February 21, 2023
By: Krystal Wu
The short-form platform TikTok has always been closely involved with audio distribution. But what do we make of its power?
Courtesy of Clipchamp
The Music Industry and Culture
“Denial is a river in Egypt, your husband is gay!” That’s the advice dished out by talk show host Wendy Williams in 2006 in response to a caller questioning her husband’s sexuality. It was an audio clip turned meme that took TikTok by storm in 2022-23, with users creating several spin-off sound trends. The phrase is most commonly combined with the theme song of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, along with an edit of Finn Wolfhard from Stranger Things walking closer and snapping to reveal another photo. The mashup audio and two-picture combo have been utilized by users to post their ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures, showing off their glow-ups and lifestyle journeys. Wendy’s phrase has also been combined with Baby Tate’s song, “Hey, Mickey!”—a version that is frequently paired with makeup transformations and thirst-trap lip-syncs.
It is common to have past moments from the internet and pop culture resurface as memes and trends—combining different content makes the original all the more humorous and entertaining. But TikTok’s capacity for getting a song or audio to live rent-free in their users’ heads is unmatched. Several “sleeper hit” phenomena–songs or albums that experienced a sudden boom in commercial popularity only after a considerable amount of time had passed since their release–have emerged from the depths of TikTok’s audio realms. (Is anyone else a fan of the Måneskin covers? Mother Mother? No? You should be.) There have also been ample cases in which TikTok has continued populating and adapting songs, albums, and artists that have long been highly popular.
Courtesy of Getty Images
Hence comes the dichotomous, revolutionary nature of TikTok’s audio prowess, its ability to generate the new from the old. TikTok perpetuates the recycled element of music by granting easy access for anyone to remix, loop, and join sounds at leisure, with the potential for a sound adaptation to match or even surpass the original. Brands and companies combine trending audio with their brand, product, or service promotions, optimizing the audio’s meaning in an accessible yet effective way. Chances are, if you have an earworm, you may be able to blame it on TikTok. Just know that the blame won’t be changing anytime soon.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Spoiler alert for those uninvolved with TikTok: The negative consequences of TikTok sounds’ powers are about as noticeable as the good. Here are 4 elements of the video-hosting platform to consider:
Users have the power to change the meaning of sounds and songs when paired with visual content. Change is a wide ballpark–and by wide, I mean wide.
When users use certain songs to pair with thirst traps or potentially controversial visual content, the song is likely to become associated with questionable connotations. Essentially, the way a TikTok sound is used can change the meaning of the sound itself. It is inevitable, then, that a larger disconnect between the artist and the song may occur. With TikTok being such an accessible platform for anyone to post using any sound, artists may feel a loss of control over how their work is perceived in the public eye, even if TikTok is boosting their popularity.
Artists are gaining popularity at an unprecedented scale due to TikTok. It may not always be for the better.
The effects of popular TikTok songs can be complicated. On one hand, fans may simply be sad their favorite artists are no longer their little secret or that their beloved song now plays in the rooms of teenagers across the nation. On the other, there is the large issue of fanbases growing toxic and argumentative over their artists, what albums symbolize, and what kind of listener has the right to perform certain actions. Analyzing how music fan bases have changed would veer on overly complex and lengthy, so I will just leave this as food for thought.
Audios can be catchy and memorable... but also encourage ignorance
While a strong statement, I encourage the following reflection: How many sounds from TikTok do you only know a segment of? Do you know what each "sound" stands for?
There is nothing inherently wrong with using a sound without knowing the answers to either of these questions. But when something in a song or audio clip seems questionable to you as a listener, I encourage doing a Google search. It's better to know the origins of a trend before following it blindly.
Reinvention > loss of originality
There is no doubt that music in itself is repetitive, from the chord progressions of pop songs to the practices of looping and splicing. Fundamentally, it may be a worthy question to ask whether the spread and adaptation of music on TikTok is escalating repetition, or lessening it. That being said, some may believe all creative content is inherently unoriginal, which is a larger question traversing beyond just TikTok.
Courtesy of Glitter Magazine
The world of TikTok audio is as varied as it is powerful in spreading trends in music and entertainment. Its prospects in sharing content and populating behaviors and meanings are unparalleled, making it vital for users to carefully consider its repercussions for making all sorts of content break through and be heard.
With that being said, if you cannot escape this world, could you optimize it?
Krystal Wu is a freshman studying Economics at NYU. She holds a passion for digital marketing, social media, music, and food that makes her happy. Find her rambles on cafes and bakeries at loafhub.org!