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Fashion and Lifestyle – The Music Industry’s TikTok Obsession Is Another Form Of Fast Fashion

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Fashion and Lifestyle – It’s no longer 15 minutes of fame, it’s 15 seconds…If you’re on TikTok, you’re on TikTok. It seems like there’s no casual way to engage with the app, designed to hook you in and keep you online by demanding little to no attention span. And in the same manner as it gets its claws in you, the platform has its claws firmly in the culture industries. Proving to be one of the biggest game-changers in music in recent years, we’ve yet to see if it’s truly a force for good, or just a hype machine distracting from real work and real talent.
Look for it and you’ll see its input everywhere. Walk down the high street on a Saturday and teenagers fall neatly into their TikTok camps, brands are clearly cashing in on the look of the moment with windows full of bright pinks and greens and – if you’re in London – you only have to walk a little while to see some queue of people scrambling to get the newest viral snack. The TikTok machine is an absolute force spanning all corners of culture, so it’s really no wonder industries are putting insane amounts of money down the second they see a new trending pawn in their game.
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Now dedicating whole factions of record labels solely to content creators, the viral video to popstar pipeline is becoming increasingly streamlined. Some of the apps biggest creators; Addison Rae, Bella Poarch, Lil Huddy and Dixie Damelio all boast major record labels with the likes of Warner and Interscope. With most of them starting out as dancers, you can’t help but wonder where the sudden urge to make music comes from. Churning out tracks with perfect soundbite sections, custom made for viral dances or set up with their own trend, creators are making songs that perfectly suit their own origin – built to burn bright and burn out in the same short spark.  
It’s a powerful method. Almost every song in the top streamed tracks of 2020 was attached to a TikTok trend, so you can see why record labels want to continue the pattern. But without cheating, can you remember how ‘Mood’ by 24kGoldn ft. iann dior goes? Do you have any memory of ‘Mood Swings’ by Pop Smoke? No?
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Thrown out and forgotten as soon as the trend has passed, we’ve seen this pattern before. The exact thing we demonise in fast fashion, riding intense trend waves from popularity to irrelevance within months if not weeks, TikTok seems to be pulling the music industry closer into this cycle that could be seen as just as toxic. Packing charts with one-trend wonders whose names are forgotten before you even learnt who the sound was by, the industry is getting so caught up chasing viral tails, it’s neglecting people taking the traditional routing, focusing on making things to last.
And it’s not just an American thing, no longer a symptom of the LA influencer obsession. The UK might be doing it even more intensely, with record labels pouring attention into acts who, let’s face it, are a momentary gag. Within a week of his Wellerman cover going viral, Nathan Evans quit his day job as a postman and signed a three-album record label with Polydor.
Since January, his single has staled, becoming a kind of cringe reminder of our lockdown mayhem as Nathan has since done very little of note beyond a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance at the BRITs. Maybe he’ll do a tour, but his moment in the spotlight was gone before the ink dried on his contract, so surely there was a better use of that money and industry resource? In the same way that a fictional Llama now has a record deal, shouldn’t it all be taken a bit more seriously than this in a time when musicians are struggling more than ever and upcoming acts are being urged to retrain by their government?
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Another dig at the calls for better and more equal festivals, while female acts are deemed not good enough, it seems that having 276k followers is enough to get a new indie band on a line-up. Viral TikTok musicians are climbing serious ladders before they even have a recognisable song of their own, as The Hara sweep mainstage slots at Reading & Leeds and Download, despite only being known for making covers. Blowing up during one week of first lockdown, it seems that a solid social media plan with the aim to go viral now allows you a fast track to dizzying heights of success, scoring record deals and festival slots that even some established artists can’t get. Making gigs and local scene reputation seem irrelevant, tossing out the rule book around honing your craft and building success over time, TikTok has made a fame-first-talent-later approach that seems to laugh in the face of musicians that have been working hard for years.
Now, if you don’t have the budget for a social media team or the know-how to create your own content, suddenly it seems like there’s no chance. In the way that independent businesses are left scrambling to keep up with big-industry fast fashion brands, constantly ripping off or offering cheaper alternatives, are more grassroots musicians being left in the dirt, with either a choice of trying to compete or be defeated by the TikTok machine.
Sure, the music industry and fashion aren’t the same. There’s arguably less material waste or environmental damage caused by a wasted record deal, for instance, but the hyper-speed trend cycle that we recognise as bad in fashion is resulting in the same throw-away culture in the music sector. Reflective of a world where we chew up and spit out art the second the flavour has gone, it’s all the same behaviours and attitude, only without the material. Giving credit based on social media popularity over long-lasting talent, cashing in on quick-buck trends with no real interest or even scope for creating careers or space for artistic growth – it’s no longer 15 minutes of fame, it’s 15 seconds.
But that 15 seconds is expensive, enough to gain you a whole team of execs dedicated to trying to stretch that one success as far as it can physically go, pumping hundreds of thousands into creating songs that will only be recognised for a tiny little section, even fully building their own artists to plant on the app designed only to go viral – everything is getting caught up in the trend cycle and everyone’s dizzy trying to keep up.
Spinning the music industry out of the realm of talent and closer to the realm of quick buck fast-fashion trend cycle, TikTok definitely still has its positives, housing so much untapped musical talent. But getting so caught up in the conveyer belt creating acts that blow up and fizzle out within the week, maybe like with fashion, we need to think beyond the trending.
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Words: Lucy Harbron // @LucyHarbron
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