New Data Reveals Music’s Importance to TikTok’s Gen Z Audience

TikTok
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The TikTok logo is seen displayed on a smartphone.

Three years after the launch of TikTok, 52% of Generation Z (people ages 13 to 23) in the U.S. use a short video clip sites such as TikTok and Triller in a typical month, and 48% of that group watch videos about music artists, according to the new U.S. Music 360 report by MRC Data/Nielsen Music survey from June 8 to July 6. (MRC Data/Nielsen Music is owned by Billboard’s parent company.)

A year after “Old Town Road” made Lil Nas X a star and spent a record-setting 19 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100, TikTok is a legitimate hitmaker that helped Arizona Zervas’ “Roxanne” and Tones and I’s “Dance Monkey” reach the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. SAINt JHN, Surfaces and Trevor Daniel have all seen songs experience a second -- and more successful -- life thanks to the app.

In the TikTok world, young, in-demand influencers who promote songs can be more popular than the musicians they lip-sync. For example, 19-year-old Bella Poarch has 25.3 million fans on the platform. In comparison, superstar K-pop groups BTS and Blackpink mustered only 20.1 million and 17.8 million, respectively.

TikTok almost went dark in the U.S. on Sunday (Sept. 20). A tentative deal in which Oracle and Walmart invests in TikTok, and brings its operations to the U.S. from China, saved the app from a U.S. ban ordered by President Trump. Disaster avoided, labels, who work with TikTok influencers to promote songs, can continue their pursuit of the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 -- if the songs click with creators.

Top influencers have become legitimate stars with well-connected managers. The “reigning queen” of TikTok, Charli D’Amelio, is a 16-year-old from Norwalk, CT, with 88 million followers and 6.7 billion likes. D’Amelio is signed to Outshine Talent, a management company created by former Sony Music executive Barbara Jones, and United Talent Agency.

Labels quickly saw an opportunity. Tarek Al-Hamdouni, RCA Records senior vp digital marketing, told Billboard in August that “TikTok has been a tremendous way of reaching a very young music listener” that’s a cornerstone of the business. Al-Hamdouni worked with TikTok influencers to promote SAYGRACE’s “Boys Ain’t Shit” and Doja Cat’s “Say So” and other songs on the platform.

There’s a maxim in music that popular music tends to be popular everywhere: streaming, radio, download sales and peer-to-peer services. This mostly holds true at TikTok, where “WAP” by Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion is the No. 1 on-demand streaming track in the U.S. and currently gets the third-most new videos at TikTok globally (1.4 million in the last week). But TikTok is a breeding group for future hits, too. Take Sada Baby’s “Whole Lotta Choppa” on Asylum Records. TikTok users used the song in 1.7 million new videos last week, the second most of any track. It was only No.136 in on-demand streams.

The video sharing landscape could change over the next year. After an IPO, TikTok will have the capital to build features to attract new users and grab market share. Instagram’s Reels, called “a dud” by The New York Times, is sure to improve. Triller just signed up D’Amelio plus her sister and parents (non-exclusively). What seems certain is the youth of America will be recording more clever, funny and choreographed videos set to current and future hit tracks.

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