Millions of songs are released on TikTok every day, and although it seems like the viral trends with its contagious dances, hoarse sounds, and exuberant beats are getting more and more out of control, there is a method in this madness.
If you spend enough time scrolling down the endless stream of vertical videos, you will start noticing some patterns: relatability, replicability, and the melody that instantly makes you want to sway. TikTok content looks like it was recorded in the artist’s bedroom (and often it is), which makes it less intimidating for beginners than other, “more serious” platforms.
Despite its playful vibe, it’s hard not to take TikTok seriously; over the last few years, it’s become one of the most effective platforms on the Internet to help artists kick off their music careers. While other social media platforms are recording a decline in popularity, TikTok reached 1.5 billion users in 2023 (16% growth from the last year).
Hundreds of artists literally exploded on the app and became worldwide famous after their songs went viral on TikTok. You may not love the short videos and dynamically evolving trends (which are hard to keep up with, especially if you’re a Millennial mummy like me), but you simply cannot ignore them altogether. Well, you can, but you would be missing out on a ton of opportunities, such as getting a record deal or climbing into the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
I have to confess: I’m not a huge fan of TikTok’s format; still, if you’re an indie artist trying to make it in the music world, I’d recommend you start posting your music on TikTok as soon as possible.
Today, I’ll introduce you to ten artists who blew up on the app and where this took them.
American singer-songwriter of half-Persian descent, Em Beihold started studying music at the age of six and wrote her first song a year later. Beihold released her first EP, Infrared, in 2017 and posted her first viral TikTok song, “City of Angels,” in 2020, but it wasn’t until 2022 that her single “Numb Little Bug” made her famous.
The Los Angeles-born artist is a perfect example of an “overnight” and well-deserved success that many TikTokers are after. The single touches upon the artist’s struggles with generalized anxiety disorder and the lows she experienced, especially during the pandemic. “Numb Little Bug” reached the 91st position on Billboard’s Hot 100 and was streamed over 1 million times on Spotify within 24 hours after being released.
Beihold often involves humor to share her personal experience and relatable reflections on mental health and past relationships with her 1.2 million TikTok fans. In 2022, the artist released the EP Egg in the Backseat under Republic Records.
“Love Nwantiti” was already a hit in the Nigerian artist’s home country, but thanks to TikTok, it became one of the most well-known international songs in African pop music history and the second-ever song by a Nigerian artist to reach the Billboard Hot 100.
Chukwuka Chukwuma Ekweani, better known as CKay, is a Nigerian producer and singer-songwriter who had to wait a while before eventually getting recognized as the author of “the most certified Afrobeat” ever. The song-inspired dance routine created by TikToker Tracy Joseph was replicated by over 3 million TikTok users, and the #lovenwantiti reached over 1.5 billion views on the app, but it wasn’t until the artist posted an acoustic version of the track that he became known as its true creator.
With millions of tracks being posted daily on TikTok, it’s not unheard of for an author to go unnoticed despite their songs becoming viral. If the track was remixed, or the artist wasn’t credited correctly, it’s easy for an unknown musician to miss out on the benefits of TikTok fame. As they say, “It all starts on TikTok.” but for some artists, it can take some time before they realize the TikTokers are creating videos using their sounds.
From a Royal Mail worker to a full-time recording artist, Nathan Evens became famous across the UK after sharing a capella version of a sea shanty on the app in 2020. In 2021, his version of the 19th-century shanty song “Wellerman,” remixed by 220 KID and Billen Ted, reached the top of the charts in the UK, and Evans eventually left his postal job after signing a three-album deal with Universal’s Polydor Records.
Evans has 1.7 million followers on TikTok and is just as active on YouTube and Twitter.
Recently described by Mick Jagger as the biggest rock band in the world, the Italian glam rock band went viral globally with their cover of 60s Frankie Valli’s “Beggin” published on TikTok after their Eurovision success in 2021.
While the band was already popular in their home country and Europe, the social media viral fame gave them worldwide recognition before they were even officially on the platform. The cover quickly became a hit in the UK, inspiring over 9 million new videos and, by December, becoming the second most popular track on TikTok of 2021.
If we pull apart Måneskin’s career, each of its elements, starting from their X-Factor appearance to winning Eurovision, is a receipt for a one-off success story, which often declines as quickly as it rose. However, it worked just the opposite for the band, and with 20.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify, far surpassing legends such as Rammstein, Iron Maiden, or Metallica, it doesn’t look like we’ll forget about them any time soon.
In 2020, the Philippine-American singer and social media personality posted a lip-sync video to a rap song “Sophie Aspin Send” by Millie B, which went viral, becoming the most-liked video on the app and making her, with 91 million followers, the third most followed person on TikTok ever.
At first, I had some doubts about whether I should include Poarch on my list; after going viral on TikTok, Poarch opened a YouTube account, and it was then that she started receiving media attention. Nonetheless, thanks to TikTok, she developed a music career, and her oscillating between dark pop and sugar-coated songs, catchy beats, and vocal skills resonated with millions of fans.
In 2021, Poarch signed a deal with Warner Records, and her single, “Build a Bitch” reached 56th position on Billboard Hot 100. The video clip, featuring her friends and web celebrities, including Larray, Mia Khalifa, ZHC, Sub Urban, Valkyrie, Dina, Bretman Rock, and Rakhim, had more than 400 million views.
The South African singer and songwriter is the artist behind “Water,” a song that prompted one of the app’s latest viral dance challenges. Tyla performed the moves created together with her choreographer, involving belly dancing and twerking, during her concerts and on her profile, encouraging fans to join in, and this was what really sparked the viral reaction.
After weeks of trending on TikTok, “Water,” blending various genres from pop and R&B to afrobeat and a style of South African electronic dance music called Ampiano, climbed up to 21st position on Billboard’s Hot 100. Tyla is the youngest South African artist ever to be included on the most popular US weekly music chart and the first in 55 years artist to be featured since “Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela.
This is not the first time for the South African singer to flirt with fame, but none of her previous songs came even close to “Water” viral success.
As of October 2023, the dance trend inspired over 500,000 videos, and the #TylaWater and #TyleWaterChallange combined reached 448.6 million views. The music video premiered on Oct 6 and has already reached over 37 million views! The artist is also releasing her upcoming EP this month with Epic Records and is on the best way to move her career far beyond viral dance moves.
The English 4-piece nuanced rock band went viral on TikTok with their song “Come Over (again).” The relatable lyrics of the piece have been used by creators to describe overcoming life struggles or illustrate going through a gender transition. The band quickly built a loyal fan base, reaching 686,400 followers on the app, and all their recent concerts have been sold out in minutes.
All of the band members have active TikTok profiles, where they react to the latest trends and sounds through their personalized videos. In January 2022, the band signed a record deal with Polydor Records and is still using the app to promote their music.
Gray started posting on TikTok (back then called musical.ly) in 2015 to entertain her group of friends when she was just 13. Her videos of lip-syncing radio hits filmed with a front camera quickly started gaining attention, and before she even noticed, her account had over 30,000 followers.
In 2019, Gray, called “the voice of Gen Z,” was the most followed creator, and today, her account has 54.1 million followers. She released her debut studio album, “Guilty,” in April 2023 after leaving the deal with Virgin Records and Capitol Records.
“I want my fans to be able to approach me in public and not think that I’m some robot who only exists online. I’m a silly girl. I want to make a stupid video. I want to cry on the Internet,” Gray told Interview Magazine.
An interesting example of how going “viral” can take different routes: English singer-songwriter has been publishing music on YouTube since 2011, but it was only when he shifted his focus to TikTok that his fan base went from 300,000 to 1.6 million. After the song “Home” inspired over a million creators to make new pieces and reached 100 million views, Rosenthal posted a video explaining how he refused offers from the top record labels wanting to release his track.
In 2021, the artist set up his own label, Tinpot Records, with the objective of building a community where he “would feel comfortable singing” and supporting other musicians in their journey.
I shouldn’t leave out perhaps the most famous TikTok-made artist ever: the 24-year-old rapper, singer, and songwriter who, in a year, went from being a college dropout to having his single on the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the record-breaking 19 weeks.
“Old Town Road” was recorded in one day with a $30 beat bought by the artist, who at the time was sleeping on his sister’s floor. After being initially removed from the Billboard’s country chart, the song sparked a controversy across the web, with main media outlets debating whether it is enough “country” to be considered a country music song.
The career of Lil Nas X, who in 2020 won two Grammy awards, is not only proof of his talent but it’s often seen as a demonstration of how social media, and especially TikTok, democratized the music industry, allowing artists who back in the day would have to struggle to get a record deal, get industry recognition.
Are you still wondering what to post on your TikTok account and how to spin your career? You’re not the only one. Every day, musicians worldwide are posting new content, hoping to one day wake up to millions of views and missed calls from the top record labels.
While overnight success is a real thing, it does happen to a few lucky ones; the music world is evolving fast, and trends come and go in a matter of months. Let these artists and their success stories inspire you to get more creative, but don’t get disappointed if things don’t work out in the same way for you.
Social media opened the music world to artists who would never have had a chance to become famous otherwise and democratized the music industry, but it also created a world where competition is tougher and wilder.