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Saturday, April 1, 2023
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    Star generator of our time

    LOS ANGELES (AFP) – After several years of Grammy ceremonies with clear frontrunners for Best New Artist, Sunday’s race is wide open – but no matter who wins, many of the nominees have TikTok to thank.

    The short-form video app has been a powerful force in music for years now – a jump-off point for artistes looking to make it and a means of promotion for those already established in the industry.

    And though the Recording Academy is not exactly known for reflecting the zeitgeist – its voters routinely favour legacy performers and throwback acts – the Best New Artist category has grown increasingly eclectic and representative of the internet age’s impact on popular music.

    “Social media over time has made the music industry a lot more reactive to what people are raising their hands for, rather than taking this top-down approach of kind of deciding, okay, this is the star of the moment,” said music industry analyst at MIDiA Research Tatiana Cirisano.

    It’s not new for artistes to come up through social media – Justin Bieber was discovered on YouTube, and Shawn Mendes gained traction on the video app Vine – but “TikTok has just really exploded,” Cirisano said.

    Italian band Maneskin performs during the Global Citizen Festival at Central Park in New York. PHOTOS: AFP
    FROM LEFT: US singer-songwriter Omar Apollo; US singer Muni Long; and US rapper Latto
    Brazilian singer Anitta arrives for the 23rd Annual Latin Grammy awards

    “It’s clear that it’s an integral part of pretty much every artist’s strategy.”

    TikTok named three of this year’s artistes vying for the Best New Artist prize – Latto, Muni Long and Omar Apollo – as top emerging artistes on its app.

    Also up for the coveted Grammy are Brazil’s Anitta, who found viral TikTok fame with a dance challenge to her smash Envolver, and Italy’s Maneskin, the Eurovision rockers who saw their cover of Beggin’ strike algorithm gold.

    The past two Best New Artiste winners, Olivia Rodrigo and Megan Thee Stallion, also found resounding success on TikTok.

    The other 2023 nominees – indie act Wet Leg, jazz duo JD Beck and Domi, rapper-singer Tobe Nwigwe, bluegrass artist Molly Tuttle and jazz singer Samara Joy – all also boast strong followings on the app.

    Joy told NPR last year she had recently joined “because that’s where my generation is.”

    “I posted a couple of videos, and a month later, 100,000 people – I was like, I can’t,” she said with a laugh.

    “People now are, like, coming up to me like, ‘I found you on social media. I found you on TikTok, and I just had to, you know, come see a show.’”

    While most Grammy awards have little to nothing to do with fan base or commercial success, the primary eligibility requirement for Best New Artiste is breaking into the public consciousness – and thus it’s the award “that the people have the biggest impact on,” Cirisano told AFP.

    “These days, 90 per cent of artistes’ breakthroughs into public consciousness is happening on TikTok,” the analyst said.

    Founder of the digital marketing company Crowd Surf Cassie Petrey agrees: “TikTok is the new MTV.”

    “When I was younger, all the artistes in the Best New Artiste category generally would have been on the radio or on MTV… TikTok is one of those mainstream media platforms of our time.”

    And Cirisano said it’s changed the way record labels find new talent in the first place.

    While scouts used to check out local shows, find potential artistes and then cultivate them, labels now are “looking for them to already have an audience, and already have had sort of a breakthrough moment on their own,” she explained.

    In some ways, Cirisano says, this has been democratising, opening doors “for so many artistes that maybe never would have had the means or the resources, or just by luck been able to get the attention of anyone in the industry”.

    But it’s also left some artistes bemoaning the mental health toll that a robust online presence can have, or the stress they feel over spending too much time on social media instead of making music.

    Marketer Petrey said that while promotion is important, it’s not the job of artistes to figure out strategy.

    “You just have to stay focussed on art – that’s your job,” she said. “We’re reminding people of that all the time.”

    And though there have been complaints among some people in the industry that artistes are tailoring their music to make it more social media-friendly, Cirisano believes those concerns are overblown, noting that past developments like Auto-Tune or ringtones triggered similar worry.

    “I would just encourage people to recognise how every new technology has been met with a similar reaction,” she said. “I tend to think that those concerns are a little bit overstated.”

    “I think that good music will always shine through at the end of the day.”

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