TIME

FROM MEMES TO MUSIC STARS

TikTok turns emerging artists into viral sensations. But who actually benefits?

IN 2017, A LITTLE-KNOWN RAPPER NAMED SUPA DUPA HUMBLE RELEASED his song “Steppin’” to a muted response. He moved on to other projects, but a year and a half later, he noticed a surge in the song’s view count on YouTube. As he scrolled through the comments, he kept seeing one word over and over again: “Who came here from TikTok?” “TikTok brought me here.” “Greetings from TikTok but this song is fire.”

“I’m like, What is TikTok?” the rapper, who is 27 and lives in Brooklyn, recalls.

Some quick research led him to the app TikTok, which he promptly downloaded and began to explore. The app allows users to post short videos of themselves lip-synching to music, doing makeup tutorials, performing synchronized dances or acting out comedic skits. There he found that people were creating skits lip-synching to the first 15 seconds of his song.

As he kept coming back to the app, the number of videos kept ballooning: his music had formed the soundtrack to a viral meme. And as TikTok users tried to find the song in its entirety, his numbers on Spotify and other streaming platforms were shooting up too.

“I was so hype,” he says. “It was unbelievable.”

TikTok is the latest breakout platform to house these types of short-form videos, following Vine, which shut down in early 2017, Dubsmash and TikTok’s previous iteration Musical.ly. In November 2017,

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from TIME

TIME3 min read
Erin Lee Carr
The documentary filmmaker on her new movie, true crime’s pull toward darkness and lessons from her famous father
TIME3 min readTech
The U.S. And Iran Are Already At War Online
WHEN A U.S. NAVY SURVEILLANCE DRONE was shot down over the Strait of Hormuz on June 20, the U.S. blamed Iran. The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said his country was “ready for war,” and President Donald Trump responded
TIME1 min read
A Daughter’s Diary
The narrator of Courtney Maum’s third novel, Costalegre, is desperate for her mother’s attention. It’s 1937, and 15-year-old Lara Calaway is moping around the southwestern coast of Mexico. Her mother Leonora, a wealthy modern-art collector, has invit