The name is Charli D’Amelio, the effervescent American dancer who is running the game at TikTok. She is by far the most followed influencer on the platform (65 million at the time of writing, leading the second most followed, Addison Rae, by a margin of almost 20 million), and in case you don’t know about D’Amelio’s omnipresence, you can read the in-depth profiles on her by Business Insider, the Washington Post and the Guardian.
But what music is she choosing for all her spontaneous-feeling, yet cleanly-executed dance videos?
Since the Lil Nas X days (don’t forget that was just early 2019), the music industry has been hot for TikTok. The Beijing-based tech firm ByteDance, once acquiring Musical.ly, managed to pull off the impossible and made TikTok bigger than its already huge predecessor. It’s now a viral hit machine that is driving streaming revenue for copyright holders (e.g., artists and labels) on streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube and Deezer.
Which begs the question for artists looking to grab the attention of elite-level influencers like D’Amelio…. How do I get my music on her next TikTok?
“Charli’s creative process for this is not much of one at all. She scrolls through her “For You” page (a sort of welcome-to-the-app splash screen full of videos algorithmically generated for each user) and chooses an audio clip she likes. Otherwise, she thumbs through a list of saved, favourite clips that have caught her ear before and earmarked for possible use. Today it’s a crunchy, low-quality recording of a couple of bars from a 2011 track by rapper J Cole called Work Out.” - Tom Lamont, The Guardian (June 2020)
While the Guardian piece suggests her music selection process is haphazard, she is also now managed by former Sony Music and Warner Music senior executive Barbara Jones and repped by one of the world’s largest talent agencies, United Talent Agency (UTA). UTA signed her whole family, “which will work with the family on digital content, live touring, podcasts, books, TV, and licensing and endorsements.”
Knowing this, the No. 1 superstar of one of the most downloaded apps globally (over 2 billion) randomly picking music is a bit like saying Steph Curry or LeBron James just randomly picks a pair of shoes to wear during a game … but OK.
The Most Liked Songs on D’Amelio’s TikTok
So what music has she picked that has been liked the most with her audience?
D'Amelio doesn't necessarily keep to one video per track, and likely knows when to pour gas on a well-performing video on the same day or next. American rapper Megan Thee Stallion's enormous hit "Savage" makes two appearances (March 25 and 26) in D’Amelio’s top 10 most liked. Kazakh producer Imanbek and American/Guyanese artist SAINt JHN also take two spots with the “Roses - Imanbek Remix”, with two uploads on March 21.
Some of the more interesting entries are Todrick Hall's "Attention" of American Idol fame, Houston crew Mighty Bay's "Need A Freak" and Canadian artist Freddie Dredd's 2018 track "Opaul", which samples a Brazilian song, which everyone danced to thinking it was English ... TikTok is more fun the less it makes sense.
The Most Commented Songs on D’Amelio’s TikTok
And what music has she picked that has been commented on the most with her audience?
Megan Thee Stallion, 6ix9ine and SAINt JHN/Imanbek all re-appear in the most commented videos of D'Amelio's, and so does Conkarah. The Jamaican artist hit it big when D'Amelio bopped her head down, dropping her sunglasses on her face during the dance. To her credit, she asks in her video's description for the originator of the dance...but it's safe to say once she did it, everyone else followed.
Other tracks of interest that garnered high comment engagement: British emerging artist Mimi Webb got a D'Amelio lift with "Before I Go" when D'Amelio celebrated 52 million TikTok followers; D'Amelio wasn't afraid to get down to Mulatto's "Bitch From Da Souf" (though her parents probably didn't love the choreography); and D'Amelio celebrated her 16th birthday with her May 1st post with "sixteen" by the now-defunct Ayesha erotica.
What Does TikTok Virality Mean for Artists and Influencers Themselves?
It’s the billion dollar question. But one only needs a few minutes on the platform to realize that the real stars are not the music artists…. They’re the influencers. Or, if you want to get real meta, the memes themselves.
“[TikTok’s musical influence] is really built around a moment, a meme and repetition...It’s less about the artist and the song and more about how it matches with what [users] are trying to accomplish. That’s why random things can blow up there, and why a person with zero followers can go viral.” - Christal Cody, Warner Records (Billboard, June 2020)
But artists surely stand to benefit, at the very least, from increased streaming revenue, if not taking to TikTok themselves and embracing it wholeheartedly like Loren Gray or Jason DeRulo have, for example.
When it comes to the influencers themselves, viral stars like D’Amelio know the platform they have to encourage social change. She’s been forward about her support for the Black Lives Matter movement, with her TikTok and Twitter profile pictures both being the BLM raised fist image. Her serious May 30 TikTok after George Floyd’s death has been viewed more than 121M times, 3-4 times more than most of her videos. It’s an admirable recognition that even light-hearted superstars can take a moment to recognize serious social issues like structural racism.
We’ll attempt to draw connections between TikTok and other streaming and social media platforms in the near future. In the meantime, it's never too late to learn the Megan Thee Stallion "Savage" dance by Keara Wilson.