Ok I lied, I’m actually only going to talk about one thing (sorry!) - and that’s how the sharing of music on social media platforms is narrowing tween and teen music preferences.
Digital sharing coupled with technological ease of access has made it almost too easy for individuals to find and disseminate the music they like. Sharing and discovering music definitely isn’t a new concept. People have always based their music tastes on the opinions and preferences of others (whether it’s a friend handing you a CD, or a Spotify algorithm), but what has changed is the frequency and intensity to which this happens. This is creating some interesting trends in terms of how musical preferences are formed and expressed - especially within certain social media communities.
I believe children, tweens, and teens are driving this change. This generation of children are amongst our first digital natives - they have grown up being technologically proficient and able to discover and share ideas and content online. They literally don’t know any different. They also have a developmental need to share and badge. As teens, we become incredibly concerned with our outward facing persona and what our peers think of us - with music taste, fashion and hobbies defining who we are. You’re not Geoff, the nice boy from Wiltshire anymore, you’re Geoff the guy who wears Supreme T-shirts and listens to techno; and you want people to know this.
A need to be expressive is catered for across numerous digital platforms already incredibly popular with youngsters: Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram and video games to name a few. There are now hundreds of engaging ways that let young people shout ‘this is me!’ - and Tik Tok is one of them.
If you’ve heard of Musical.ly, Tik Tok is almost exactly that. In fact, earlier this year Tik Tok’s parent company ByteDance purchased Musical.ly to merge the two social media apps into one glorified platform. This was an attempt to leverage a young and influential U.S. fan base - a move that worked incredibly well. In the first quarter of 2018, Tik Tok became the world's most downloaded iPhone app, reaching 45.8 million new downloads and a monthly active user base of 500 million. Tik Tok is starting to take over the world.
Tik Tok is actually the English version of a Chinese social media app used to create and share lip-syncing videos. Users make these videos, sometimes following one or more of the trends or challenges sweeping the app, to essentially earn followers and likes. The videos are often colourful, outlandish and sometimes hilarious, involving a mix of dancing, camera effects and comedy. Almost all of the songs used in these videos can be found in the Billboard Top 100 charts.
I’m not exaggerating when I say Tik Tok can be overwhelming. Instantly, unlike YouTube or Spotify, upon opening the app, you are thrown into one of the most popular videos of the day. This can be surprising at first - especially considering the disorientating nature of some of the content. Once each video is finished, it takes you straight to the next. There are also no commitments in Tik Tok. Most videos are over in less than 20 seconds, but if you don’t like any of them, you can instantly skip onto the next. Tik Tok users can also customise a separate feed by following and interacting with particular users just like any other social media platform.
These tropes aren’t new or innovative - most social media platforms allow you to view content, like, subscribe, skip and customise. However, when coupled with the intensity of Tik Tok’s short form content, it creates an almost mesmerising experience. To me, Tik Tok is like the Conan the Barbarian of the social media world - deviant, relentless, and entirely unforgiving - only this Conan has impeccable eyebrows and wears the latest Adidas trainers.
Despite having an age restriction of 13, it seems that a lot of Tik Tok’s 500 million monthly active users are tween and teen girls and boys (but mostly girls). This obviously comes with safety concerns, especially considering the nature or themes of some of the songs and videos. Tik Tok introduced stricter privacy procedures in June of this year, but it still remains incredibly easy for anyone, regardless of age, to sign up - and so it’s influence remains pervasive.
What makes Tik Tok so popular with tweens in my eyes, is the instant exposure and the lack of talent investment needed - it takes 2 seconds to share a video millions might see, and almost anyone can lip sync. I’m in no way saying some of these users aren’t talented and creative, some of the content is actually inspiring. Still, 95% of the individuals on Tik Tok probably can’t sing or play an instrument. Regardless, a lot of users manage to get thousands of others to follow them and praise their musically themed content. It’s definitely not easy to find a musical performance platform where it doesn’t matter if you can sing, dance or play piano - or even if you have a voice at all. Tik Tok is a little bit like an audition in this sense, it requires a little more flair and artistry than performing a song. It’s basically Britain's got Talent, but instead of Simon Cowell deciding your fate, millions of tween girls are your judge, jury and executioner.
The very nature of the app encourages users to utilise music that will facilitate positive Tik Tok behaviours. Users are chasing that perfect way to capture the essence of a popular song whilst simultaneously being the first one to do it, or at the very least, the first person that people see doing it. Music is more and more being created to facilitate this, and the more it’s shared, the more popular the music will become. A lot of content gets reused on Tik Tok and there is a certain type of song that fits the performance formula well.
Take a listen to My Story by Loren Gray, a popular Musical.ly star who has recently made it big outside of the sphere of social media. This song is entirely characteristic of the type of music found on Tik Tok and an epitaph to the teens rise to fame through the now absorbed Musical.ly. It is full of easy to mime buzz words (Listen, story, once and twice, love etc). It’s written in a way that’s easy to lip sync to (lyrics and delivery follow a pseudo diary narrative). There is an over use of easy to access visual props such as a diary (and a lot of pop! colours).This creates an incredibly tween/teen focused experienced reminiscent of the songs you tend to find on the Disney channel. A pre-teen, hormone driven piece of drama with just enough rebelliousness to make a young person feel like saying ‘actually Mum, I will be drinking sugary drinks on a weekday!’.
This isn’t new to the world of music. Lots of pop songs follow similar patterns, especially when trying to appeal to a young audience - but it’s a good summary of the content used on Tik Tok.
Whilst the way children currently use music in Tik Tok is flashy, engaging and typical of a partially attentive generation - it is starting to facilitate a cycle that narrows the music they consume. Whilst users are being creative with what they do with new music, it’s only a certain formula that penetrates these ecosystems, and is therefore shared.This encourages behaviours that ignore more niche, non Tik-Tok-able songs and content. In this sense, the music itself is left behind and it’s what can be done with it that’s important. This creates an odd juxtaposition in my mind - music is at its peak of discoverability and shareability, yet only a certain paradigm is being looked for and used. Then the cycle continues.
This ultimately doesn’t matter of course, music tastes and trends have always ebbed and flowed. But with the ubiquity of digital sharing alongside a growing need to be noticed, it may be the case that children’s tastes will more and more be informed by music performability, rather than music quality.
More information on Tik Tok and safety as a parent can be found here.