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 artists 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 favor 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 Tatiana Cirisano, a music industry analyst at MIDiA Research.
It’s not new for artists 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.
“It’s clear that it’s an integral part of pretty much every artist’s strategy.”
TikTok named three of this year’s artists vying for the Best New Artist prize — Latto, Muni Long and Omar Apollo — as top emerging artists 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 Artist 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.'”
‘The new MTV’
While most Grammy awards have little to nothing to do with fan base or commercial success, the primary eligibility requirement for Best New Artist 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 percent of artists’ breakthroughs into public consciousness is happening on TikTok,” the analyst said.
Cassie Petrey, the founder of the digital marketing company Crowd Surf, agrees: “TikTok is the new MTV.”
“When I was younger, all the artists in the Best New Artist category generally would have been on the radio or on MTV… TikTok is one of those mainstream media platforms of our time.”
And Cirisano says it’s changed the way record labels find new talent in the first place.
While scouts used to check out local shows, find potential artists 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 explains.
In some ways, Cirisano says, this has been democratizing, opening doors “for so many artists 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 artists 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 artists to figure out strategy.
“You just have to stay focused 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 artists are tailoring their music to make it more social media-friendly, Cirisano thinks those concerns are overblown, noting that past developments like Auto-Tune or ringtones triggered similar worry.
“I would just encourage people to recognize 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.”