The effects of TikTok on music

Social media’s effect on songs isn’t always music to our ears

Image by: Rida Chaudhry
Tiktok songs are catchy but unholy.

Media is becoming more truncated than ever, with short-form entertainment becoming not only a preference but a necessity. Attention spans are shrinking. People now struggle to watch a two-hour movie without looking at their phones. It’s becoming impossible to read a book.

An often-overlooked victim of shortening attention spans is music. TikTok has redefined the way we interact with and consume music. It has also completely changed how artists are discovered and attract attention.

TikTok has increased young, ambitious artists’ discoverability, sure, but this is a mixed blessing: as TikTok becomes the dominant means of connecting listeners with new artists, musicians are incentivized to craft their work for TikTok. The result is snappy choruses within songs bereft of value or verve within their verses or production.

Take, for instance, the recent Grammy winner “Unholy.” The song has a catchy, debaucherous chorus, but outside of its 30 seconds of glory, it’s all droning production and lazy, lame verses. The song seems to have been composed with thirst-trap TikToks in mind.

As music becomes shortened and small portions of the song are popularized, music is fractured and fragmented. Songs under three minutes are the norm now. The emphasis is not upon crafting a beautiful, cohesive whole, but on seconds worth of catchy production and vocals well-suited to short-form social media. 

Most people have heard the chorus of “Unholy,” but far fewer have sat through the entire song. Remember when Lil Yachty’s “Poland” was leaked? The song was 83 seconds long, but it became a viral sensation. 

People’s appetite for longer songs—or even ones that are four minutes—is waning. “Poland” is catchy, no doubt, but its TikTok-induced popularity eclipses any fame most talented and careful musicians will ever achieve.

It’s discouraging. What are aspiring artists supposed to do when a song primarily composed of taking “the Wock to Poland” achieves viral fame? You don’t need a good album anymore to sell music. 

You don’t even need a good song. Viral music encourages thoughtless composition and tracks which are primarily composed to soundtrack short videos.

There are some upsides to TikTok, though. The platform can increase the discoverability of emerging artists while allowing listeners to connect with producers. The popularity of slowed or sped up remixes has lowered the barrier of entry into the industry for those interested in experimenting with music.

The increasing brevity of music is ultimately symptomatic of popular culture at large. We have become so accustomed to constant consumption and sensory stimulation that if a song doesn’t hook us within seconds, we skip it.

We must pay close attention to what we pay attention to. As everyone constantly vies for our views and for our time, your attention is the most valuable thing you can give. 

The existence of minute-long songs is not a scourge threatening the fabric of humanity. Nobody wants to see the day when the Billboard Hot 100 is composed of “Unholy” clones and an army of postable audio files devoid of any joy. 

We are becoming sensation machines, mindless to anything which doesn’t immediately stimulate us without our engagement. Art is changing to suit our tastes. Beautiful lyricism and mindful composition slip over us, gone without the attention they deserve.


Music, Social media, TikTok, unholy

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