Famous Unknowns

by Jette-Mari Anni

Music fills our spaces constantly. No matter if you’re in a grocery store, a cafe, an elevator, or at a bar, chances are there are some tunes humming in the background. Back in the day, we’d wait anxiously for the DJ to announce the artist and the title of the song on the radio. Today, something entirely different is happening: hundreds of songs are gaining recognition while the artist remains fameless.

During MTV’s reign in the music industry from the 80s to early 2010s, the artists mattered more than ever. The audience was captivated by the new opportunity of enjoying not only the sound of their favorite songs, but also having access to the music videos and behind the scenes footage of their idols’ lives. Teens would run home from school to watch tours of their homes and see them on every possible advertisement and billboard. What’s different about today’s music scene?

Music has occupied yet another space: video entertainment on our phone. TikTok continues to be one of the most popular platforms, despite its many controversies. The app’s ability to capture its users’ attention for hours through extremely short video content is amazing. The algorithm favors videos with a popular song or sound in the background, and groups together similar content that can be shown to people who like it. Over its short life as a platform, TikTok has influenced the music industry tremendously. For example, it brought Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” back to the top of the charts and has gotten many unknown songwriters signed to labels. Taylor Swift even used TikTok to make a surprise announcement for her latest two albums without any additional promotion. These are just a few examples on how TikTok has opened the door to the many creative possibilities for artists.

Yet, it seems like many artists have trouble getting recognized as the name and face behind the tunes. Many “TikTok songs” that go viral are just a 30 second to 1-minute snippet of a full song. Teens and young adults listen to the short audio for hours on end until they’re annoyed by it. I can’t count the times I’ve heard people stop in their tracks at a mall or a coffee shop to say “Wait, I know this song… ohhh, it’s the TikTok song,” as soon as the catchy, famous part starts to play. Many have listened to the small bit so many times they would rather skip the song when it’s played on the radio. They don’t even wonder about the artist behind it. Music has gained a different purpose as a space filler for entertainment.

TikTok has also made many covers, remixes, acoustic versions, or remakes more popular than the original. One of the trends asks users to share what they went viral for that they didn’t mean to go viral with. Artists have started using the trend to reach their audience. They would just smile at the camera and use captions to introduce themselves, get the viewer intrigued by telling them they have something to tell them, and then reveal that the audio playing in the background is actually written and/or performed by them. This way the anonymous has become known.

How will the viral tunes and the shifted attitude toward them affect the artists careers in the long run is unknown. However, it’s evident that Social Media Managers are becoming their best friends as they try to navigate the ever-evolving platform and expectations for their clients. At WONC, you can still call in to ask for the name of an artist, wait for the DJ to say it, or check out the title online. We’re happy to bring you all the new and old tunes in their full glory.