Largely misunderstood, it’s easier for many to hope that the obsession with TikTok fades away with COVID, than acknowledge its ongoing influence.
This attitude has meant the influence of the app has been dismissed and overlooked by an increasingly outdated music (and Hollywood) industry. The declining cultural relevance of awards such as the Academy Awards and the GRAMMYs, proven further by a string of backlash from artists including Kayne West, Zayn, Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber and Teyana Taylor; backlash tweeted amongst the trending hashtag #GRAMMYsracist. The most notable perhaps, The Weeknd; having been snubbed of any GRAMMY nominations in 2021 despite making history for his single Blinding Lights…the first song to spend a year in the Hot 100’s Top 10 List.
However, despite the outdated nature of awards shows in general and overwhelming negative press in the lead up, what the 2021 GRAMMYs has inadvertently done, is pose the question (on a major stage) of whether those responsible for the nominations were aware of the role played by TikTok in deciding which artists and tracks became popular in the last 12 months?
Of the nominations, winners and those asked to perform– each had had a significant moment of virality on the app in the last 12 months.
Dua Lipa, who beat out the likes of Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Harry Styles for Best Pop Vocal Album with Future Nostalgia has seen almost four million videos made with the 15 second clip of her song Don’t Start Now, a number which well exceeds the 1.3 million streams it has on Spotify. The TikTok dance for the song, trending in February 2020 (just as the pandemic was taking hold) was popularised by darlings of the app such as Addison Rae and Charli D’Amelio– Charli performing the dance for her appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in March 2020, one of the earliest instances of the trends on the app transcending viral culture and entering the mainstream.
Similarly, Harry Styles, a seemingly obvious choice for the opening and longest performance slot of the show, may not have seemed so obvious 12 months ago. Beloved by Gen Z, Harry Styles found his feet for his second studio album, Fine Line; but not without the help of the hoards of fans present on the video sharing platform. The hashtag for his name has garnered over 28 billion views. And just since the broadcast of the show (one day ago, at the time of publication), #grammys2021harrystyles has seen over 15 million views– a hashtag made up of 60 second or less clips of his performance of Watermelon Sugar to open the awards, a song which he was nominated for in the Best Pop Solo Performance category — going up against the likes of Doja Cat for Say So, Billie Eilish for everything i wanted, Dua Lipa for Don’t Start Now, Justin Bieber for Yummy and Taylor Swift’s cardigan…a category that anyone who uses the app would know is absolutely dominated by viral hits.
And while Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP has easily been the most talked about hit in recent years, the GRAMMYs performance of the song live decidedly identified the ‘boomers’ of age and of heart from those who came to love the song on TikTok. Twitter being flooded with backlash, calling the performance “inappropriate” for television, a stark contrast to the appreciation felt for the track on TikTok.
Released in August 2020, the song came to represent and define a period of time. With a large population of the world in lockdown or quarantine, many considered the WAP Challenge (learning the dance from the music video) time well spent– whether the dance was learnt successfully or not, the almost 4 billion people who attempted the #WAPChallenge, as with most things on TikTok, did so while not taking themselves too seriously. A refreshing mindset considering the year that was.
Despite major fan groups feeling snubbed (like BTS’ Dynamite losing out to Rain on Me) and a serious racist undertone that has meant artists and the public alike have lost faith in the system, it is interesting to consider that in almost every popular music category, the winner was crowned by TikTok first– an intriguing development for such an outdated system. Is the Recording Academy courting a younger generation to bring the awards back to relevance? Or is it merely a coincidence, in an otherwise rollercoaster of a year? Regardless, artists from Taylor Swift to Harry Styles, Dua Lipa to Billie Eilish, Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé…all have experienced virality gifted by Gen Z across the world, that whether those in the industry consider it so or not, has meant a wildly different level of success than that afforded by receiving a GRAMMY in 2021.