TikTok is Turning Chart-Floppers into Chart-Toppers

Josue Torres


The platform is turning into a powerful weapon for the music industry.

Lately, you’ve probably heard the song Dreams by Fleetwood Mac on the radio or on a Spotify playlist. The 1977 song was huge in its year of release, and even though it’s considered a classic by many, it ended up fading away as every song does after some years, especially songs that are almost half a century old.

So how is it that the general public started listening to this song and made it popular again? The song recently became viral after TikTok creator Nathan Apodaca uploaded a video of himself with the song in the background while skating and drinking cranberry juice.

Just like that, the song spawned hundreds of thousands of videos and memes around the globe, even from the song’s artists Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood themselves; re-entering worldwide charts 43 years after its original release, and landing at № 12 in the U.S.

It also made Apodaca social media famous, receiving donations and deals that made it possible for him to pay $320,000 in cash for a house and move out of the RV he was living in. But how is it possible that a 22-second video had so much power to revive an old song to such exponential magnitude?

To understand that, we need to get familiar with what makes the platform so popular. TikTok is known for being the main source of challenges and trends, videos where its users come up with creative ways to showcase their content with dancing moves, meme-like pieces, or dramatic acting bits.

Usually, the biggest ones are those that show relatability, entertainment, and good vibes, just like the Dreams trend mentioned above. Once a song finds its way into one of these popular trends or challenges, it’s just a matter of time before it explodes on the platform.

Is Going Viral on TikTok Enough To Get a Song on Top of the Charts?

Not really. Billboard doesn’t track any of TikTok’s views so they don’t count for the charts; they do however track Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and radio spins, among others.

To comprehend how TikTok has the influence to move their users to become consumers on these other platforms of the music they just heard, we need to see these videos and trends the same way the music industry does, and as what they subtly and unknowingly are: advertisements, a special form of cohesive advertisements.

62% of TikTok’s users are teenagers and young adults, the most common age ranges to experience Fear of Missing Out. FOMO will prompt the platform’s users to jump into the newest trend’s wagon, while they also get a sense of belonging with their group of peers when they share their own take on these short videos, unconsciously turning themselves into the type of advertisers that will help spread the popularity of these songs.

According to a study conducted by Neilsen, music in advertisements has a special way of putting viewers and listeners in a more positive mood, while increasing trust and reducing the focus on detail.

If you put these findings together, you’ve got yourself a winning idea that will motivate people to go stream, buy, and watch the music videos of the songs they just were part of; making it a chart-successful song.

This formula doesn’t only work with old songs; as reported by Rolling Stone, in the last few years artists are releasing more singles than ever in order to achieve commercial success, making TikTok their next crown jewel for this goal.

The only difference is old songs are usually brought back in a random, unpredictable, and lucky way; while new songs are constantly trying to be deliberately forced into virality, something that in the near future can take away the sense of authenticity that has made the platform appreciated by its users.

Let’s take a closer look at three specific cases of songs that TikTok turned into chart hits thanks to their viral trends.

Truth Hurts by Lizzo

It’s hard to find any young adult or teenager who doesn’t know who Lizzo is, but the story was different back in 2017 when her song Truth Hurts was released.

The song was a sleeper hit, only becoming popular two years later in 2019. How did the song have this sudden surge? You guessed it, it was thanks to TikTok. The song’s lyrics include a line that goes “I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that bitch.” That line alone was enough to prompt a viral trend where TikTok users would do mouth swabs and then create their own DNA results while lip-syncing that part of the song.

The song’s sudden popularity also helped it to be chosen to serve as part of the soundtrack for a Netflix movie. The success and appeal of the song made it chart in 35 countries, eventually climbing atop the Billboard 100. The popularity of the song also earned Lizzo a series of nominations at the 2019 Grammy Awards, this recognition was perceived as very rare since at that moment the song was already two years old.

Truth Hurts went from being a total unknown song for years, to ruling the charts and winning a Grammy for Best Pop Solo Performance.

A user making the DNA Test trend about him being 100% British:

Toosie Slide by Drake

There’s no doubt that Canadian rapper Drake doesn’t need help from viral videos for his songs to go big on the charts. His massive fanbase and popularity always assure him hit songs. However, his 2020 song Toosie Slide was produced with the goal of turning it into a global trend.

The song was named after social media influencer Toosie, who Drake approached ahead of the song’s release in order to create a dance for his new single. Toosie posted a video of him with friends dancing to a part of the song and it became a viral trend almost immediately, accumulating more than 500,000 videos from TikTok users.

It helped a lot that the part of the song released, was the part aimed to become a trend, where the rapper is giving dance directions to his listeners: “It go right foot up, left foot slide/Left foot up, right foot slide/Basically I’m saying, either way, we ‘bout to slide.”

Drake later announced the song was his and revealed it would be released the following week, causing a frenzy in fans and people that participated in the trend who couldn’t wait to hear the rest of the song they were just dancing to, securing him a № 1 on the Billboard 100 after the single was released.

The popular Toosie Slide challenge:

The Box by Roddy Ricch

The song was a moderate success when it was released at the beginning of 2020, debuting at № 47 on the Billboard 100. However, it wasn’t until it went viral on TikTok that it became the № 1 song in the country for 11 weeks.

The popularity of the song on TikTok is credited to Ricch’s peculiar ad-lib, a whining melody that’s difficult to forget. It sparked a viral dance challenge that has been done more than a million times by the platform users.

The Box became Ricch’s highest-charting song, selling more than 4.7 million equivalent units as of 2020.

A TikTok influencer dancing to a choreographed routine originated with The Box song:

TikTok has become one of the most powerful social media platforms to date and is definitely shifting the paradigm for the music industry. An industry that went through a big disruption in the last few years with the birth of the streaming era, a concept that they’re still trying to figure out in order to maximize results — and of course, profit.

Only time will tell if the industry keeps crafting and authentically perfecting the necessary strategies to squeeze all the potential this newfound weapon has.

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