Meet 14 TikTok artists and music curators who are making a splash
TikTok has been a bastion of creativity and discovery, thanks in large part to the artists and music commenters who've been our soundtrack in the last year-and-a-half in quarantine. Discovering new music has never been easier — whether it's lo-fi hip-hop, indie pop, or post-bossa nova, there's something for everyone on the app. EW speaks to 14 of these rising creators about their TikTok journey, their career aspirations, and more. Plus, check out EW's feature on the future of TikTok.
Thanks to @loveinamovie, Sharan's TikTok account curating all things indie music, the college junior has gotten to focus on his passion, score opportunities with Atlantic Records and Warner Music Canada, and create a community of likeminded music lovers who even have their own Discord. "Before the TikTok stuff, I had no real intention of working in music, because the industry felt inaccessible," Sharan says. "I didn't know anyone in the industry and growing up you don't see a lot of brown kids go through the whole music industry thing either."
DAMOYEE (real name Damoyee Neroes) joined TikTok in August 2020 and a year later, has grown to nearly 180,000 followers. The artist can play 16 instruments and can work for up to 6.5 hours just to create a one- or three-minute multi-frame singing video. But sometimes that work can feel out of balance with the attention smaller creators get. "The app itself can be very discouraging for independent artists and even signed artists that don't have a huge marketing budget," Neroes says. "The reality is that some creators and artists may have to come to terms with TikTok for not being the ideal platform to grow and thrive. And we'll see what happens."
Learning music theory can be intimidating, so Dev Lemons (real name Devon Vonder Schmalz) quickly made a name for herself as one of the earliest TikTokers to explain concepts in an accessible way, like dissecting trending songs on the app. And the funny thing is, she learned it all herself online, during quarantine. "I'm so grateful that I'm self taught because I've just heard so many horror stories about people who have teachers that don't make it make sense," she says. "It doesn't have to be rocket science." Lemons also credits her success to having a crew help with @songpsych, and hopes to create a team for her own burgeoning music career, which she shares on her personal account @dev_lemons.
Columbia University student Grace Victoria, 21, who strives to make "art and music that tells the truth," is confident she'd have a career without TikTok. But there's a "credibility you get with an audience," she continues, and the app is how her now-manager discovered her work. And as an independent creator, she's been able to donate profits from her song "Down in Virginia" to Black organizations, which she says a label might not have permitted. "I'm so lucky to have the opportunity to even produce music independently," she continues. "And I don't take that lightly. It's almost like I never want this dream to end that I'm living right now." Grace Victoria plans to release her debut album this December.
The former mortician is now a full-time musician, and plans to release his post-bossa album Human Nature later his year. "If I'm making hip hop music, there is a long lineage, there's a whole demographic ready to receive this music," Roseboro, 26, tells EW. "What I'm doing, there's none of that. And fortunately, right now you're witnessing this wave starting to pull. Now there is a radio show, the playlist that I made, the post-bossa playlist, it just hit over 1,000 saves on that. There's more than a few other artists trying to be a part of this. And it's been outstanding reaching people, and largely it's because of TikTok."
The 24-year-old's TikTok page is an internet- and pop-culture nerd's haven, ranging from videos roasting McMansions on Zillow to his takes on no-skip, 10/10 albums. But just as the app is as its peak popularity, the commentator (who goes by @cyberexboyfriend online) ironically is becoming more drawn to nuanced YouTube essays as a counter to the bite-sized, often superficial TikToks he sees. "TikTok is nothing but fast food content, which is why I don't think it's at the end of the day super sustainable," he says. "In the next four or five, six, seven years, you're going to see a cultural shift towards long-form content. I literally see two-hour YouTube videos on my homepage these days."
The producer's lo-fi take on everything from the Steven Universe theme song to Frank Ocean's "Chanel," shared on TikTok and other platforms, has helped him reach more than 1.3 million monthly listeners on Spotify. L.Dre, who's been hustling for years, says TikTok has taught him to adapt to its tricky algorithm (a.k.a. "the overlord") and constantly shifting trends. "You have to switch things up, because things that worked when I first started don't work as well now," he observes. "At first TikTok, the best thing about it was, you just use your phone. And now people are using full cameras, HD cameras, the quality is getting better and better."
Max Motley had always wanted to work in music, but gatekeepers — and then COVID-19 — complicated his plans. He began making TikToks about the music he liked as a way to "build some connections within the industry," and it's paid off. Thanks to that exposure, Motley has landed A&R consulting gigs at Atlantic Records, and now at Darkroom and Interscope. Still, he has no plans to leave his nearly 250,000 followers on TikTok: "It's just grown to the point where it's like, why would I stop doing this? It's crazy the amount of power that the platform has." Small artists now DM him to pitch their music all the time, and Motley takes his influence on his largely Gen Z audience seriously. His account is a "home and safe space for music," he adds, "where you can find new music without worrying about pretentious people calling you out for not knowing an artist already or degrading you for bad taste."
Nathanie Ngu's TikTok presence got her recognized twice in her hometown in Malaysia during the pandemic — and "I literally had my mask on" both times, the singer says, perplexed. Looking back, the encounters are "still weird" to Ngu, as is the idea of TikTok fame in general. Currently, she's "just having fun with" music, and that approach shines through on dreamy tracks like "Sunscreen." In September, she's looking to release a six-single project that will explore the irony around social media. "It's to encourage people to look at media and how so eagerly you want to be remembered," Ngu says. "But at the same time we're not showing the truest versions of ourselves, so we're not really being remembered."
His cover of Corinne Bailey Rae's "Put Your Records On" went viral on TikTok and has racked up over 367 million Spotify streams, but Jack Rutter (a.k.a. Ritt Momney), 21, says it's not representative of his usual "heavier and sadder" sound. He's also receptive to criticism around him profiting off such a personal song by a Black female artist, and acknowledges that his rarified position (including a record deal) allows him to put out "music that's true to me" and have it "flop." "If a song I put out performs really well, then it's going to get maybe 1 percent of the listens that 'Put Your Records On' does, so it doesn't even matter," he adds. "I won the lottery and just have enough money to support myself continuing to be a musician."
After losing her gigs due to COVID-19 and feeling depressed, cover band singer Sabrina Seidman found an online music production course and hasn't looked back since. She began sharing what she learned on TikTok and her life has "changed astronomically," with established producers like Finneas even commenting on her videos. "But the most rewarding thing is sometimes I get messages from 13- and 14-year-old girls thanking me," she says, "or just telling me that I've inspired them or asking me questions and that really means a lot to me."
Verdes has worked at Verizon, tried his hand at modeling and podcasting, auditioned for singing competitions, and even appearing on MTV's dating show Are You the One? But it was sharing those personal trials and tribulations on TikTok, often soundtracked by "A-O-K" and more of his uplifting indie pop tracks, that made him blow up. "The marketing stuff, man, you just got to make people realize that you can do more than just the music and then build out your personality for them," the 25-year-old says. "No one wants to listen to music from people that they don't know."
CORRRECTION: A previous version incorrectly stated which network Are You the One? was on. It was MTV, not Netflix.
At 15 years old, Tianda Flegal won The Next Star, a reality singing competition in her native Canada. She was then signed to a major label, who pushed her to make Taylor Swift-esque, country pop songs as the genre was popular then, despite her interest in indie pop punk. A decade later, she went viral on TikTok sharing her experience in the industry and deciding to go independent. "The coolest thing about being an indie artist and having access to an app like TikTok is that you don't need to send your song to a record label exec and then get their approval and get 30 people to sign off on a song before you get to show it to fans," she tells EW. "You get to take your song, put it right in front of the fans, have thousands of people view it right away."
Yung Baby Tate
Rapper Yung Baby Tate has had multiple tracks take off on TikTok and says artists are "missing out" if they're not reaching fans through social media. But that doesn't mean she can't still have complicated opinions about TikTok. It's been a "stepping stone" for her career and she's loved seeing women posting self-empowerment videos to her song "I Am" featuring Flo Milli. But on the other hand, the Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta star has seen many Black creators talk about their content being suppressed or feeling unsupported by TikTok. "Their algorithms do not favor Black people, they don't favor Black creators," Tate, 25, says. "Black creators offer so much to the app and create so many trends on the app. And so for us to have to go through the hoops just to create on an app is ridiculous."