In TikTok Report, we look at the good, the bad, and the straight-up bizarre songs spreading across the platform via dances and memes.
In July, the luxury brand Celine paid homage to the so-called “TikTok generation” with its latest menswear show. Titled “The Dancing Kid,” the virtual production was shot on a deserted race track in the south of France. In it, a pale, hunched boy strides in a yellow helmet and slouchy layered shirts, his polka-dot pajama pants glimmering as if filmed with TikTok’s bling filter. Another follows in a thigh-length cardigan, no shirt, and tropical swim trunks. The procession of stoner ponchos and other haphazard outfits continues for 12 minutes. Based on this spectacle alone, you could conclude that the defining attribute of the “TikTok generation” is that it’s constantly out of laundry.
The show’s score is an extended edit of the song “They Call Me Tiago (Her Name Is Margo)” by the Canadian rapper-producer Tiago Garcia-Arenas, aka Tiagz. Like many TikTok hits, it is rudderless and vacant. Its hi-hats are dry and curt, as if you thwacked aluminum foil with your fingers; its pulsing bassline faintly recalls Maya Jane Coles’ 2010 house track “What They Say,” which has been sampled in hits by Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, and Katy Perry. A strange female voice beams in at the beginning of the track: “Excuse me, her name is Margo,” it announces. “Margo?” Tiagz interjects. The meaning of this exchange is never clarified in the verses, where Tiagz rambles as if entering weed-induced sleep.
The remix falls in line with his nihilistically derivative formula for success, in which he mass-converts memes into trap-inflected songs—a process that usually consists of slotting in ad-libbed lines, distorted beats, and his producer tag, a chirped “Tiagz” that sounds like “tits!” Once he’s stamped his own brand on the sample, it proliferates even further, becoming fodder for thousands, if not millions, of comedy, lifestyle, and dance videos.
“They Call Me Tiago” is a spin off of a makeshift ditty by the reptile-loving creator Ryleigh Hawke, who complained about strangers butchering the name of her yellow bearded dragon, Margo (not Marco, mango, or Wells Fargo). (This particular game of TikTok telephone began when Hawke herself aped the hook from user @itsgraciejustgracie, who had previously rhymed about not being named Stacey, or Tracey, or Lacey.) Tiagz flipped Hawke’s version of the chant into an aimless boast, attaching a chorus about his ascending fame. “They call me Tiago/I don’t know who’s Margo/I just hit this lotto/Building up my cargo,” the 23-year-old grunts. His other viral audios include a remix of a mash-up of Frozen’s “Let It Go” and Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams,” and “My Heart Went Oops,” a rework of Lawrence Welk’s rendition of the 1950s jazz tune, “Oops.” In July, he debuted a slapstick home performance of “My Heart Went Oops” for Genius, in which he rolls off of a couch and stumbles up to the mic, delivering an incomprehensible babble of “yuh”s, “what”s, and other syllables.
Early this year, Tiagz signed to Epic Records, quitting his part-time job as a kids parkour and gymnastics instructor in Ottawa. (He also started screening his samples: “I didn’t really know everything about clearance and all that stuff, so I would just release and that was it,” he told Business Insider in April.) The standard two-and-a-half minute version of the song now has almost 50 million Spotify streams.
While Tiagz isn’t the only bedroom producer cashing in on remixes of already-popular TikTok memes, few others have drawn as much ire. Haters have launched irate Change.org petitions like “Stop TIAGZ from making unnecessary remixes!” (85 signees), “ban tiagz from making remixes of alt tiktok songs” (476 signees), and “Remove Tiagz from TikTok” (4,382 signees), lobbing tomatoes at his virtual stage. They take issue with his compulsion to blindly remix everything, even when it’s insensitive or ruins the joke. Around two months ago, he was recorded saying the f-slur, apologized, and then released a lofi remix of his apology. (It has since been deleted.)
A central part of the Tiagz backlash involves the divide between Straight TikTok and Alt TikTok. Straight TikTok refers to the peacocking popular kids who dance, thirst trap, and gobble up Los Angeles real estate, incurring the wrath of local officials as they party during the pandemic. It was assigned that label by its counterpoint, Alt TikTok, a more sarcastic, diffuse, and diverse group bored of content houses and repetitive gyrating. Alt TikTok’s running bet is that Straight TikTok dullards will dance to any sound, no matter how empty-headed or ugly—so it mocks and baits them with joke audios. One of the best is “Bily Irlish,” by the popular Alt TikTokker Claire Drake, in which Billie Eilish’s ethereal harmonies are festooned with horse whinnies, gun shots, wolf howls and more, providing the ideal soundtrack to a dance routine of humping the air, ass shaking, and gun pantomiming. As expected, Straight TikTok flocked to it: One popular video using the audio is of the DJ Chantel Jeffries dancing in a neon bikini in front of one of the Chainsmokers, who gazes at her ass while she shakes it.
As is true of many communities whose hobby is snickering at the mainstream, Alt TikTok is prone to gatekeeping and even bullying, with its most extreme wings reacting viciously when a popular influencer “steals” one of its more niche sounds. On one hand, there’s a dystopian quality to a rabid base of stan-like users ferociously policing audio and intensifying its use to a social justice issue. But sound is currency on TikTok, so disputes appear unusually high-stakes. Digital commenters colloquially refer to the whitewashing of Black music on the app, for example, as “gentrification,” unmooring the term from its sense of physical geography. The accusation reflects the desire to cling on to history and context in a digital space that almost immediately erases them. Perhaps Alt TikTokkers more often resemble holier-than-thou indie snobs than racial minorities trying to protect their culture, but when a popular Straight influencer obliviously lip-syncs to “i wanna be your girlfriend” by the openly lesbian pop singer girl in red—an artist so intimately associated with queer women on TikTok that “Do you listen to girl in red?” has become a proxy for asking “Are you a woman who likes women?”—it does feel kind of wrong. Once the app’s most popular creators find a sound, they immediately occupy the top videos on the sound’s page, burying other, smaller creators, sometimes including the originators of viral trends set to the sound. And Alt TikTok’s music is now a hot zone for major record labels, pushing it even further into the mainstream.
As Tiagz once explained it, he first ran into the ire of Alt TikTok when remixing “Muffins in the Freezer,” an internet-ancient Vine that had been reuploaded on TikTok, in which an adolescent boy discovers plastic-packed muffins in the freezer, shrieks “WHAT THE FUCK!!!” and bellows in a voice reminiscent of Nicki Minaj: “Who in the HELL put the muffins in the freezer?” On his remix, Tiagz rounds out the call with a cringey response: “I did,” he growls, “Whatchu gonna do about it?” The song has been featured in 2.9 million TikToks, spawning plenty of embarrassing, self-serious content. It was probably then that the petitions to ban Tiagz from TikTok began gathering momentum, spurred by complains that Tiagz “ruins everything” and converts audio into Muzak for “the straights.” Tiagz likened the ballooning criticism he was receiving to discrimination. Then he shifted strategies: “I decided to even go harder,” he remarked on his vlog. He began remixing more meme audios to troll.
Looking back, it’s funny to remember the intense utopianism surrounding the internet’s potential for the endless exchange and reinterpretation of music. Through cover versions, sampling, and mashups, you could create your own takes of popular songs, dissolving musical hierarchies and traditional producer-consumer relationships. In 2004, the ingenuity of Danger Mouse’s Grey Album—which cross-pollinated JAY-Z’s Black Album and the Beatles’ White Album, prompting a cease and desist from EMI—even raised questions about whether the capitalist recording industry had been “rendered superfluous” by more democratically-inclined bedroom producers. But these hopes have long been deflated and replaced with an annoyed wariness. As a VICE writer argued in 2016, “We live in a world where every popular musical creation is now at risk of being swiftly spliced, twisted and mashed up like a potato for RTs by a bored kid in the Netherlands with an Ableton crack.”
What’s annoying about Tiagz is how he vacuums up viral sounds with little consideration of their meaning or intention, seeing them as another blank canvas on which to blindly impose his brand. The popularity of his tepid trap beats only confirms the suspicion that the biggest money makers on TikTok will dance to anything. Tiagz’s remixing is not an emblem of creativity, but standardization; all audio is subsumed under the same utilitarian goal. Perhaps on TikTok, where genre means little to nothing, remixes in general lose potency: Producers usually pull from a limited, pre-selected pool of samples, and each trending audio can come with several versions—a slow + reverb remix, a lo-fi one, a mash-up with another popular song—so that it’s flogged until its eventual death. What you start to feel, essentially, is the smothering of spontaneity, the need to extract more and more attention out of ephemeral fun. When everyone has access to everything, perhaps closed creative borders become more appealing.
Originally Appeared on Pitchfork