From 'Toosie Slide' to 'Old Town Road': Here's how TikTok has changed the face of pop music

Drake (PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images)
Drake (PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images)

I've written about what TikTok is and how to use it but one thing I didn't count on is how it's changed the face of music.

When I took a closer look I found that has a lot to do with its origins, it's algorithms and the users it attracts.

I'm going to unpack each aspect and give examples of how it's benefited some songs on the charts from Lil Nas X to Drake and Dua Lipa. 


Back in 2018 when Chinese company Bytedance closed the lip-sync-video app, that it purchased at the end of 2017, and migrated its users to TikTok. 

The app, also known as Douyin in China, lets its young users create and share short videos with unique soundtracks or hit songs.

Less than a year after the rebrand, the application gained popularity and became the most downloaded app in the U.S. in October 2018. What allowed TikTok to become such a huge platform so quickly? According to Rolling Stone, TikTok has benefitted from greater resources, an algorithm that encourages videos from a wide selection of users not just the most popular ones, and targeted outreach efforts that ensure prolific users are up on the latest trends.


According to Eli Pariser's book The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think, a lot of social networks end up creating a timeline of highly personalised internet content that leads to a sense of isolation.

So, if you only follow people on social media who look like you or share your interests, for instance, you could get stuck in an echo chamber. 

According to artificial intelligence researcher Marc Faddoul, in an article published on Vox, this is the case on TikTok. In his non-scientific research he found that when he followed one person who fit a certain description it set up a series of suggestions that followed that description. 

In the same article a TikTok spokesperson pushed back and refuted that finding, saying: "We haven’t been able to replicate results similar to these claims."

They added: "Our recommendation of accounts to follow is based on user behaviour: users who follow account A also follow account B, so if you follow A you are likely to also want to follow B." This algorithm is commonly known as collaborative filtering, a type of recommendation that can also pop up on dating apps.

Whatever the real formula is for the algorithm, it often results in clusters of dance challenge or lip sync challenges going viral. It also results in young people finding others who enjoy the same challenges or types of videos as them.

So, simply, if you're someone who enjoys cooking tips, you'll get a whole lot of cooking videos on your "For Your Page (FYP)" which pops up just as you log in. The more you view of that category, the more you'll get. I have found it to have time wormhole kind of effect, where I think I'm just going to pop in to watch one video and then it's been an hour and my phone battery is about to die. 


South African TikTok stats are hard to come by. But I was able to get some interesting data on one of its largest markets, the USA. 

According to Hootsuite

- TikTok’s biggest age group in the US is 18-24 year olds, which account for 42%. That’s followed by 13-17 year olds at 27%.

- 13-26 year olds are as likely to use TikTok as Facebook and Twitter- Approximately 60% of users in the US are female, versus 40% male.


For the best example of how the app has changed the face of pop music, just take a look at the most popular songs. 

The Billboard Hot 100 chart is full of songs made popular in widely shared TikTok videos, across various platforms. They are almost all tracks that have gone viral on TikTok, after becoming part of a meme or dance challenge or simply racking up video views on the app. 

As a result, in a music industry increasingly focused on singles, TikTok is set to become a big promotional tool with artists even gearing their releases to fit in dance challenges in a way that we've never seen before.

Take for instance, Drake's colossal hit, Toosie Slide

It all started when Toosie, a 23-year-old dancer from Atlanta whose real name is Daquan, got a DM from Drake. The rapper, who like most hip-hop lovers know the dancer from his videos and routines (and even took him on tour) sent Toosie an unfinished version of the song and asked him what he thought.

According to a video interview with Genius, Toosie and his crew then came up with the now famous dance routine and did a video. Drake loved it and they uploaded it before the single was even released. The rest is viral history. 


Why is Drake sending his songs to dancers to make routines before he even releases it? Well because he saw he a winning formula with Non-Stop and In My Feelings.

It basically sets a song up to go up in the charts before it is even released. Other songs by different artists include Blinding Lights by The Weeknd and Say So by Doja Cat have popular dance challenges.

The Box by Roddy Ricch and Don't Start Now by Dua Lipa have also found popularity by becoming memes. 

One of the most classic examples is Old Town Roadby Lil Nas X. The rapper uploaded the song to TikTok himself, and credits the app with its success.

He told Time: "I promoted the song as a meme for months until it caught on to TikTok and it became way bigger".

Old Town Road's big boost came from a hugely popular meme where people drank "yee yee juice," transforming them into a cowboy.Of course there are more examples of songs popular on TikTok, but these are just a few that I found interesting.

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