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Tiktok’s terse and tarnishing tones

By Antara Gangwal April 4 2024

On Feb. 1, TikTok users were met with a shocking discovery: videos featuring hit songs had been muted. Since then, every song released by artists licensed with Universal Music Group (UMG) has been removed from TikTok’s audio library. UMG explained its decision to end its contract with TikTok, citing concerns such as artist compensation and AI use. This incident has prompted a deeper look into TikTok’s influence on the music industry, one that is harmfully altering modern music.

Harry Kang Art

Dongwoo Kang Art

TikTok is home to billions of short videos, with music forming the backbone of most. Going viral can catapult unknown artists into stardom, such as South African singer Tyla, whose 2023 single “Water” served as the background for a popular dance challenge. 

“TikTok makes the music industry more accessible. Serving as a platform for smaller artists to share their work and find success, it diversifies users’ tastes, exposing them to artists they would not usually find,” Junior Calista Shih said. 

However, a study conducted by Pentos found that the average duration of viral TikTok song snippets is only 19.5 seconds: a number that continues to decrease as users swipe past content that does not capture their interest within the first few seconds. Thus, songs with catchy hooks and short play times are often most popular on TikTok. For example, the repeated chorus lines in Harry Styles’s 2022 hit “As It Was” primed for success.

By seeking to inorganically recreate these features, music companies forgo artistry for virality. The Washington Post reports that average song length has decreased by almost a minute since 1990, while the  and Far Out Magazine finds that modern pop songs use fewer chord changes. 

While there is no perfect length or structure for a song to be considered sonically complex, these developments represent a decline in the music industry’s creativity. When a song is created just so a 15-second snippet can go viral on TikTok, it loses its artistic value to the corruption of corporate influence. Music has historically had strong cultural value, bridging people together and transcending language barriers through the emotions conveyed with creative arrangements of sound. A song is truly successful when it universally touches an audience's hearts, not when it captivates their attention for mere seconds. 

Harry Kang Art

Forgoing connection for profit is also prevalent in music marketing., Aanother facet being transformed by TikTok is that —many companies now require their artists to maintain a presence on the app. However, artists have spoken out against this expectation; in an interview with NME Magazine, singers Halsey, FKA Twigs and Charli XCX expressed their frustrations at this form of promotion, believing it to be inorganic. 

TikTok trends exacerbate how songs and artists are being reduced to products of consumption rather than artistic innovation. Music companies must recognize the negative effects of focusing all their efforts into TikTok virality to spearhead music popularity and reevaluate what truly makes a song a success. Yet change starts with the consumers. By listening to lesser-known artists or obtaining song recommendations from places other than social media apps, users can begin to reverse the harm that TikTok has on music. Music pedagogues like Rian Rodriguez, Art Department, also stress the importance of listening to historical genres of music untouched by TikTok fame. 

“By relying on platforms like TikTok to promote music, we are sanitizing the creativity of music. Classical pieces that my students play are much more structurally intricate than the pop songs boosted on TikTok. It is important to continue exposing newer generations to this music so they can understand its cultural value,” Rodriguez said.


About the Contributors

Antara Gangwal is a junior at Leland High School and the School News and Entertainment page editor for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys reading, listening to music and watching the sunset.

Harry Kang is a junior at Leland High School who works as an artist and the page editor for the Viewpoint page. In his free time, he likes to procrastinate and listen to old Korean music.

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