The Music Industry Is Trying to Engineer Viral TikToks to Sell Old Records

Music is a huge part of TikTok, and now the music industry wants their share of the fun and profit.
December 9, 2020, 2:00pm
Heidi and Marc D'Amelio showing of their TikTok varsity jackets to the tune of Beat It by Michael Jackson.
Image Source: Heidi D'Amelio

This year, older acts like Fleetwood Mac and Dolly Parton have charted again following viral videos featuring their music. Not content to just let a good thing be, the record industry is now trying to engineer more viral moments to boost sales of its back catalog in the most boring and predictable way possible.

In August, Dolly Parton trended on Twitter after the YouTube channel TwinzTheNewTrend uploaded a video of them listening to Jolene for the first time. Jolene is a classic, and has been covered and celebrated by artist after artist, but something about watching two young men fall in love with the song took people back to the first time they heard it. Similarly, in September, Fleetwood Mac's 1977 song "Dreams" charted again because of a viral TikTok of a skatebaorder completely vibed out on the song, sipping cran-raspberry juice straight from the bottle. His serenity is what's hypnotic—by listening to "Dreams'' after watching the video, you're hoping to channel a little bit of that energy.

Advertisement

Contrast this to these videos from TikTok's famous D'Amelio family, who all uploaded videos of themselves dancing to Michael Jackson last week. Both Charli and Dixie danced to "Man In The Mirror," while their parents danced to "Beat It" and "Rock With You." All the videos are tagged with "EpicRecordsPartner." New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz said on Twitter that some record companies have been paying influencers to feature music from their back catalog, seemingly in an effort to make it trend in the same way Dolly Parton and Fleetwood Mac did this year.

Dixie D'Amelio and Epic Records did not respond to a request for comment.

Music is a huge part of TikTok, so it's not surprising that the industry would attempt to take advantage of the platform not just for new artists, but for older ones too. Songs like "Stupid" by Ashnikko and "Say So" by Doja Cat have flourished on TikTok, which allows you to use songs from their enormous library in their videos as well as what's already on your phone. People are already using songs by, say, Frank Sinatra, in their videos. A verified account for the artist was created in October, which means that whenever you watch a video using a Sinatra song, if you tap the song to see who else is using it, it'll credit the song to the verified Frank Sinatra account. It's a practical move, and other old school artists like Queen and John Lennon now also have TikTok accounts. Universal Music Group did not respond to a request for comment.

The D'Amelios dancing to Michael Jackson is universes away from TwinzTheNewTrend, and the things that make people fall in love with these songs. One former is genuine, the latter was made for profit by a corporation. 

While I buy that Marc and Heidi have had some good times to Michael Jackson songs, you cannot convince me that Charli and Dixie have any meaningful connection to him. They couldn't even think of another song to dance to. There's no sincerity to be refreshed by or vibes to bask in—everyone watching these videos knows that Epic Music is trying to make money off of Michael Jackson. 


Compared to another viral song on TikTok, "Space Girl" by Frances Forever, you can tell how much young people can sense, and don't like, pandering or trends being engineered. "Space Girl" is one of the most popular trending sounds on TikTok, and it's a sweet song by a non-binary artist that they wrote after seeing a cute space babe on Star Trek. Their partner made a cute dance to it, and the dance took off. Explaining the trend in a TikTok of their own, Frances seems bewildered by the attention they've gotten on the platform. It's not a vintage song, like "Jolene" or "Dreams," but the response from TikTok is closer to that than to the response to the D'Amelio's dancing to Michael Jackson. It's about people finding a new song they love, rather than being told what to like.