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It’s no secret that TikTok has become a force to be reckoned with in the social media sphere in the past 4 years. The lockdown of 2020 only ignited this platform’s already interstellar rise, with 10-second clips of everyday people from around the world dancing in their PJs, lamenting pandemic life, baiting their pets to do something entertaining, and simply being hilarious.
But it’s not just meme-worthy content for teenage influencers, plenty of bonafide artists got into the game too.
Artists up and down the pop spectrum have been releasing duets, covers, and even originals through the app. A few even managed to go viral. As a result, some garnered huge followings, going from virtually unknown to millions of Spotify spins virtually overnight. Some were even rewarded with record deals, or had hits on traditional radio.
Here are just a few of our favorite artists who managed to catapult into the public consciousness last year.
Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X is perhaps the biggest and earliest example of an artist blowing up on TikTok. Lil Nas was virtually unknown until he uploaded his smash hit “Old Town Road” to TikTok in 2019. The song quickly went viral — with many users (and even their pets!) dancing along to the hit. This propelled Lil Nas’s song to the top of the Billboard charts, and it even hit the country charts before being (wrongly, in my opinion) pulled off.
Regardless, Nas’s meteoritic rise gave hope to thousands of artists that TikTok fans could translate to traditional success.
Although her notoriety began before TikTok, there’s no doubt the social media app helped fuel the 19-year old influencer and singer, Loren Gray’s popularity. With some 53 million followers on TikTok, she’s the tenth most followed person on TikTok (the first being Charli D’Amelio).
It should be no surprise, then, she’s gained a huge foothold in the music industry — her song “Queen” has 18 million views on YouTube and counting, and she’s been nominated for three Teen Choice Awards. The singer even made a cameo appearance in a Taylor Swift music video.
In the music industry, overnight success is a rare thing, but “rags to riches” stories certainly do happen; and they fuel the aspirations of every other hopeful wanting the same thing. Priscilla Block was one such hopeful, moving to Nashville from North Carolina directly from high school in 2020. Then, the pandemic hit and everything shut down. With limited access to real crowds, Block decided to really focus on social media, and TikTok in particular.
In the background, though, her life was falling apart — she had to move out of her apartment because she couldn’t pay rent, and she had to have multiple jobs to make ends meet. She finally decided to release a worktape of a song she wrote called “Just About Over You.” Her followers went wild, crowdfunding a full-fledged demo. In short order, the song topped the iTunes chart and she was given a record deal. This year, she released her EP and will be touring with veteran singer Ashley McBryde.
Starting out in music as a young teen, Alyssa Trahan quickly made a name for herself as a rising star in her hometown of East Rochester, NY. Before long, the singer had moved to Nashville to take the next steps in her career and was quickly signed to a publishing deal. Like many artists in 2020, Trahan turned to TikTok and found a surprising amount of support. Her song, “Aint Ever Going Back” achieved over 1 million views. This helped propel her self-produced album, Baby Blues & Stilettos, to premiere at #9 on the iTunes Country Album chart. Her music was also recently featured on an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!
While the Waterloo, Illinois native’s career blew up on TikTok very recently, Alexandra Kay is not new to making music. At 20, she had a record deal with an R&B label — unfortunately, nothing was clicking. So she decided to turn her attention to the internet. Releasing classic country cover songs started getting her fans and attention.
In fact, it got her an audition for The Voice (though she wasn’t ultimately featured) and a Netflix show called Westside. And fans of her covers are sticking around for her originals too; with over 5 million streams of her songs, and #1 spots on the iTunes Country Charts for her singles.
While not every path is right for every artist — and there are certainly more artists vying for attention on TikTok than there were a year ago — the social media juggernaut has proven to be a boon for performers and writers who want to get their music to the masses.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next breakout star.
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