If the revitalization of house and club music seems sudden or unprovoked, you’re probably just not spending enough time on TikTok.
TikTok may very well be for the kids, but regardless of your age or region the social video platform has likely shaped some aspect of your digital life in recent years. Whether on the proprietary app or via the big three (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter), videos from TikTok’s rapidly expanding community of creators have infiltrated — and dominated — social media feeds and algorithms since 2019. Which is to say, TikTok’s sphere of influence goes well beyond the black mirror, coloring in the spaces between our online and IRL selves. The impact of the platform’s takeoff tends to be especially felt in the most nebulous sectors of the arts. So, if pop’s recent revitalization of house and club music seems odd, sudden, or unprovoked, you’re probably just not spending enough time on the apps.
In 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to interact almost exclusively through our devices, the first signs of a club music renaissance made our involuntary isolation slightly more palatable. And much like the sounds that spend the most time in the TikTok ether, it wasn’t even a full song (in the conventional sense). Jersey native rapper and singer Cookiee Kawaii set the app ablaze with her sleek and very steppable “Vibe (If I Back It Up),” which packed all the trimmings of Jersey’s regional house variant into less than a minute-and-a-half of runtime. Landing on streamers not long after it blew up in the algorithm, the song has wracked nearly 100 million plays on Spotify alone, and served as one of TikTok’s first bonafide breakouts for an original composition.
@dojacat PART TWOOO @cookieekawaii ♬ Vibe (If I Back It Up) – Cookiee Kawaii
Bolstered by millions of reposts and edits from other users, the rise of “Vibe” may have unintentionally outlined a new marketing strategy for marquee artists, who were suddenly flooding the platform and gaining an invaluable barometer for the types of sounds taking hold as our digital lives became our primary ones. With a not-so-delicate push from their respective banners, major label artists were now shoulder-to-shoulder with pure content creators and, like any industry giant worth their weight, absorbed the best features of their competitors. Thanks to the majors taking notice of TikTok’s potential as a self-contained hype-generator (and a proven angle of approach in Kawaii’s Jersey Club-laced entry), other producers in the area, sonically and geographically, were officially cleared for landing.
Wielding a wild range of booming originals, high-octane remixes, and an entire curriculum of new footwork, Jersey and Philly Club producers have taken center stage on the app in recent months. On the remix side, everything under the sun has been used as source material for a minute-long club anthem. There was the meteoric ascent of a Jersey club recalibration of Tony! Toni! Toné!’s “Anniversary Song,” flipping a ’90s quiet storm classic into a simmering mid-tempo dancefloor suite. There’s a righteous rework of Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” that would test the footwork of even the sturdiest steppers. And there are a number of more modern hits that have had their BPMs pushed to the brink to best serve the next generation of club kids, including Beyonce‘s “Dance For Me,” Lil Uzi Vert‘s “Neon Guts,” and Pharrell‘s “Cash In, Cash Out.”
While remixes are a crucial component of club music’s history and its sustained resonance in the TikTok algorithm, producers are also using the app to introduce an ethereal new chapter that’s directly linked to pop’s recent infatuation with the genre. Philly producers 2RARE and Jabril Evans hit a viral stride over the last year with “Back It Up” and “get humpy,” respectively. Both songs have accumulated tens of thousands of shares and reconstructions from the TikTok community over the last year. One of those who took notice happened to be Drake, the pop superstar on a club music bender whose first great album in nearly a decade is almost entirely indebted to the strain of house native to the Northeaster corridor of I-95. After coming across their work on the app, the Toronto rapper-turned-human-genre-synthesizer invited 2RARE and Evans to the set of the video for the Honestly, Nevermind standout “Sticky” in Miami, where he was schooled on how to blick by the Philly duo.
@2rareeWho won yall?? 😂😂😂👀👀♬ original sound – 2RARE
Pop’s club music craze caught 2RARE off guard. “It was crazy because Philly music hasn’t had a wave like this in a long time, so it was different to see this music and the dancing that went with it,” the producer said in an email. Evans, however, wasn’t the least bit surprised.
“Everybody loves to dance so it caught on quick,” Evans shared in an email, zeroing in on the appeal of Philly and Jersey’s club scenes. “It’s not like sad stuff that people are used to. It’s a new time, and it feels new to everything on TikTok and that’s why the people love it.”
As Drake’s Honestly, Nevermind continues to put up numbers (firmly cementing itself as the highest-selling house and club music project ever) and Beyoncé transitions into rollout mode on the heels of her own four-to-the-floor single “Break My Soul,” it’s hard to imagine that we’ve seen the end of this phase in pop music. But it seems pretty clear, wherever we’re headed next will be guided by the potently prolific culture-generating pipeline TikTok has become over the last three years. And for a genre that has historically kept the originators of its influences at a very convenient distance, this could be one of pop music’s most important corrective pivots to date.