Credit: "Murder on the Dancefloor" single cover

TikTok stole my favourite song

By Nina Miller

The influence of Tiktok is here to stay, and if you think you’re getting away from it, well, I will prove you wrong.

“It’s murder on the dancefloor! If you think you’re getting away”… well, you know how it goes. Sophie Ellis-Baxtor’s hit single has re-rocketed to the top of the charts over twenty years after its release, and it’s all thanks to Oliver Quick’s dancing around a mansion, stark naked. That and TikTok.

No doubt we’ve all heard of Saltburn’s infamous closing scene, but its closing number has stolen the show, winding up on TikTok and, predictably, spreading like wildfire.

But that’s TikTok for you. That song you’ve been telling your friends to listen to for months; the guilty pleasure that made it into your Spotify Wrapped. After just one or two videos suddenly it’s plastered all over the app. A little snippet cemented in people’s brains, sung everywhere you go, and you feel weirdly proud. Fast forward two weeks and everyone’s sick of it. Give it three and you will be too.

TikTok has become a major influence on the music industry, with many well-known artists using it to debut songs prior to release. With playlists and even its own Charts, our exposure to new music is coming increasingly from the app.

This means music taste is dictated by small sections of songs. And the smaller the section, the more engaging it has to be. It’s like a trailer for the rest of the song. So what’s the recipe for engagement? Successful TikTok songs are hook heavy, meaning they contain “hooks”, which draw the listener in – take that piano line at the start of Oops I Did It Again. There’s tempo and pitch manipulation, with huge numbers of viral songs sped and pitched upward into squeaky, rapid reincarnations. Lastly, there’s remixes and track layering – remember WAP?

It’s a higher, faster, more rule when it comes to audio engagement, and it’s making its way across the music industry. Average song length currently sits around 3 minutes 15 seconds, and it’s well on the decrease, with the 2000s average coming in at just under 4 minutes. Technology’s influence on song length is well documented – the average 50s song was shorter than now – it was simply about what would fit on a record. Song length stretched with each technological advancement, peaking in the 90s, then bouncing right back again, except now instead of what you can fit on a record, it’s what you can fit into a one-minute video.

This isn’t to lay the transformation of music production at the feet of one app. Take Spotify for example, which requires just 30 seconds of listening for a song to be counted as streamed. So, for a song to be successful, it doesn’t necessarily have to be good, it just has to have a good bit in it.

This isn’t new – there’s no shortage of 80s songs with little glimmering hooks in them that overall are just… fine. But now it feels like this is the only recipe for success. It appears the higher, faster, more approach translates to less length, less variation, less interesting music, even.

Is TikTok’s influence here to stay? Or is this just the current phase in an ever-changing industry? Will song length, as elastic as ever, eventually stop shrinking and return to its previous size, or longer? Maybe 10-minute versions are the next big thing.

As for the earworm problem, individually we could just… delete the app. Although it might be a little confusing the next time everyone starts singing a random line of a twenty-year-old song – including, unbelievably, the girl sitting next to me in the JMS, joyfully singing “if you think you’re getting away, I will prove you wrong!”


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