trends, music discovery has become a huge part of the app’s identity in 2019. Users can upload original audio or choose a sound from the app. When browsing TikTok’s “sounds” tab, users have a variety of different categories and genres to choose from, including trending songs, new releases, greatest hits and more.
Similar to how Lil Nas X first uploaded “Old Town Road” on TikTok, established artists have also taken advantage of the app to share music and post original content. For example, the Jonas Brothers use the app to post videos live from the Happiness Begins Tour. Post Malone is also a regular user, uploading funny clips of himself at the American Music Awards and promoting recent music. Camila Cabello creates TikTok videos dancing to her own songs.
Cabello’s new song, “My Oh My (feat. DaBaby),” is one of the latest tracks to capture the attention of the app’s users, inspiring a new viral choreographed dance. Cabello’s song is then picked up and used by TikTok stars like 15-year-old Charli D’Amelio. D’Amelio, widely popular on the app for her dancing videos, uploaded a short video dancing to the track, which has since gained 4.5 million likes and more than 27 million views.
Arizona Zervas, a 24-year-old rising rapper from Maryland, achieved similar viral success with his up-beat dance bop, “Roxanne,” which has been used on hundreds of thousands of TikTok videos. “Roxanne” currently sits at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and has earned its way on Spotify’s “Today’s Top Hits” and “Pop Rising” playlists. The track’s success helped Zervas land a deal with Columbia Records, making him the second singer, signed by the label, whose song went viral on TikTok.
In May 2019, Atlantic Records signed 22-year-old Los Angeles rapper Sueco the Child, after his debut single, “Fast,” racked up over 100 million global streams. The song also initially became famous on TikTok, just a few months after Seuco uploaded the track to SoundCloud.
Based on the success of songs like “Old Town Road” and “Roxanne,” for new or established artists looking for viral hit in 2020, posting a song on TikTok can’t hurt. And although the app isn’t a traditional music discovery platform, TikTok was a big force in shaping 2019’s biggest hits, producing one of the most iconic songs of 2019.