6 Mainstream Artists Who Went Viral on TikTok First

With over one billion active users worldwide, TikTok is one of the most popular and hottest apps on the planet right now. From providing entertainment via dance clips, or scripted videos, to imparting knowledge from educational or informational clips, the app offers something for everyone.

It is also reshaping the music industry and has become one of the most important tools for musicians. Artists use it to find and grow their audience. Many of the biggest hits owe a decent chunk of their success to TikTok as they went viral on the app.

It is changing the way hopeful artists write songs and how new talent is hunted. According to Music Business Worldwide, TikTok says that over 70 artists who got popular on the platform in 2020 signed major label deals. 

We’ve compiled a list of artists whose careers were changed after their songs went viral on TikTok. 

Lil Nas X

Rapper Lil Nas X is a recipient of multiple awards, including two GRAMMY awards for ‘Old Town Old (Remix)’ (featuring Billy Ray Cyrus). It is his most notable and memorable hit, which was released on SoundCloud in December 2018.

The song quickly rose to the top of SoundCloud’s country music charts. A TikToker turning the song into a TikTok trend eventually helped ‘Old Town Road’ to become a hit. It went on to break Billboard records as the longest-running #1 song of all time. The star has since then garnered hits like ‘(Montero) Call Me By Your Name’ and ‘Industry Baby’.

Doja Cat 

Doja Cat is the moment! With hits after hits, Doja Cat is now a dominating force in the music industry. ‘Say So’ went on to become one of Doja’s biggest hits because of TikTok. The signature dance for it was choreographed by @yodelinghaley. When Nicki Minaj contributed two new verses to the song, it reached the Number 1 spot on Billboard.

This gave both rappers their first number one. Doja Cat is now a Grammy-winning artist for her song ‘Kiss Me More’ (feat. SZA). The singer’s third studio album ‘Planet Her’ spawned multiple hits and became the most streamed album by a female rapper in Spotify history.

PinkPantheress

PinkPantheress started taking off on TikTok because of her throwback house and garage samples, as per Go Social. TIME Magazine named the British singer’s album ‘To Hell with it’ released in 2021 as the third-best of the year. She has over a million followers on TikTok and uses the app as a testing ground “to assess if music is good enough to put out or not,” she said. PinkPatheress’ biggest hit on the app was ‘Just For Me’. It garnered over 104 million streams on Spotify.

“I still have lots of freedom,” she told Complex. “I think when you’re attached to people that want you to promote yourself, as someone that doesn’t like to promote myself it might feel a little bit like now I’m signed, I’m going to have to do this and this and this to fit a criteria that someone else has set. But honestly for me I think the proof is kind of in the pudding. I got here without a label thus far, so I don’t see why a label would change my approach when it’s been working.”

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Magdalena Bay 

Magdalena Bay is a synth-pop duo that, as per Time, “combines lo-fi absurdism, cheerful nihilism, earnest education about the music industry”. In the words of Magdalena Bay’s lead singer Mica Tenenbaum, it combines, “abstract sci-fi cybercult symbology-ridden laser light show masterpiece[s]”. Last year, a slowed-down version of their song ‘Killshot’ went viral. The duo then released their debut album ‘Mercurial World’ in October.

Matthew Lewin, part of the synth-pop duo Magdalena Bay, along with Mica Tenenbaum, says his band’s TikTok engagement is “encouraged but not enforced,” according to USA Today. Mica noted that “they’re not sending us (messages), ‘You have to do this TikTok today.’”

“There could be downsides if labels expect every song they put out to go viral because that’s just not going to happen,” he says. “So if there’s pressure for an artist to create a viral moment, I could see why that would be negative overall.”

Roddy Ricch 

Roddy Ricch’s ‘The Box’ went viral on TikTok after the app’s most-followed dancers created a dance to it. According to British Vogue, 16 billion videos have been created using the song. The artist went from being a breakthrough rapper to a Billboard Hot 100 and UK Top 40 chart-topping star! With songs that boast nine-figure streaming numbers, and the rapper collaborating with some big names in the industry, there’s no stopping him now! 

Sam Fischer 

Australian singer-songwriter Sam Fischer believes that TikTok ‘changed everything’ for him. He said “It’s taken me 10 years to become an overnight success,” to Jake Challenor as per The Music Network. “I think it’s a weird one being in the industry for so long and then having my artist career kick-started by TikTok because it’s so random, and it’s so hard to recreate.”

Sam Fischer first released his single ‘This City’ in 2018. Over a year and a half later, it appeared on TikTok. Then came hundreds more and then millions. Now, one billion videos have been made using ‘This City’.

RCA Records, a record label that has signed the likes of Khalid, Martin Garrix, and ZAYN, slid into Fischer’s DMs. RCA signed him to the label, and the track continued to climb the charts in the US and UK. In 2021, the Grammy-nominated singer Demi Lovato collaborated with the 31-year-old for the single ‘What Other People Say’. The duet is the tenth track on Lovato’s seventh studio album.

Honorable Mentions:

Olivia Rodrigo

The global superstar Olivia Rodrigo’s ballad ‘Driver’s License’ began making the rounds on TikTok last year. Rodrigo starred in the Disney+ spinoff series of ‘High School Musical’ titled ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ when the song was released. Little was known of her at the time. However, with the increasing number of viral videos about the song, fans began dissecting the love triangle at the heart of it others were singing along to the song’s epic bridge.

Months later, billions of streams, seven Grammy nominations, and love from people and artists Rodrigo had looked up to from a very young age were in store for the singer. Olivia was not a one-hit-wonder. Apart from Driver’s License’ being a hit on the app, ‘good 4 u’ the star’s third single from her debut album ‘SOUR’, was mashed with Paramore’s ‘Misery Business’ on TikTok. This one was for the millennials who could look back to their pop-punk roots.

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Rodrigo broke several records with her hit song ‘Driver’s License’. The star has received numerous accolades, including three Grammy Awards, seven Billboard Music Awards, and four MTV Video Music Awards. More awards include four iHeartRadio Music Awards and two People’s Choice Awards, an American Music Award, a Brit Award, and a Juno Award.

The singer was also placed on the 2021 edition of Time magazine’s 100 next lists. She was Time’s Entertainer of the Year for 2021. Billboard named her Woman of the Year in 2022 and Rodrigo has also been honored as “Songwriter of the Year” by Variety in 2021 and at the 2022 ASCAP Awards. 

Megan Thee Stallion   

Many people may have learned the ‘Savage’ dance choreographed by TikToker Keara Wilson. It became one of the biggest-ever dance challenges on TikTok. ‘Savage’ spawned dozens of remixes. The Hot Girl Megan Thee Stallion was on the charts long before the TikTok moves took off. However, ‘Savage’ proved she could keep dominating the internet post-Hot Girl Summer hit as even Beyoncé joined the rapper on a remix for ‘Savage’. It suddenly became a whole new song after Queen B hopped on the track. Megan took home two Grammy awards – Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance for Savage Remix (feat. Beyoncé) at the 2021 Grammy awards.

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