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How TikTok Helped These Indie-Rock Hits Soar On Streaming This Year

This story is part of Billboard's annual Year In Music package, which identifies and explores the major music trends and industry stories that defined 2021.

Since its impact on music and pop culture first became undeniable at the end of the 2010s, TikTok has created and resurrected hits from nearly all genres. Still, 2021 marked a new frontier for the platform as older indie- and alt-rock songs — most of which never approached “hit” status in their original lifetimes — entered Billboard’s streaming charts after becoming ubiquitous on the app.

The ANXIETY (Willow and Tyler Cole), “Meet Me at Our Spot”

While R&B/pop star-turned-alt-rocker Willow first returned to the Billboard Hot 100 in 2021 with her Travis Barker-assisted “transparentsoul,” it wasn’t that pop-punk missive (or any other tracks from her 2021 album Lately I Feel Everything) that marked her year’s biggest hit. That would be the chiller, lower-fi heart-throbber “Meet Me at Our Spot,” released a year earlier as part of her ANXIETY project (in collaboration with singer-songwriter Cole). The song reached No. 21 on the Hot 100 — Willow’s first top 40 entry since “Whip My Hair” in 2010.

The Walters, “I Love You So”

This dreamy 2014 indie ballad arrived so long ago that Chicago quintet The Walters had already been broken up for four years by the time it went viral on TikTok and subsequently appeared on multiple Billboard charts, including Hot Alternative Songs (at No. 9) and Rock Streaming Songs (No. 12). But the track’s late success ultimately proved too much for the band to ignore — in November, the group not only announced it had officially reunited but also signed a major-label deal with Warner Records.

The Mountain Goats, “No Children”

Ranking among the all-time least-likely song resurrections to TikTok’s credit, this signature tune for acclaimed indie singer-songwriter John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats — a bitter divorce waltz from 2002 — rode its unexpected momentum on the app to a 102% streaming spike, according to MRC Data. In October, Darnielle publicly submitted himself to replace a COVID-19-delayed Ed Sheeran on Saturday Night Live, advertising The Mountain Goats as “well-loved by the TikTok dancing massive.”

Mitski, “Washing Machine Heart”

While Mitski was one of the biggest indie presences on TikTok, the singer-songwriter’s growth was of a particularly rare kind for the platform — spread across many songs from her catalog. “Washing Machine Heart,” off her 2018 album, Be the Cowboy, became her most-streamed song with over 77 million on-demand streams as of October, according to MRC Data. As Steven Pardo of Mitski’s label, Secretly Group, told Billboard in November: “[Her catalog] went from a few thousand [streams] a day, which was noticeable at the time, up until we had songs peaking at over 700,000 streams a day. I don’t think we had seen anything like that happen before.”

This story originally appeared in the Dec. 18, 2021, issue of Billboard.