(April 24, 2023).  Congress passed a foreign-aid bill yesterday (April 23) that is designed to cause a dent in the economy of one particular foreign adversary: China.

The controversial emergency aid package, which was introduced by the House and passed by the Senate (79-18) in a bipartisan vote, provides $95 billion dollars of funding to Ukraine and Israel in their ongoing military conflicts with Russia and Palestine/Iran, respectively.

But it’s the “sell-or-ban TikTok” piece of the legislation that has free-speech defenders and the video-sharing platform’s users in a TikTok tizzy.

The bill’s call for banning what has become not only the most popular social media platform for kids but also a means of financial income for many companies and individual content creators is not necessarily a “ban.”  It mainly calls for TikTok’s owners — the Chinese company ByteDance — to sell its U.S. operations to an American entity due to ongoing national security concerns related to the app and U.S. fears that the tech company would provide sensitive data it acquires through users of the app to Beijing.

The bill essentially gives ByteDance one year from enactment to divest of its U.S. operations, or face a ban. President Joe Biden was expected to sign the new legislation as soon as it crossed his desk on Wednesday (April 24).

Currently, there are an estimated 160 million users of TikTok in America.  More than 60 percent of teenagers use it, placing it ahead of Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) among youngsters. Only YouTube (90 percent of teens) is used more.

The music industry is one area that has benefited significantly from TikTok’s popularity in recent years.

Since 2019 when the platform first emerged as a global giant, songs that began as memes on the app — like Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” and Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” — have been launched into history-making, blockbuster hits.  “Road” became the Billboard Hot 100’s longest-running No. 1 ever with 19 weeks at the top in 2019, largely due to its TikTok virility.

Even older songs have seen the light of day through user-generated videos on TikTok and become big hits.  Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 No. 1 classic “Dreams” famously returned to the top 20 of the Hot 100 in 2020 after a viral video was created by Nathan Apodaca, a down-on-his-luck guy who filmed himself skateboarding to work and lip-syncing the Stevie Nicks-penned tune after his pickup truck had broken down.

More recently in 2023, R&B singer Miguel saw the reincarnation of his 2011 No. 1 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop smash “Sure Thing” after users began creating video content for TikTok with the song.  Thanks to its exposure on the app, a new audience began streaming the track and soon radio re-released it.  “Sure Thing” peaked at a new Hot 100 high of No. 11 last year, 25 positions higher than it had on that chart during its initial run eleven years earlier.

Since the 2020s began, and most notably during the pandemic, TikTok has propelled countless songs into becoming huge hits. 

Record companies have even gotten into the act by releasing multiple TikTok-friendly versions of tunes — either sped-up or slowed-down renditions — enticing fans to generate user-made videos they hope will go viral and lead to revenue-generating streams.

So far it’s worked.  Nearly every No. 1 song on the Hot 100 the past two years has had some kind of visibility on the app via a “challenge” or other viral phenomenon, which has led to increased streaming and revenue.

Billboard eventually responded to the growing trend by launching a separate weekly TikTok Top 50 chart in September 2023, where it ranks songs strictly by their activity on the app, which factors in numbers of user-generated videos featuring official audio clips of tunes, plus views, likes and shares of such clips.

All of this recalls the time back in the 1980s when MTV was launched as a music video channel and began powering some of the era’s biggest hits.  By 1984, three years after the network debuted, every No. 1 song had an accompanying music video, and MTV was a large part of making that happen.

TikTok is this generation’s MTV, except fans make the videos

Today, with the advent of TikTok and the encouragement of consumer-generated content, labels don’t have to finance huge music video budgets any more to promote their product.

Only three of this year’s eight new No. 1 songs (so far) have had an accompanying music video. Notably, chart-topping hits by Beyoncé and Kanye West — artists once considered video vanguards — have not. Kanye’s “Carnival” with Ty Dolla $ign (featuring Rich the Kidd and Playboi Carti) recently became the first No. 1 Hot 100 non-holiday song to simultaneously top the Billboard TikTok Top 50.

Even more telling, the app is now more likely than radio to breakout a hit in this country.

So the obvious question becomes: how would a TikTok ban affect the music industry given how intertwined the two are in this era?

Well, as it turns out, a ban wouldn’t likely have an immediate impact.  

First, based on the legislation’s language, it wouldn’t take effect until April 2025 at the earliest. 

And secondly, its enforcement would likely not target users (particularly those who already own the app), but the app stores — like Apple and Google — that sell them.  

Those digital stores would likely face penalties for continuing to sell TikTok and would also not be permitted to update and maintain the app’s software on users’ devices.

The state of Montana had already become the first to pass a TikTok ban, which included a penalty of $10,000 for each day an app company sold the product.

That legislation is already facing legal challenges as a federal judge (U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy) blocked it saying that a TikTok ban “likely violates the First Amendment.”

It’s likely that the national sell-or-ban act passed by Congress on Tuesday will be met with similar legal challenges.

But savvy would-be consumers who do not yet own the app could find ways to trick their phones into allowing a TikTok purchase anyway, such as by manipulating their device’s “location” and changing it to one where the ban is not in effect.

There’s also the possibility that Beijing-based ByteDance will bite the bullet and sell their U.S. TikTok interests to some willing American multi-billionaire (it certainly won’t be cheap), like Elon Musk or maybe even Donald Trump?  Both men have stated that they’re against a TikTok ban (although that position represents an about-face from the stance Trump took as president four years ago).

Bottom line: because the ban wouldn’t be in effect until next year at the earliest and because users will largely still have access to it — whether legitimately or not — the real impact of today’s bill passage on the music industry would probably be minimal.

At least for now. 


DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, disco, pop, rock and country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.

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By DJ Rob

2 thoughts on “Ticking Away: The TikTok Time Bomb and Its (possible) Melodic Fallout in the U.S. Music Industry”
  1. We, the American public never embraced social media the way it was intended to be used. Fast forward, Tik Tok is banned for government use. One by one, in my opinion these apps will go away. “Private eyes are watching you” so said Hall & Oates.

Your thoughts?