Mapping the Journey of a ‘TikTok Song’

Blackpool grime artist Mille B took over TikTok, and then the charts.
Nana Baah
London, United Kingdom
October 27, 2020, 9:15am
Photos courtesy TikTok and screenshot taken from Noisey Blackpool 2: One Year On
Photos courtesy TikTok and screenshot via Noisey Blackpool 2: One Year On

In life, there are things that we may never know the answer to. Questions like, what happens when you die, and how do you know when you’re in love? Or: how did the TikTok of Pauly D off Jersey Shore standing in front of a Lamborghini, listening to a years-old diss track by a little-known British grime artist come to be?

Millie B shot the video for her now-famous Soph Aspin send, “M to the B”, in a Blackpool branch of KFC in 2016. Back then, no one could have predicted that one day, almost every comment under the YouTube video would ask: “Who came here from TikTok?”. Millie B’s song has achieved viral TikTok fame, an elusive form of internet notoriety few could have seen coming.

It all began when TikTok influencer Bella Poarch uploaded a video of herself miming to “M to the B”, pulling a series of appropriate faces. The clip gained over 40 million likes, inspiring countless copycat videos and even an explainer by another TikToker on the rivalry between Millie B and Aspin. Over 7 million TikTok videos have since been created using “M to the B”, helping the song make it onto Spotify’s UK and global viral charts at numbers one and five respectively. It also earned a place on the “TikTok Viral Chart”, a list of the best performing songs on the platform.

A TikTok UK spokesperson explains: “The TikTok Viral Chart is based purely on performance on the platform. The ‘UK Hot 40’ is a combination of performance and editorial and the sounds on this page under ‘Recommended’ are unique to the user. So, these tracks will be different depending on your interests and likes across TikTok.”

“M to the B” isn’t the first song to go viral thanks to TikTok. Due in part to the platform’s popularity among Gen Z – and the fact that we were all locked in our homes for months – 2020 has seen an explosion in success for songs linked to a TikTok trend. Beabadoobee’s “Coffee” soundtracks “heartwarming” moments, including a girl who tidies her sister's room and another who tells her best friend that she likes him. The dance for Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” occupied many people at the start of lockdown, while shirtless teenagers documented their glow-ups to a 15-second snippet of Jack Harlow’s “WHAT’S POPPIN”. Harlow’s success led Vulture to declare “WHAT’S POPPIN”, which has since been remixed to feature DaBaby, Lil Wayne and Tory Lanez, the song of summer.

Some artists have attempted to manufacture this kind of buzz for  their own releases. Both Dua Lipa and Ed Sheeran have created TikTok “challenges” to promote their tracks, while Drake worked to make “Toosie Slide” go viral by enlisting the help of dancer Toosie, who choreographed a dance for the platform.

But “M to the B” was released years before TikTok became popular. What is it about the song that has captured the platform’s attention? Dr. Kelly Jakubowski of Durham University has studied a number of pop songs to analyse what makes certain tracks catchy or appealing. I ask her to listen to Millie B’s viral hit and give me her opinion.

“I feel in this particular song that the rhythm and repetitive elements (‘M to the B, ‘M to the B’) serve as drivers for increasing the 'earworminess' of the song,” Jakubowski says, “which is more reliant on in the absence of a sung melody.”

It seems that the simplicity of a song like “M to the B” is what has helped it travel on TikTok. Either that, or the manufactured disagreement between two teenagers from Blackpool.