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Beyoncé’s TikTok Takeover Proves the Platform’s Power Persists

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If you don’t live under a rock, you are likely aware that Beyoncé released a pair of new songs earlier this month. One of them, “Texas Hold ‘Em,” has blanketed TikTok in recent days: Around 74,000 users had made videos incorporating the sound on February 18; this more-than-tripled over the course of a week, pushing the total number of clips using the track past 224,000 on February 25. 

TikTok’s ability to drive this kind of ubiquity has diminished in recent years — much to the chagrin of the music industry. “In 2019, you could catch a trend and go top five on Apple Music in like a day,” says Harrison Golding, vice president of strategic marketing at EMPIRE. “Now the platform is so mature that even if you get trends and user-generated content, the numbers may not correlate to streams.”

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And yet: “The virality of this Beyoncé record shows you the power of the platform,” says Nima Nasseri, a former vp of A&R strategy for Universal Music Group, where he worked on a team that ran TikTok campaigns for resurgent catalog hits like Trinidad Cardona’s “Dinero” and Phantogram’s “Black Out Days.” “It’s still there. You can’t discount it.” (Not that anyone was discounting it — more like lamenting the good old days when outcomes on TikTok were far easier to influence.)

The TikTok takeover of “Texas Hold ‘Em” carries extra weight because it feels like a potent reminder of the platform’s impact at a time when the music industry is eager to look for alternatives. Licensing negotiations between Universal Music Group and TikTok fell apart in January, which means that no official sounds from UMG artists have been available on the platform during February. And whenever TikTok faces a potential obstacle — U.S. politicians threaten to ban it, for example, or a massive song catalog is removed — music industry attention turns to Instagram and YouTube, which also have their own short-form video delivery systems (Reels and Shorts, respectively). 

It’s possible that more music will come down from TikTok soon — not just tracks by UMG’s artists, but also any songs that include contributions from Universal Music Publishing Group’s songwriters. It makes sense, then, that “artists and their teams are putting more strategy into all three platforms now,” according to Jen Darmafall, director of marketing for ATG Group. “Before, they would just make content that works for TikTok and then post it on the other platforms.”

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Although recent history is littered with songs that exploded on TikTok and saw a correlated jump on streaming services, it’s always been much harder to find comparable examples associated with Reels and Shorts. “Reels is more self-contained,” Nasseri explains. “You can get 100,000 uses of a sound on Reels, and that won’t impact” plays on streaming services. 

Historically, success on Reels creates “more of a passive following,” adds Ben Locke, director of A&R and marketing at the label Disharmony.

When it comes to Shorts, Golding includes it in all his rollouts, as do most music marketers. “Is it changing a record like TikTok can?” he asks. “No, not yet.” 

Nasseri agrees: “You don’t see creates grow at the same rate on YouTube Shorts as they do on TikTok.” (Neal Mohan, YouTube’s CEO, recently wrote on the company’s blog that “Shorts is averaging over 70 billion daily views, and the number of channels uploading Shorts has grown 50% year over year.”)

This all makes the recent success of Sawyer Hill’s “Look at the Time” that much more noteworthy: The song topped Spotify’s Viral 50 chart in the U.S. last week thanks in large part to listeners coming from Reels. “I’ve never seen virality from Reels like this that drove consumption in a meaningful way,” says Locke, who signed Sawyer Hill to Disharmony. 

Locke actually found Sawyer Hill on TikTok (of course) late in 2022; “Look at the Time,” a parched power ballad riddled with reproachful guitar riffs, came out in June 2023. In the past few months, Locke says, Sawyer Hill “pivoted his strategy more to Reels, because he felt like there was less of an over-saturation of music on that platform.”

And recently, Locke continues, “his content is starting to get a ton of engagement.” The top comment on Sawyer Hill’s “Look at the Time” YouTube video is “Instagram brought me here, I’m glad the algorithm showed me this gem.” The second comment is more amusing — and more revealing: “Usually the songs that are advertised on insta SUCK but this is actually gorgeous.”

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Tommy Kiljoy, who manages ThxSoMch, calls the success of “Look at the Time” “a major win for Instagram.” The platform “is still a little bit weird — you get more followers than engagement,” he says. But ThxSoMch’s latest single “Hide Your Kids” also recently enjoyed a boost from Reels. (Sawyer Hill and ThxSoMch are not signed to UMG labels, so their music is currently available on TikTok as well.)

It’s too early to know if this activity on Reels is an aberration or the start of a trend. On Friday, “Look at the Time” enjoyed its fifth day at No. 1 on Spotify’s U.S. Viral 50. Sitting nearby at No. 3 was Djo’s “End of Beginning.” Unlike Sawyer Hill, though, Djo’s success can be attributed directly to TikTok users, who have embraced the 2022 song in droves.

This just goes to show, “in the digital space, no one has the formula right now,” as Golding puts it. “We’re constantly trying to figure out what type of campaign is going to actually convert a new fan. It’s a few drops in a bucket here, a few drops there, and hope you catch a viral moment.”

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Beyoncé’s ‘Texas Hold ‘Em’ Hits No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100

Beyoncé’s “Texas Hold ‘Em” shuffles to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, a week after it debuted at No. 2. The superstar earns her ninth leader on the list, and her first since “Break My Soul” in 2022. A week earlier, the single became the superstar’s historic first No. 1 on the multimetric Hot Country Songs survey; prior to the triumph for “Texas Hold ‘Em,” no Black woman, or female known to be biracial, had previously topped the chart. […]

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