This Month’s Featured Article

THE POWER AND IMPACT OF TikTok on Pop Culture and the Economy

By Published On: July 29th, 2023

Social media platforms are a dime a dozen in today’s world. New ones rise and fall but there is one certain app that continues to grow and grow in popularity: TikTok. Since its release in 2018 the social media platform has grown to a usership of over one billion which puts it at number five on the most-used social media platforms beating out Twitter, Snapchat, and Reddit among others.

The app is a diverse place of artistic, culinary, educational, and entertainment endeavors in addition to countless other subcategories that I couldn’t hope to cover in this article. It also just surfaced on the front page of newspapers as the company underwent a large hearing in front of Congress as part of discussion to ban TikTok in the country.

Trending now

The purpose of this article is to discuss a rather peculiar phenomenon that has been happening on the platform. TikTok, unlike Instagram or Facebook or other social media, relies heavily on trends and memes to keep users coming back for more. While Instagram might be used to document a person’s life and keep up with friends, TikTok utilizes soundbites of songs, movies, TV shows, and user-recorded audio that people can create almost anything with. That is the recipe for TikToks success.

Often certain sounds, trends, or memes will go viral and have millions of videos. This means that songs that have come and gone out of the public spotlight can suddenly find themselves as the centerpiece for a new trend. Dream by Fleetwood Mac, Love Grows by Edison Lighthouse, and Let’s Groove by Earth, Wind, and Fire saw huge renaissance periods after success on TikTok, with Spotify streams (the modern metric for song success) shooting up by the millions.

For new songs that come out, TikTok is a proving ground. If a song can gain traction and become viral on TikTok then the chance of it becoming a bona fide radio hit goes up exponentially. “TikTok song” has became a common term to describe a song that has either become popular or been repopularized through the app. However, beyond the music there is a different industry that is being heavily impacted by the activities going on inside TikTok.

Influencing the movies

Last year marked the release of Minions: Rise of Gru, the latest addition to the Despicable Me universe. In the lead up to its debut, hoards of users on TikTok began to spread plans to wear suits to the theaters for the screening. Thus, the Rise of Gru meme was born. Over the course of the opening weekend TikTok was flooded with videos of teenagers walking into the theaters in sharp tuxedos and suits. Suddenly, these movies were not just kid and family movies. It was cool and fashionable to see Minions: Rise of Gru in theaters. The box office numbers ultimately revealed the true impact. Over 200 million dollars were made in the opening weekend on its way to just under a billion dollars in total. What was once the least anticipated movie of the series turned into a box office hit.

More recently, TikTok users are awaiting a new meme to come to fruition. Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer and Greta Gerwig’s Barbie were to be released on the same day (July 21). Both were expected to be great movies in their own right but the unique contrast of these two movies on the same day was simply too much to pass up on for TikTokers.

Soon videos began flooding in to point out the comical difference between Nolan’s gritty biographical thriller centered around Robert Oppenheimer’s creation of the atomic bomb and Gerwig’s live-action Barbie movie whose set design led to an actual shortage of pink paint.

Impact on pop culture and the economy

The result is too predictable. Masses of Gen Z and Millennials flocked to the theaters in order to catch the double header movie event partly for the love of the art and partly due to the immense social pull that TikTok can have on malleable consumers of pop culture.

This is not an inherently bad thing though. The success of movies, songs, and other art forms has always been swayed by what is trendy or popular. Now, what is trendy and popular is easily found in one central location for all to see. A new age has been ushered in, and song writers, directors, artists, and even politicians should be well aware of the power that TikTok can hold over their success. TikTok is more than just a place for dancing and lip-syncing now, it is an economic force. •