Last year, when RCA Records executives noticed a surge in streams for Lykke Li’s 2018 song “sex money feelings die,” they traced the uptick to a fan-made, slowed-down version that TikTok users had been including in thousands of videos — and responded by releasing an official version in October to keep the trend going. Now, as artists like Lizzo and Lil Nas X score massive hits thanks in part to their popularity on the short-form-video app, labels and songwriters are figuring out how to reverse-engineer such viral moments, often from a track’s inception.
“If you can visualize something quickly while listening, it’s probably going to work for the platform,” says RCA senior vp digital marketing Tarek Al-Hamdouni. That means big bass drops, call-and-response lyrics and pop culture references. In fact, RCA has started releasing new versions of songs with embedded audio from other areas of pop culture exclusively for the platform. To further tap into TikTok tropes, the label recently added a clip from the 2010 movie Hot Tub Time Machine to the start of Oliver Heldens and Riton’s “Turn Me On,” which samples Yaz’s 1982 classic “Don’t Go.” Says Al-Hamdouni, “What we’ve seen work well is costume changes, so the idea was [to get users] to start doing transitions into ’80s clothing.”