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TikTokers’ Face the Music

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I think it’s safe to say that if you checked your phone screen time from this past week, TikTok would be one of the most used apps by far. Quarantine has turned everyone — including my mother — TikTok obsessed. 

The app’s popularity skyrocketed late 2019 with the creation of content houses and Charli D’Amelio’s rise to fame. Since then, many TikTokers have been expanding their brands into the music industry, like Dixie D’Amelio, Nessa Barrett, Jaden Hossler (jxdn), Chase Hudson (Lil Huddy), Larray, Tayler Holder, Ondreaz Lopez and now most recently Addison Rae. 

Rae released her song “Obsessed” along with its music video on March 18, and has since appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” where she performed the song live. “Obsessed” received backlash from both critics and the public saying it wasn’t worth the hype, or that it was one of the worst songs released by a TikToker. Similarly, Dixie D’Amelio has received negative feedback on her singles and remixes. Both influencers faced criticism for the heavy amount of auto-tune in their tracks, which covers up their alleged lack of singing talent. Personally, I think the excessive auto-tune is unnecessary and over-used with many of these influencers-turned-musicians, including Rae. 

Photo provided by Addison Rae @whoisaddison/Twitter

TikTokers such as D’Amelio have spoken on how music was something she had wanted to pursue even before her TikTok success. When asked about her music, D’Amelio talked about her involvement in theater and choir as a child and how she was always singing. D’Amelio has mentioned in the past that she gave up performing to focus on sports once she got to high school. When TikTok gave her the platform and resources to begin singing again, she took the opportunity to revisit something she loved. 

Rae, on the other hand, hasn’t shown any interest in pursuing music until fairly recently. The urge to suddenly pursue a music career could likely be seen as “off brand” for the TikToker, since she is more well known for her background in dance. Rae has been a trained dancer from the age of 6, and when she got to high school, wanted to branch out and begin singing, though it didn’t go further than singing at her local church in Louisiana. Rae admits that she has no musical knowledge whatsoever and barely learned what musical keys were at the start of this journey, but says she is eager to keep learning. Rather than calling herself a musician or singer, she refers to herself as a visual producer because she envisions what she wants her music to sound like. 

It’s not completely fair to imply that these influencers had all their opportunities handed to them, as surely a majority of the behind-the-scenes work goes unspoken. These TikTokers have a million things on their plate to manage and areas to be present in, so even with a team to help out, it might still be difficult to dedicate as much time to their music as, say, someone who is only trying to pursue music without being a mainstream influencer. These influencers are building a business, and music is only a small fraction of their complete brand. 

Photo provided by Dixie @dixiedamelio/Twitter

I believe the music careers of these TikTokers aren’t taken seriously by the public because of how they developed. They obviously didn’t get famous for their music and aren’t solely known for being musicians. Much improvement can be made if a larger chunk of these influencers’ time was dedicated to pursuing music. 

Being a media personality is still a path that the public hasn’t fully accepted as a ‘real career,’ but I have started to view it as a very difficult one. As influencers, they also have YouTube channels, make-up lines, reality TV shows, brand deals, podcasts and PR events in addition to having a music career. 

For those musicians who have dedicated their livelihoods to their craft, it can be frustrating when it appears that someone seemingly had their music opportunities handed to them. However, life isn’t always fair and some things are just written in the stars. Being in the right place at the right time plays heavily into the gamble of show business. It’s not always about who is working the hardest, but who is working the smartest. They are marketing themselves in many different areas, and music happens to be one of them. Their music may not be the best on the market, but it doesn’t have to be, because they already have an audience that will listen even if it’s just to hate on it. 

I think ‘musician’ is a loose title they carry; a more accurate description is ‘social influencers who just happen to sing.’ To be considered musicians, they must grow in terms of their artistry. For these TikTokers, they may finally be considered musicians in the future through hard work and dedication, but until then, they will continue to be looked down upon for the music they release.

Claire Desenberg is an Entertainment Staff Writer for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at cdesenbe@uci.edu.