In the short time since TikTok merged with Musical.ly — which Chinese media firm and parent company ByteDance acquired for $800 million in November 2017 — and subsequently launched in August 2018, the platform’s ability to provide a spark for the next mainstream hit has gone from anomaly to regularity.
The first big example came hardly six months after TikTok's arrival, when users helped push a then-unknown Lil Nas X, and his country-trap hit “Old Town Road,” to the forefront of a burgeoning Yeehaw Agenda — and to a modest debut on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 2019. In an April 2019 Time interview, Lil Nas X refuted the idea that he should receive compensation for each usage of the song on the app, instead proposing, “I should maybe be paying TikTok.” Though other factors ultimately propelled the song to ubiquity, the track’s beginnings on the platform undoubtedly gave legitimacy to the growing app, and in the year following Lil Nas X’s monthslong reign atop the Hot 100, TikTok has boosted several more No. 1 hits.
Its tangible impact on popular music has become both clear and widespread during the same time frame, even if the new wave of buzzy artists it’s helping to create is left with a blurry road map for prolonged success. The app’s trends, dance routines and song-specific challenges have served as a springboard for emerging artists to lengthy chart visits: Previously unknown acts like Arizona Zervas and Tones and I had songs shoot into the top five (and Powfu into the top 25) of the Hot 100 after having their hooks become popular loops; SAINt JHN, Surfaces and Trevor Daniel had years-old songs revived into chart hits thanks to the app; StaySolidRocky, Ant Saunders, 24kGoldn and Surf Mesa thrived with some of the earliest singles in their respective catalogs; while Lil Mosey and BENEE rode viral dance challenges to newfound success.