TikTok has announced that it will no longer host the music of any of Universal Music Group artists on its platform - including discographies by mega-celeb artists Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, Billie Eilish, Drake, BTS, Bad Bunny, and Harry Styles. The app's music mass extinction event was caused by the expiration of a licensing agreement between the company and UMG last Wednesday. UMG accused the app of offering only a "fraction" of royalties for streams, while TikTok fired back with claims that the group was presenting a "false narrative and rhetoric."
Anywho, gone are the trends of posting quintessential clips of girlhood to Billie Eillish's “What Was I Made For” and rich teenagers running through mansion foyers to Sophie Eillie-Bexto's “Murder on the Dancefloor.” Notoriously, TikTok has been the app for music promotion since its inception in 2016 due to its slew of fan cams, edits, and rapid trends — so much so that labels have controversially made it a compulsory part of their publicity campaigns, even for bigger artists.
Another consequence of this, however, is TikTok’s ability to create digital micro-cultures or aesthetics that become an extension of a musician’s artistic impact and identity. For instance, the ‘coquette’ aesthetic, known for its adoption of pink ribbons, cashmere sweaters, short skirts, and Nabakov novels, might not have entered into the mainstream if not for its near-canonization of Lana Del Ray’s discography. The #coquette tag is filled to the brim with sped-up audios of “Let the Light In,” “Yes to Heaven,” and “Norman F*cking Rockwell.”
Meanwhile, the ‘cottagecore’ aesthetic, which encourages users to whisk away to the country to ride horses, bake loaves of bread, and air-dry floral bedsheets, has long adopted songs like Taylor Swift’s “Cardigan” and Hozier’s “Would That I” as subcultural anthems. Classically alternative artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Mitski also have been harbingers of the “sad girl aesthetic,” with songs like “Scott Street” and “Nobody” provoking an influx of tearful relatability from girls that wear Doc Martens, have moleskin diaries, and rot in their bedrooms.
Subsequently, there have been complaints of the “TikTokification” of these artists - where the aesthetics they are so deeply tied to in pop culture outweigh their actual creative themes or their actual outward characteristics. Phoebe Bridgers’ recent tracks, for instance, like “Sidelines” and “Silk Chiffon”, have noticeably upbeat tones and lyrics, while Lana Del Rey, as noted by fans, rarely has street-style featuring chiffon minidresses or ballet flats.
Aesthetics are often shaped by a myriad of media influences, but their chosen soundtracks - like, for instance, Del Rey’s - can be so intrinsic to the aesthetic itself that their removal from TikTok could possibly threaten either the aesthetic’s mainstream popularity or perhaps the artist’s association with the aesthetic itself. Following UMG’s exodus, coquette users have fallen to using unofficial sped-up Del Rey audios, or utilizing vintage jazz and piano to accompany their videos. The unofficial audios, however, are still copyright-bustable. And despite announcing a folklore-core album for an April release, cottagecore influencers are routinely posting videos to instrumental guitars and indie artists, in place of Swift’s more low-fi tracks.
Whether the UMG-TikTok feud will remain in place or truly impact the popularity of these online aesthetics has yet to be seen - in the meantime; however, the aforementioned indie artists have taken note of the drought and been quick to offer themselves as substitutes. If you are suffering from Del-Rey withdrawals, try checking out audios from Marigold The Girl, Casey Conroy, and Bailey Baum.