‘People love to feel part of the process’: How TikTok teaser turbocharged summer race song | pop and rock

TThis week Spanish pop superstar Rosalía released a new song called Despechá. It’s a snappy, zippy track — a sort of minimalist take on merengue and mambo, where she raps and sings over bright piano chords and a hard industrial beat about fickle fame and even ficker boys. It’s only been officially out for a few days, but in Spain it’s been the song of the summer for weeks. Go to a Rosalía concert and you will find tens of thousands of fans singing along; Talk to people on the street and they will probably have heard it too.

This isn’t Josie and the Pussycats-style brainwashing, but another example of how TikTok is fundamentally changing the way we interact with music. Where songs used to worm their way into the cultural psyche—and sometimes still do, as with Glass Animals’ slow-rising heat waves—they can now reach full societal saturation before being officially released.

In July, Rosalía posted a TikTok of her singing and dancing to Despechá; When she was ready to release the finished song, the demand from her fanbase and Spanish pop-listening audience was deafening. You can see why: the song’s zesty piano stings combined with Rosalía’s lighthearted, escapist lyrics (translated, “Baby, don’t call me / I’m busy forgetting your sicknesses / I’m going out tonight / With all my motomamis ) have an irresistible sun-kissed charm.

Sharing a virality-friendly teaser is an increasingly common strategy as big stars understand the quirks and contours of TikTok. In this new pop star economy, a few clever and well-timed videos can be worth far more than a million dollar marketing campaign.

Rosalía: Despehá – Video

“If you want to be a star, if you want to go viral, you really rely on the work of your fans and user-generated content for that,” says Cat Zhang, associate editor at Pitchfork. Zhang has written extensively about TikTok’s impact on the industry, as well as how artist/fan dynamics have become increasingly reliant on fan labor over the past several years. “It’s not really fair [about] You tweet or make a video so much that you rely on the reaction to it.”

Zhang says she first noticed the “teaser” strategy used by smaller indie pop artists like Ella Jane and Maude Latour, who often share a snippet of work in progress to gauge audience reaction. “It was a more common practice among aspiring singer-songwriters because they often didn’t have the budget to necessarily write an entire song first,” she says, “they teased a snippet as a proof of concept and then when there was enough traction.” , they would try to expand it.”

While Despechá may be the most recent example of a song becoming a hit before its release, this year it’s not even the most significant. In April, Kentucky rapper Jack Harlow landed his first-ever US No. 1 solo (and his first UK Top 5 hit) after clips he posted with audio of his single First Class, which featured Fergie’s song Glamorous samples from 2007 went viral on TikTok. Prior to the song’s release, the sound was used more than 50,000 times; It has now been featured in half a million videos and has stayed in the top five on the Billboard Hot 100 for more than three months.

Shaylee Curnow – AKA Peach PRC – is an Australian TikTok star and singer signed to Republic Records. Her catchy, glossy pop songs (and candid, self-deprecating videos on camera) often go viral on the platform, where she has 1.9 million followers.

In January, she released a clip of her unreleased song God Is a Freak, unsure if its lyrics read, “God’s a little bit of a freak / Why does he watch me get verbally abused on the couch / Stay pure for a wedding? / He has shitty priorities” – would be too daring for her label. To her surprise, the snippet went up, inspiring users to share their experiences of religious trauma.

“I just thought, ‘This is such a silly song — there’s no way [the label are] gonna say, ‘do it.’ So I [put it out as] a cheeky little TikTok release,” she says. Naturally, the label was delighted with the song’s popularity: upon its official release a month later, the track became a radio and chart hit in Australia and New Zealand.

Peach PRC: God is a Freak video

Since Curnow God Is a Freak leaked, it’s become commonplace for artists to tease new tracks by sharing TikToks and implying that someone on their team won’t let them release their new single until it achieves a certain level of viral traction , as American star Halsey did in May.

The strategy is often dismissed as contrived, but Curnow says she still gets the appeal. “People love to feel part of the process of releasing the song,” she says. “These high-level big villains don’t actually exist, but [fans] want to feel like they are there for the people and on the side of the artist. They want to feel like they’re part of their music.”

After a few real hits have been coined, teaser strategies have inevitably become an industry standard: On the same day that Rosalía Despechá duly released, TikTok announced a new “pre-release” feature, allowing artists to officially “release” their own music. can leak out”. Soon, Zhang says, “It will stop being novel or [will carry] too much pressure and then people change course. I don’t necessarily see it as a huge paradigm shift, but that’s only because I know there’s something more to add to the equation afterwards.”

In many ways, it seems like the industry’s acceptance of TikTok teasers is further proof of how untenable their practices are: whenever a song finds a new path to vitality, labels invariably attempt to replicate that path and embrace it in the process to deny longer valuable. The fact that such a high volume of music is going viral today compared to just two years ago means that the currency is already being diluted.

Despechá’s lightning-fast and gas-fueled lyrics almost feel emblematic of the era itself: “I’ll be 180 because I’m a motorcycle girl,” sings Rosalía. “You’re getting distracted, I’m overtaking you on the right.”

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