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TikTok Is the New Music Kingmaker, and Labels Want to Get Paid

They’re seeking a better deal after they missed the rise of the social video platform and sold music rights for a flat fee.

Lil Nas X performs onstage during the 2019 Stagecoach Festival at Empire Polo Field in Indio, Calif., on April 28, 2019. 

Lil Nas X performs onstage during the 2019 Stagecoach Festival at Empire Polo Field in Indio, Calif., on April 28, 2019. 

Photographer: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Fitz and the Tantrums were wrapping up the tour for their third album last year when their label, Atlantic Records, told them that their song HandClap was climbing the charts in South Korea. “We were shocked,” says Lisa Nupoff, one of the group’s managers. The Los Angeles-based pop band had never been there, or anywhere in Asia for that matter. But by April of 2018, HandClap had topped the international charts in the world’s sixth-largest music market, outperforming Camilla Cabello’s Havana, the most popular song in the world last year. A couple months later, the song surpassed 1 billion streams in China—even more than it had received in the U.S.

Nupoff credits much of the song’s success in Asia to TikTok, a social video app that allows users to record and share short clips of pranks, dance routines, and skits set to music. The song took off in South Korea after the 1Million Dance Studio troupe recorded a video set to the song, which other users replicated in their own videos. It went viral in China after a player of the video game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds uploaded a film combining gunshots of a weapon from the game with HandClap to Douyin, TikTok’s China-only equivalent. “It was just fans listening to the song, posting videos, and doing dances in their homes,” Nupoff says.