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The TikTokification of Pop Music

Hello! I wasn't sure what I wanted my first post to be about, but this topic's been floating around in my mind. When people talk about TikTok's effect on music, they often mention the app's ability to bring new musicians to stardom, a good thing (for the most part). I instead want to focus on how TikTok has brought some unfortunate changes to pop music.


First, TikTok popularized shorter song lengths. The average pre-TikTok would usually be around 3 minutes, maybe 4 if it was on the longer side, but now it feels like every song is 2:30 minutes, if even. What happened? There's a theory that TikTok and other short-film social media (Instagram reels, YouTube shorts, etc.) shorten our attention spans. We want quick things to watch or hear and then move on to the next thing. Pop music, especially K-pop and music popularized by TikTok, takes this and runs with it. I'd assume shorter songs trend better, or shorter lengths mean the song is more manageable to stream. No matter, I've noticed this a lot as a K-pop listener.


NewJeans - Picture from TeenVOGUE.com

One group I'd like to highlight for being possible pioneers of this is NewJeans. All songs on their 2023 album Get Up are under 2 minutes, the length being 12 minutes total. For example, "Super Shy" is 2:35 minutes long, "ASAP" is 2:15, "Cool With You" is 2:28, and "Get Up" (criminally) is 37 seconds. Songs from TikTok vary in length and fare better than NewJeans, but here are some highlights: "Boy's a Liar pt. 2" by PinkPantheress and Ice Spice is 2:11 minutes, "Greedy" by Tate McRae also 2:11, "Unholy" by Sam Smith and Kim Petras 2:36, and "Kill Bill" by SZA 2:33. This isn't to say these songs are bad and that all songs are getting shorter, I just miss the day when bridges were a staple of songs and a length of 3 minutes was the norm.


"abcdefu" singer - Gayle (Pictured by STEREOGUM)

The second effect of TikTok I'd like to discuss is the importance of trends. Creating a trend on TikTok or wanting part of a song to trend isn't bad. It seems like more attention now in music is put on making a trend than making an artistic endeavor. I'll often listen to a song or watch choreography in a music video and say, "Oh, here's the part that'll blow up on TikTok." This has also caused a prevalence of gimmicks in songs like Gayle's "abcdefu," Leah Kate's "Twinkle Twinkle," and Salem Ilese's "PS5." Finally, the last negative effect of trends is that they shorten the lifetime of a song. Artists or songs will get their time in the spotlight and then fade away as people move on to the next popular thing. It feels like there are a lot more one-hit wonders than ever before.


TikTok has played a big part in changing the landscape of popular music, not necessarily in a negative way. I am exploring the effects of TikTok on today's songs, which I don't love, but who knows where the future of music will go?

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