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From Lizzo to Kate Bush, how TikTok dominated the music industry in 2022

The TikTok app logo. (Kiichiro Sato/AP)
The TikTok app logo. (Kiichiro Sato/AP)

The music of TikTok is inescapable.

Whether you hear it on your phone or in the background at the mall, songs that do well on TikTok usually dominate both the charts and playlists.

The social media app is a power player in the music industry with the capability to launch new stars and reignite love for long-forgotten songs.

Dan Whately, senior media reporter at Insider covering TikTok and social media, says record labels and artists are focused on creating songs that make it big on the platform.

“TikTok is no longer the challenger, the newcomer,” Whately says. “It’s really become a major player in music. And I think because it’s established its position in the industry, everyone is paying attention to it now.”

Many artists like Lizzo had tremendous success in promoting their new music on TikTok in 2022. According to TikTok’send of year report, the singer had the most video views of any artist in the United States this year.

Her song “About Damn Time” dominated the app as it became the soundtrack of a viral dance trend.

“I think artists like Lizzo that really understand the platform and know how to jump in on trends have seen the most success,” Whately says.  “I think that’s one thing that really has changed this year from last year. It used to be just a few artists that were doing that and a lot more have tapped into the platform and are spending more time really understanding trends in the app.”

Other artists like Meghan Trainor used TikTok to launch a comeback. Trainor’s song “Made You Look,” which went viral on the platform in October, became her highest-charting single since 2016.

The singer’s presence on TikTok is intertwined with TikTok influencer Chris Olsen. She featured him in dozens of videos with her new song and he promoted her music on his account.

Whately says that artists working with TikTok influencers has become a popular marketing tactic within the music industry, though even the way that strategy works is changing.

“I think it’s become harder to rely on a few creators to make songs really take off just because there’s so many more people on TikTok than there was a couple of years ago or even a year ago,” he says. “A lot of music marketers are thinking about how they can still break through. And sometimes that means hiring dozens of creators to include songs in their videos versus relying on just a few.”

And 2022 also saw older songs getting their moment in the TikTok sun. The stand out this year was Kate Bush’s 1985 song, “Running Up that Hill,” which went viral over the summer when it was featured on the fourth season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” Bush reportedly made $2.3 million in royalties just this year.

“It’s one of the most interesting things that’s changed with the arrival of TikTok, which is that labels are now paying a lot closer attention to their catalogs and kind of legacy songs that can really get a second life through TikTok. And it’s a new business opportunity….That’s a whole new fan base for her.”

One other change in the past year has been the popularity of sped-up remixes on the app — when a familiar old song is either pitched up, sped up or layered over another song. These remixes became popular in their own right and can often send the original song climbing back up the charts.

While many of these remixes are organically made by music producers on TikTok, Whately says there are instances where a music marketer or a label will actually pay a producer to create a remix of a song just to bring it new life.

Despite the music industry’s heavy involvement in TikTok this year, there were still moments of organic discovery — where someone with no social capital can rise to fame.

It happened for 15-year-old Yahritza Martinez and her brothers, who are part of a band called “Yahritza y Su Esencia.”

The children of farm workers, the trio spent their days picking fruit before their song “Soy El Unico” went viral on TikTok. The group is now nominated for a Latin Grammy Award.

But it’s harder to organically make a hit on TikTok, Whately says.

“Because there’s a lot more videos being made… I think we maybe are seeing fewer of those organic moments just because there are marketing dollars that are going into pushing certain tracks or certain songs” he says. “But there are still plenty of success stories of up and coming performers that get discovered … The opportunity is still out there.”

Kalyani Saxena produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Catherine Welch. Saxena also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.