What Would a TikTok Ban Mean For Hip-Hop?

July 10, 2024
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TikTok has become one of the young artist’s most reliable vehicles to music stardom in recent years, but it could soon be a relic of the past. The platform that helps artists reach over 150 million American users each month is in danger of being banned in the United States, a potentially massive shift in music marketing and promotion.  

Annabelle Kline, a music manager, and founder of media platform That Good Sh*t, tells Rolling Stone that the loss of TikTok would have ramifications beyond just the music world. “TikTok has represented such a cool era of information being shared and spread across all people,” she says. “And in music discussion, it’s been a fun space for people to get creative with how they share the music they love, [and] how they criticize music. I think it would be a real disservice to music fans and artists to see TikTok get banned.”

In April, President Joe Biden enacted legislation that will ban the app from the Apple and Google Play stores unless it divests from Chinese parent company ByteDance and migrates the program’s source code out of China by January 2025. Officials within the Justice Department believe that the app could be manipulated by China to influence elections. In a recent statement, the Justice Department said, “Alongside others in our intelligence community and in Congress, the Justice Department has consistently warned about the threat of autocratic nations that can weaponize technology — such as the apps and software that run on our phones — to use against us. This threat is compounded when those autocratic nations require companies under their control to turn over sensitive data to the government in secret.”

TikTok and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) had been negotiating about how to address the government’s security concerns and keep the app running as-is, but lawyers for TikTok told the Associated Press in June that the CFIUS “ceased any substantive negotiations” back in August 2022, making way for the April legislation. In a glimmer of hope for TikTokers, The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently told an Appeals Court that the app is protected under the First Amendment, forecasting that it would be difficult for the government to sustain a ban.

TikTok was created in 2017 as a globally accessible port of Douyin, ByteDance’s original app which is based in China. The next year, TikTok merged with the service Musical.ly in 2018, orienting itself as a music-centered platform. TikTok soon took over for the recently shuttered Vine, which allowed users to post skits in seven-second clips. But TikTok offered users the freedom to post a variety of clips on the platform, making it a prime venue for a variety of content including comedic skits, dance clips, information sharing, and whatever other debauchery people sought to share with the world. 

The site has also benefitted from a distinct algorithm that prioritizes content users have already engaged with instead of merely sharing clips from popular creators. “I think the TikTok algorithm does such a great job of showing you everything that it knows you’re going to love,” Kline says. “The second you watch a video for more than two seconds or you like a video, it’s going to show you 10 more videos along the lines of that last video you interacted with.” 

For Gen Zers, TikTok has become a one-stop-shop social shop that carries the best elements of its chief rivals Twitter (now X), Instagram, and YouTube, entrenching a massive cultural footprint in a short span. Artists like Lil Nas X, Doja Cat, and Sexyy Red have benefited from TikTok creators using their songs in skits and challenges. The links between TikTok virality and streaming metrics have now become so pronounced that artists are tailoring their songs for the “TikTok moment,” and labels are prioritizing TikTok marketing. 

Jacob Pace is the founder of Co-Lab, a creator partnership agency that works with labels and artists to garner social traction, including TikTok campaigns. He previously ran Flighthouse Media, a TikTok creator studio involved in helping songs like TK and Doja Cat’s “Say So” go viral on the platform. As a TikTok user since the early days, he’s seen the app become integral to music marketing. 

“I think for artists in general and definitely in the hip-hop space, any short-form platform, especially TikTok, has become super important,” he says. “It’s the way that people are sharing music now. Even when you look at the recent beef with Kendrick and Drake, a lot of people are making memes off of that music on platforms like TikTok. A lot of it’s getting life there. Just list off any of the biggest rappers, and people are making mostly memes to this music. I think it’s super integral. And even when it comes to hip hop labels creating rollout plans, TikTok is always a part of that.”

That’s why a ban would entail a drastic shift in strategy for artists like Milwaukee’s MyaaP, who has over 330,000 TikTok followers on the platform. She began uploading videos of herself dancing to her “Party Crackin” song in 2023. The clips helped the frenetic track go viral, which ultimately raised her profile. When asked how instrumental TikTok was to her ascendance she says, “I think it helped a lot.” As an independent artist partnering with Equity Distribution, she was able to essentially market herself via TikTok.

Not only has TikTok directly helped the artists who push their own music on the platform, it helps TikTok creators like Kline, whose That Good Sh*t platform not only provides content about up-and-comers (she interviewed Tommy Richman a year before “Million Dollar Baby”), but she interviews established artists such as Westside Gunn. Kline began using the service in 2020 during COVID-19 quarantine, first posting personal videos before her “What Their Favorite Rapper Says About Them” clips went viral and inspired her to shift her account toward music-oriented clips. She says TikTok is valuable because of how much information is on the platform, and how fast it spreads. “I think that a lot of people come to TikTok seeking new information and to discover new things,” she says. “The platform makes videos so discoverable. I feel like any short video you put up can clock millions of views in a day.” 

So what happens if TikTok is banned in America? Pace, Kline, and MyaaP all agree that it will cause a major shakeup to the industry, but it’s not an insurmountable issue. 

“I think outside of just artists posting themselves, a lot of really valuable music discussion and community would be lost,” Kline says. “I built my entire career through the community of music reviewing, music criticism, music enjoyers on TikTok, that entire online community I think is so rich and so strong. So I think there’s a lot of support for artists and great music on there that would be lost.” 

Kline adds that she believes TikTok’s prevalence has seeped into many artists’ creative processes, and the absence of the platform may reverse that dynamic. “We can hear how some artists are starting to make music with the intention of that song blowing up on TikTok,” she says. “You hear a song and you’re like, ‘There’s a dance that’s going to go with this that’s going to blow up on TikTok,’ or, ‘This 15 seconds in the song definitely was made to blow up on TikTok.’ And I think we might start to see a decline in that if TikTok gets banned because people aren’t going to be making music to blow up on TikTok anymore. Can’t really say whether that’s a good or a bad thing, but that’ll definitely be a change.”

Many artists will view that development as a good thing — several musicians have been vocal about their labels forcing them to make TikTok content and not being happy about having to master a social platform when they simply want to create music. Acts such as Halsey, FKA Twigs, and Florence and the Machine have previously expressed discontent with label pressure to create content. And aside from the artists who are avidly anti-TikTok, some aren’t averse to the platform but aren’t marketing experts either. Kline says that she manages an artist who isn’t quite TikTok savvy. “I feel like I’ve spoken to so many smaller artists who struggle with creating content,” she says. “I manage an artist who still is like, ‘I really don’t know what I’m supposed to do for content. Send me a list of ideas. I don’t really know what’s going on.’”

Pace says that he’s noticed some concern about a ban amongst fellow TikTok creators, but says that people also remember when former President Donald Trump wanted to ban TikTok in 2020 and it didn’t happen—Trump has since reversed his stance and has joined the platform. “I think people were more freaked out before, but I think now it’s like, ‘We’ve heard this, nothing happened.’” 

MyaaP notes that if TikTok goes away, she’ll simply prioritize other platforms that she’s already on. “I feel like there’s other ways to push music, not just TikTok, even though TikTok helps a lot, but there’s other platforms like Instagram [and] Facebook.”

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Kline says that the scare from the Trump era has already motivated her to expand her brand to other services. “I think a lot of creators like myself have already been doing the work of building up platforms on other social media apps, like posting on YouTube Shorts, starting YouTube channels, starting a blog on Instagram, things like that,” she says. “[We’ll continue] to do what we do on other platforms. And because Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts have evolved to be so similar to TikTok, I don’t think that’ll be too difficult of a change for a lot of TikTok creators.”

Pace says he’s not sure how a TikTok ban would re-shuffle the social media decks, but he’s not losing sleep over it. “It’s definitely going to shift the dynamic of entertainment. There’s probably going to be a lot of influencers that might not be able to get that same following that they had on TikTok on another platform. There’s probably going to be other creators who know how to leverage Reels better than TikTok. It’s not going to be better or worse. It’s just going to be a different group of influencers popping up as a result of TikTok going away. Creators know to diversify. You can’t really worry about these things.“





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