While there are obvious benefits of using TikTok as a recording artist (see: Taylor Swift), there are also downsides of using the app for marketing purposes — as has been brought to mainstream attention by Halsey, alongside artists including Charli XCX, FKA Twigs and Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine.
In a recent TikTok, Halsey posted a face to camera piece with text on screen reading “Basically, I have a song that I love that I wanna release ASAP but my record label won’t let me. I’ve been in this industry for [eight] years and I’ve sold over 165 million records and my record company is saying that I can’t release it unless they can fake a viral moment on TikTok. Everything is marketing…and they are doing this to basically every artist these days. I just [want to] release music man and I deserve better [to be honest]. I’m tired.”
The TikTok, which at the time of publication has seen over 8 million views and 1.1 million likes, is indicative of a greater shift by the likes of record labels imploring their artists to invest more time and energy into creating essentially free marketing and promotional material via the entertainment app.
This comes off the back of successful marketing strategies such as the “fake feud” between The Kid Laroi and manager Scooter Braun in April this year, as Variety reports. The Kid Laroi, who has 3 million followers, called his management a “mistake”, while using a snippet from his new single “Thousand Miles”, which features the lyric: “Here goes another mistake, I know I’m gon make”. The video captioned “show me ur last mistake. use this sound”, garnered 6 million views, before Scooter Braun shared screenshots via Instagram confirming the feud was a PR stunt. In a similar vein, Tate McRae has seen wild levels of success posting snippets of new songs, often asking her followers to choose between clips, requesting input on which she should release first. The 18 year-old singer also regularly stitches those who use her sounds — garnering almost 20k videos using a clip from the song “what would you do?” before its release.
However, where TikTok feels natural for the likes of Tate McRae and The Kid Laroi (both 18 years-old), imploring traditionally successful artists such as Halsey and Florence Welch to be using the app in the same way, feels inauthentic — ironic, commenters pointed out as Halsey’s TikTok calling out her management could serve as the “fake” viral moment they were requesting from her. Comparably, a TikTok posted by Florence Welch of her reluctantly singing with the caption “The label are begging me for ‘low fi tiktoks’, so here you go. pls send help x”, and the following video where she responded to comments from the first, have become two of the highest watched videos on the artist’s TikTok account.
While the response from fans to their favourite artists being forced to create TikTok content has been mixed, pop culture podcast @celebritymemoirbookclub has suggested via their TikTok account, that the public reluctance from these artists to use the app, is in itself the true marketing strategy. “The idea of making the management the bad guy so the talent can succeed, that’s the marketing scheme here. This tweet is about all these musicians blaming their record compan[ies] for making them get on TikTok…that in itself is a marketing scheme. [The artists] being like “I need your help to fight my evil record label,”‘ comedian Claire Parker, co-host of the Celebrity Memoir Book Club podcast, explains.
Where TikTok is typically used is to build grassroots following and support system for artists trying to “make it” independently or help artists coming up gain exposure organically — signed artists such as Gayle (of ‘abcdefu’ success), have used the app to engage with followers and fans in a way to convince them of the latter, generating organic support and success through a parasocial relationship, despite already being backed by a record label. In a similar way, it seems traditional recording artists using TikTok against their will, gaining the attention and sympathy of audiences in the meantime, could in fact be the newest iteration of the controversial ‘industry plant’ concept, humanising recording artists in a way no other channel or app is able to.
Alternatively, artists like Halsey, FKA Twigs, Charli XCX and Florence Welch are simply happier using traditional marketing channels to promote their music — aware of the fact that TikTok is a place to genuinely engage with their fans, if they choose to do so.