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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USFSP chapter.

Since the rise of TikTok in 2019, there have been numerous singers that emerged on the app and successfully entered a career in the music industry. While pre-established artists utilize the app to promote their songs, others try to make their start on it. In my opinion, there are two distinct categories of musicians on the app that have made their start and gained success. The first type is the everyday, hopeful singer-songwriter that posts on the app to garner attention from users. On the other hand, successful TikTok influencers have attempted to use the app to transition into the music industry, using their previous content to gain followers. In my opinion, as a person seeing responses on social media, the first type usually has a smoother and less scrutinized transition to the music industry than the latter, an interesting effect of the perception of TikTok users. This raises the question of if an audience’s perception of the artist greatly impacts their career success and does it matter in the long-run where you got your start, if you are good and passionate about what you do.  

TikTok has become a multi-faceted space, people are able to post their talents and get feedback. The app’s algorithm has promoted small artists, that might not have become as well-known without the app, to niche audiences that appreciate their sound. Fortune wrote in an article that “record labels rely on TikTok to identify promising artists and to market new releases.”  For example, according to The New York Times, Katie Gregson-MacLeod went viral on the app after sharing her song “complex”, earning her a record deal with Columbia Records. Gregson- MacLeod also said to The New York Times that before going viral, she was a barista at a café and studying history in school, and in a matter of days, she was a signed artist to a major label. For viewers to witness someone grab ahold of a dream that seems impossible, cultivates appreciation and respect for that artist’s hard work and humble beginnings. There have been dozens of articles from online publications like Matter News, Indie88, and We Are Mitu listing artists that came from “humble beginnings” and are “self-made”, which perceive the artists as more likable and easier to support. According to Spotify, while Gregson-MacLeod’s viral song “complex (demo)” cultivated 24,688,438 listens, her fans continued to listen to her later EP release, “songs written for piano”, and it now has 7,263,883 listens. This shows that while one of her songs became successful, people who follow and like her continue to show their appreciation and support by listening to her following releases. 

Although TikTok allows people to find communities through sharing content, it opens the door for both praise and criticism. NBC News reported on TikTok stars trying to break into the music industry saying “…many social media stars have found it hard to break beyond the platform.” This shows that, for example, a TikToker that went viral with their dancing who wants to transition to music, might be more criticized because their fans might not support this decision. I see this as being similar to a child Disney star trying to transition away from the wholesome image and be taken seriously in a professional acting or music industry. One of the most popular creators on TikTok, Dixie D’Amelio, is a clear example of this. When she released her first song, “Be Happy”, she received backlash on song reviewing websites, like Album of the Year and Rate Your Music, for trying to make it in a different industry. As reported by Roar News, this continued as D’Amelio released her fourth single, as her profile was flooded with negative comments from TikTok users, “I find it hilarious how she thinks she’s a true artist,” one unidentified user commented. In 2021, D’Amelio and her sister, Charlie D’Amelio, performed at the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball together. While some fans of theirs enjoyed the performance, others criticized them saying, “They’re giving anyone a microphone nowadays.” Before making her start on TikTok and garnering over millions of followers, the D’Amelios were living in Connecticut and had a seemingly normal life. What differentiates D’Amelio from Gregson-MacLeod, and might suggest why they had different audience reactions to their music releases, is that D’Amelio was known for being a public figure and a well-known TikToker, but not a musician when she released her first song. Gregson-MacLeod, even before going viral, had posted other videos of herself singing songs she had written. So, when she ultimately released “complex (demo)”, she was already known for being a singer on TikTok.   

 The viewers’ perception of these two artists is completely different. One is trying to switch over to music after already having millions of followers, while the other was working in a café when her song went viral. Some argue that the two songs are on different levels quality-wise, garnering different amounts of attention, but it seems to me that this is deeper than that. According to Institute of Art and Ideas, “The answer has to do with our desire for authenticity from musicians.” This shows that sincerity is questioned by the listeners when reacting to new music and artists: is it for money or do they have a passion for music? It seems that people have more respect for an artist whose career is based on talent, rather than a built-in audience, as apparent from the comments and responses that both D’Amelio and Gregson-MacLeod have received. 

All in all, based on comments and reactions throughout the media today, there is a clear argument that an audience’s perception of an artist greatly impacts their success in the music industry and that perception can be influenced by where the artist gets their start in their career. Personally, I believe that a musician should be successful and have a career if they are passionate about what they do and they are good at it. I don’t normally look at where they got their start as a determining factor of whether or not they deserve to be successful. In reality, the decision of the artist’s success is in the hands of the listeners. 

Erin is a contributing writer for Her Campus USFSP. She enjoys writing about entertainment topics, such as the music and film industry, and about health and wellness or political topics pertaining to women. If Erin is not reading or browsing Goodreads, she is reviewing films on Letterboxd, making playlists, or in line on Ticketmaster.