On Sunday, popular American singer-songwriter Halsey shared a video on TikTok with a little music in the background, the text on the screen reads:
Basically I have a song that I love and want to release ASAP but my label won’t let me. I’ve been in this industry for 8 years and I’ve sold over 165 million records. And my record label says I can’t release it unless they can fake a viral moment on TikTok. It’s all marketing. And they do that to pretty much every artist these days. I just wanna release music, man. And I deserve better tbh. I’m tired.
The 30-second video did what Halsey’s label wanted – but probably not the way they wanted. It gained over 8 million views in 24 hours and garnered massive interest among fans, TikTok users and industry watchers.
Comments on the video were split between those expressing support for Halsey’s plight and outrage at the label, and those who see the post as the real marketing agenda the label has wanted all along.
In a second video shared two hours later, Halsey pushed back against the claims of fake outrage with a recording of someone speaking off-screen, apparently a label representative, explaining how the viral TikTok campaign would have to go to get the song released on schedule.
Throughout the explanation, Halsey looks dejectedly at the middle before finally saying “I hate it. It just sucks.
Whether staged or not, the fact that these two videos went viral so quickly shows that people are willing to believe that a major artist would be so frustrated that their label is forcing them to “do TikTok” that they have decided to expose their label on TikTok.
Like MTV or the top 40 radio stations before it, TikTok is where popular music lives right now. The labels have understood this well.
For them, the appeal of TikTok is that music content can quickly go viral, offering the opportunity to save millions on other types of marketing campaigns.
Read more: Love it or hate it, TikTok is changing the music industry
A difficult relationship
Halsey isn’t the first high-profile artist to talk about it on TikTok.
In his first video released last month, American singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw shared a parody version from his 2003 hit, singing “I don’t wanna be on TikTok but my label told me I had to.”
Just last week, English singer-songwriter FKA Twigs claims her label not only had her create and post TikTok videos, but they wanted her to post videos multiple times a day.
In some cases, artists seem to enjoy being on TikTok.
Lizzo regularly shares memes, vlogs and recipe videos on TikTok, and heavily promoted his latest release, It’s About Damn Time. She even participated in a dance challenge for the song choreographed by another TikTok creator.
Going viral on TikTok can be a double edged sword for music artists. It may propel them to unprecedented visibility in markets around the world, but the content that makes them famous might be video, not music.
In 2019, Australian singer Inoxia went “accidentally viralwhen a passerby recorded her playing on the street and uploaded it to TikTok. The street performer turned TikTok sensation was offered deals that sounded too good to be true and her manager told her she would have to become more of a content creator to maintain her success.
Her passion was singing, not making videos to post on social media. In the end, she returned to the street on the street.
Is all publicity good publicity?
Halsey describes himself”TikTok crisistests the shock advertising theory that all advertising is good brand advertising.
Star Power is an effective negotiation tool to create change for the artists who commission it.
For independent artists who don’t have the same leverage, a viral broadcast video might be the very thing they need to ditch their label and share their music on their own – provided they aren’t locked into the kind of exclusive recording contract which has become the standard in the music industry over the past decade.
Fake or genuine, Halsey’s video shows that fans and artists are ready to have a conversation about how labels exert influence on artists when it comes to marketing, the nature of the obligations artists owe their labels contractually. and the power artists wield to push back against labels if they feel they are being treated unfairly.
Viral rants on TikTok won’t become the new norm for selling songs, just like video never killed the radio star. Label executives watching this unfold are probably more worried about their own artists airing grievances publicly online than they are excited about a new trend in viral music marketing.
Either way, as long as audiences continue to discover new music on TikTok, labels will continue to look for new ways to promote their music to the top of the stream.
The artist’s core business – making music – remains the same. Only now the video has to go viral.
Read more: Adele has successfully petitioned Spotify to remove the ‘shuffle’ from albums. Here’s why it’s important for musicians