CHICAGO — Megan Thee Stallion’s status as a headliner at Lollapalooza marks a transition in the music industry: Internet clout rivals traditional fame.
Megan Thee Stallion, who performed at the festival’s biggest stage July 31, has had her popularity amplified on the video streaming app TikTok. Hit songs like “WAP” and “Savage,” used in countless dance videos by contributors to the platform, made her the No. 1 most played artist on TikTok in 2020 — a testimony to its ability to reach huge audiences.
Also, more than 70 artists who first became widely known on the app have signed to record labels. This year’s Lollapalooza lineup was influenced heavily by TikTok, whose “for you page” curates a constant stream of content to the user’s device.
Tai Verdes is one of TikTok’s newest and biggest stars. The 6-foot 7-inch ex-collegiate basketball player joined TikTok, which evolved from a defunct app called Musical.ly, at the start of 2020. He gradually built up followers and view counts with short videos, 15 seconds to a minute long, and 200,000 views a video quickly turned into 20 million with his breakout song, “A-O-K.” Several songs off of his debut album, “TV,” have become mainstream hits, blasting on prime-time radio, and he signed to a record label in October 2020, he said.
“TikTok is a launching pad for people who don’t have massive teams for marketing, who don’t have massive teams for promotions,” Verdes said. “You can literally just have a good idea and the good-idea machine will take you to the next level, if your idea is good enough.”
In fact, already established artists such as Jennifer Lopez and Camila Cabello go out of their way to create trends and videos with their already-released music on TikTok. But Verdes said the best recipe for TikTok fame is simply “authenticity.” Megan Thee Stallion only has around 30 videos total on her TikTok. But you couldn’t scroll on the app in 2020 without running into videos blaring the rapper’s hits.
Verdes’ set July 30 at the Bud Light Seltzer Stage was packed with 20,000 attendees, many of whom knew the 25-year-old artist as “that TikTok guy,” he said. He described the experience as “bananas.”
Pop singer Brooke Alexx, who debuted at Lolla on Aug. 1, said she was inspired by Verdes’ performance and the enthusiastic crowd he amassed through social media.
The 26-year-old from New Jersey started making TikToks featuring her original music in 2019, and has racked up 3.3 million “likes” on her videos showcasing her life in Nashville, bubbly personality and romanticism. Alexx was the winner of “Empowered by Bumble,” a competition by the dating app Bumble, which pairs female artists with music festivals to close the gender gap in music.
YOUTUBE IS OUT
By 2019, “the golden age of YouTube” had been declared officially over, as it trailed platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. Alexx heard buzz about TikTok and jumped immediately at the chance to be ahead of the crowd.
She didn’t see much of a following on the app until a video from September 2020 reached 2 million views. That was when she thought she could really “do something” on TikTok.
“TikTok has been so amazing because overnight millions of people can discover you,” Alexx said. “The way the algorithm works is so unique and it’s never been that way before. With Instagram you had to know someone who knew them to find them. … Now with TikTok, you’re just shot off to a bunch of people in the world, all over.”
Some bigger stars on the app — like Dixie D’Amelio, Addison Rae and Lil Huddy who achieved fame as internet personalities but since have released singles — start as social media stars, and then move into the music arena after gaining a following.
Jaden Hossler, or “jxdn” as he’s known professionally, moved out to Los Angeles a couple years ago when he heard he could make money off TikTok.
Flash forward, Hossler now has 9.2 million followers on TikTok and 4.5 million on Instagram, and joined, and has since left, Sway House, a content house with a carousel of teenage boys, each with millions of followers.
Hossler has made a name for himself in music and signed to Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker’s music label, DTA, creating punk music that has landed him on the “Ellen Show” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live” performing “la di die” with his girlfriend, a fellow TikTok star and musician, Nessa Barrett.
“TikTok was one of the steps in a long staircase, I was fortunate to get recognition on my step early,” he said. “Now it’s rigorous … everyone’s doing it. It was the transition from TikTok to being signed to Travis (Barker) that really sealed the deal for me.”
However, Hossler was embroiled in TikTok relationship drama that led to him withdrawing from posting on the app.
“I don’t get on TikTok. It became a big source of anxiety,” he said. “Once people became ‘celebrities,’ there was a lot of judgment.”
His debut album “Tell Me About Tomorrow,” was released July 2, and this fall he’s headed on tour with pop-punk talent Machine Gun Kelly.
“I think everything dies out,” Hossler said of TikTok’s lasting relevance. “It’s a social media app, there’s always going to be people who are relevant on the app, but the transition into actual stardom … some people just aren’t going to make it.”
Kooze, who was at this year’s Lollapalooza, produced music for six years before he turned to TikTok, posting 30-second clips of him DJing in January 2020.
He began with crafting cool transitions and moved into mashing songs together. On March 1, he woke up to find his mashup of “Dani California” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers mixed with Doja Cat’s 2019 hit “Say So” had gone viral.
Kooze was “blown away” when he heard he would be performing his second-ever show at one of the largest music festivals in the country.
“I love doing it, playing music for people,” he said after the performance. “It’s so cool because I can’t see that many people through a screen, I just see a number. Seeing them face to face is a whole different experience.”