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What Makes A Musician?: TikToker Edition

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As more and more TikTokers and influencers transition and make their way into the music scene, the controversy of what makes a real musician has become a hot topic of conversation for the public to discuss. 

Joining the TikToker musician club is Bella Poarch, who debuted her single “Build a B*tch” on May 14. Unlike other TikTokers, Poarch was praised for her musical talents and immediately received the public’s seal of approval for a successful transition from TikTok to music. 

“Build a Bitch” is a pop style song about embracing your flaws. The video takes place in a factory-like setting, assembling custom women for the men who order them. Valkyrae, Mia Khalifa and other popular influencers make an appearance in the video along side Poarch. While on the 100 Thieves podcast, Poarch talked about how the inspiration for writing the song came from when she was bullied for her looks growing up. When launching her music career, she wanted her first song to be meaningful and have a good message for her audience. Poarch further talked about the significance of the track in a tweet saying, “this song isn’t just any song. It means the world to me. my whole life no one has ever believed in me. I just had to believe in myself. but now I have you guys. and I’m so grateful. more than you’ll ever know. and that’s why i wanted to share it with you. thanks for believing in me.”

Dixie D’Amelio, now rebranded as just Dixie, also dropped her single “F***BOY” the same day as Poarch but received very different feedback. D’Amelio in her YouTube live prior to the release described the song as a fun anthem that plays into the infamous slang of a boy playing with a girls’ feelings, giving mixed signals, and only says things to get what he wants from her before leaving; the song itself was given to her by her good friend Olivia O’Brien. The video was filmed at Saddle Ranch in LA, and it features many of her influencer friends, such as Avani Gregg, Nikita Dragun and Mads Lewis, and her sister Charli D’Amelio. The video’s storyline is centered around D’Amelio’s complaining about her boy problems then transitions to her hanging with her friends at Saddle Ranch.

So what makes a “real” musician and how do these TikTokers make a successful transition?

A musician by definition is a person who plays a musical instrument, especially as a profession, or is musically talented. Both Poarch and D’Amelio are not new to the world of music, as these TikTokers started music at a very young age. Poarch says she has been writing songs and singing her whole life and D’Amelio has stated numerous times, and most recently in a Facebook live Q&A, that she has been singing since being involved with musician theater and vocal groups from the age of three. In addition to her vocal and performance experience, D’Amelio also revealed she is well versed in playing the violin and the piano. 

On the other hand TikTokers like Addison Rae, who are trying to make their way in music, don’t have much credibility to back up their career move. Rae has a credible dance background, as she is classically trained, but admits that she has no musical knowledge whatsoever and barely learned what musical keys were. Rae, after releasing her debut single “Obsessed” on March 18, announced she is currently working on more music and a debut album inspired by her recent relationship with fellow TikToker Bryce Hall

TikTokers are working to prove themselves everyday to be viewed in a more respectable light and do more than create 15 second videos. Poarch has obviously proved her musical talents with her debut single “Build a B*tch,” racking up over 80 million views on YouTube and 15 million streams on Spotify just in the first week and with her vocal range. A&R Senior Vice President for Warner Records Stefan Max said that it was obvious that Poarch had been singing for a long time and that he couldn’t believe the amount of musical talent she was hiding when he heard her sing for the first time. 

However, D’Amelio is still fighting to prove herself as a real musician even though she may have the most credibility. Unfortunately, D’Amelio has it harder than anyone else going down this road because she didn’t gain her following from her own merit. Rather, she rose to fame due to her sister’s dancing talents. Everyone is quick to judge saying D’Amelio doesn’t deserve her platform and is constantly tearing down everything she does; thus, she not only has to prove herself as a musician but also that she deserves the following she has. 

D’Amelio has definitely come a long way since her debut release of “Be Happy” in July 2020. She has been very vocal about how she is working to improve her music and find her own sound — she has written over 40 of her own songs in writing camp. D’Amelio is constantly being criticized for using autotune on her tracks even though it isn’t uncommon for artists to use autotune in their work. D’Amelio has received a variety of critical comments, such as those saying that she has no talent and that she uses excessive autotune to cover the fact that she can’t sing. However, D’Amelio has proven multiple times that she can in fact sing without the autotune used in her tracks, seen in live videos on Instagram, playing the piano on TikToks, covering songs acapella and acoustic performances of “Be Happy” and “One Whole Day” on SiriusXM’s Hits1 HITBOUND Performance Series in March 2021. Recently, D’Amelio spoke on a 2 Chix podcast about the movement classes she has been taking to help improve her stage presence. She mentioned that she is learning to have more creative control on future songs, including directing her own music videos, and she has set a goal to release a new song each month of this year. Specifically, D’Amelio is expecting to drop an EP this summer. 

I think it is safe to say that D’Amelio is doing the absolute most and is committing herself to improving her music. If she had risen to fame in a different way, her music career would have panned out very differently. Being at the top and in the position she’s in, the backlash comes with the territory; once the public has formed an opinion on you and your brand, it’s very hard to change it. In her case it’s not only her brand but her entire family empire. There is always a scapegoat and it looks like D’Amelio took one for the team. 

To answer our burning question — yes, I think both Poarch and D’Amelio are musicians, and frankly, so is any other TikToker who releases music. It is easy to judge from an outside perspective when we don’t see all the work that goes into a project. Now, whether they are good or bad musicians is a whole other question that is open for debate. 

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