Inside TikTok’s First Year-End Music Report

Jem Aswad
·7 min read

When it comes to music, TikTok is not your usual platform, so it’s not surprising that its first year-end report has a different approach. And considering the company’s famous secrecy, it’s also not surprising that the data supporting many of the lists in its year-end report is a little vague.

Thus, we were pleasantly surprised that after we skeptically asked for more data, they sent our request to their U.S. music editorial lead, William Gruger (full disclosure: he is a friend and former coworker), who lived up to his title with some detailed details and data beyond what was in the press release, which are woven into the following article.

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TikTok’s year-end numbers are even bigger than one might expect: Its report says that more than 176 different songs surpassed 1 billion video views, although it only listed 10. The platform was indisputably a reliable predictor of hits, as the songs featured in its Year On TikTok: Top 100 retrospective racked up over 50 billion video views on over 125 million “creations” — a.k.a. home-made videos — and five of them reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Rather than a conventional Top 10, the report measures success by the songs that got to a billion views the fastest, and that chart is topped by Drake’s ultra-viral “Toosie Slide,” which generated a billion views in just three days, and “WAP” by Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion did the same in just two weeks. Other songs, like Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” and Surf Mesa’s “ily (i love you baby)” had more slow and steady climbs that took the better part of a year. Songs didn’t have to be new or even recently released to cross the billion-view threshold, as “Say I Yi Yi” (2002) and “Where Is The Love?” (2003) demonstrated. Check out the top ten below:

“Toosie Slide ” – Drake

“WAP” (feat. Megan Thee Stallion) – Cardi B

“Therefore I Am” – Billie Eilish

“Lets Link” – WhoHeem

“Say I Yi Yi” – Ying Yang Twins

“Where Is the Love?” – The Black Eyed Peas

“Whole Lotta Choppas” – Sada Baby

“Adderall (Corvette Corvette)” – Popp Hunna

“Mood Swings” – Pop Smoke

“THICK” – DJ Chose & Beatking

Gruger weighs in, “Diving a bit more into the list of fastest songs to hit 1 billion views on TikTok reveals just how exemplary Drake’s ‘Toosie Slide’ moment was in that it reached 1 billion views more than 4 times faster than the second fastest on the list, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘WAP,’ which did so in 14 days,” he says. “Billie Eilish’s ‘Therefore I Am,’ the most recently released track to hit 1 billion, did so in 17 days, while ‘Let’s Link’ propelled the relatively unknown (at the time) WhoHeem to the forefront by reaching the benchmark in just 19 days. Of the top 10 on the list, two (the Ying Yang Twins and Black Eyed Peas) around a decade old, and four (WhoHeem, Sada Baby, Pop Hunna and DJ Chose) were relatively unknown until explosive community-driven TikTok trends around their songs drove them to the forefront. The diversity of types of artists who ranked this high throughout 2020 shows how democratic TikTok is as a music discovery platform.”

The report also claims that more than 70 “artists that have broken” on TikTok have been signed to major-label deals, but lists just five (Claire Rosinkranz, Dixie D’Amelio, Powfu, Priscilla Block and Tai Verdes).

“Looking beyond Claire Rosinkranz, Dixie D’Amelio, Powfu, Priscilla Block and Tai Verdes,” Gruger writes, “more of the artists who have charted were also signed to major deals, including Cookie Kawaii (Columbia), Sam Fischer (RCA), Surf Mesa (Astralwerks), Salem Ilese (Caroline), and 347 Aiden, who rose to prominence along with the rise of his track ‘Dancing in my Room’ (more than 1.5 million creates) signed to Columbia. Columbia also made a deal with Jawsh675, whose Jason Derulo-featured remix ‘Savage Love’ topped the Billboard Hot 100 and was the biggest song on TikTok for the year.”

Not surprisingly, hip-hop was the most popular genre “by a large margin,” followed by pop, followed by R&B, electronic and what is described as “the broad indie-alternative coalition (ranging from Wallows to MGMT to Molchat Doma).”

Looking at the artists whose catalogs provided multiple hits, Megan Thee Stallion led with scored two of the year’s biggest songs with “Savage” and “WAP,” while “nearly the entirety of Doja Cat’s ‘Hot Pink’ album inspired a TikTok trend.”

The ten most viewed artists by catalog on TikTok in 2020:

Megan Thee Stallion

Doja Cat

Pop Smoke

DaBaby

Roddy Ricch

Melanie Martinez

Don Toliver

Dua Lipa

24kGoldn

Lil Uzi Vert

Less quantified was the list of “the most notable new artists that made their mark on TikTok and the music industry this year.”

  • 24kGoldn

  • Flo Milli Sech

  • ppcocaine

  • The Kid Laroi (AU)

  • Avenue Beat

  • Curtis Waters (CA)

  • 347aidan (CA)

  • Fousheé

  • Tate McRae (CA)

  • Tai Verdes

  • ZaeHD & CEO

  • Blu DeTiger

  • Corpse

  • Natalie Taylor

Gruger wrote, “A major common factor among artists who broke and received deals from their activity on TikTok is that they are major users of the platform as well. These artists are engaged with their TikTok followers, leaning into trends on the platform and building relationships with audiences who support their music. Star examples of this include 24kGoldn who earned his first #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, Flo Milli’s breakout ‘May I,’ which inspired 1.3M creates, and Panama native Latin superstar Sech, who has over 1.7M followers earned from his frequent reaction duets and charming dance moves.”

There is also a list of “Unexpected Hits and Niche Discoveries,” where by “TikTok’s community helped shape internet and IRL culture with these unearthed gems.”

“Vibe” – Cookiee Kawaii

Everywhere At The End Of The World – The Caretaker

“M To The B” – Millie B

“I Love Poland” – Häzel

“Судно (Борис Рижий)” – Molchat Doma

“Mi Pan” – itzmilpops

“A Moment Apart” (ODESZA Cover) – Hannah Harpist

“Spongebob” – Dante9k

The report also listed “2020’s Essential Music Moments,” which included “#TheWeekndEXP,” which drew 2 million total views and 275k concurrent viewers for the enhanced-reality performance while raising over $350,000 for the Equal Justice Initiative; a virtual prom, featuring DJ sets from Diplo and Dillon Francis, and a special Graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020, with special guest appearances from Bad Bunny, H.E.R., The Jonas Brothers, Pharrell, and many others; and Jennifer Lopez and Maluma giving an exclusive look behind-the-scenes of their two-in-one music video for “Pa Ti/Lonely.”

Finally, the report listed “some catalog hits that had a major impact in the past year,” which was not surprisingly led by Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.”

Gruger wrote, “It’s worth noting here that TikTok is unique in that it is not just a new hits machine, and has created whole new audiences for legacy and catalog tracks through the community discovering and creating unique modern expressions of these songs. The key example here is the revitalization of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ (610,000 creations) thanks to @420doggface208’s now-iconic skateboarding video, and other examples include L’Trimm’s 1988 classic ‘Cars That Go Boom’ (2.8 million creations) ‘It’s Tricky’ by Run DMC (4.2 million creations), and John Lennon’s ‘Beautiful Boy’ with 42,000 videos created. The community’s interest in music from the past and beyond has lead to an exciting number of legacy acts acknowledging and joining the platform, including Prince, Queen, and Elton John.” See the list below.

“Dreams” – Fleetwood Mac

“It’s Tricky” – Run DMC

“Bullletproof” – La Roux

“I’m Just A Kid” – Simple Plan

“How Bizarre” – OMC

“Mr. Blue Sky” – ELO

“Beautiful Boy” – John Lennon

“Cars That Go Boom” – L’Trimm

“Because of You” – Ne-Yo

“No Role Modelz” – J. Cole

“Rasputin” – Boney M.

“Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom” – Vengaboys

“Promiscuous” – Nelly Furtado

“Girlfriend” – Avril Lavigne

“Potential Breakup Song” – Aly & AJ

“Where Is The Love?” – The Black Eyed Peas

“Say I Yi Yi” – Ying Yang Twins

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