TikTok The Musical | An Artform or Just Another Meme?
If you’re the type of person to be both reading this magazine and clicking on this article then I can assume you know what TikTok is. However, if you’re one of my more mature readers (Hi Mum) then I suppose an explanation is in order. TikTok or Musically, as it was once known, is a type of social media wherein users (typically those who are either too old for the app or too young, although this isn’t specified in the Ts&Cs) will upload short videos of themselves dancing or lip-syncing to popular songs or ‘audios’. This is under the presumption that they are using the app as intended though. As time goes on, TikTok has evolved into an odd smorgasbord of absurd ‘Millennial’ and ‘Gen Z’ humour, generation-grabbing challenges and celebrities who don’t understand how the app work.
With over 800 million active users and their most followed user Charli D’Amelio boasting over 100 million followers, this app is nothing to sniff one’s proverbial nose at.
Yet somehow on the same app with: the Coronavirus Challenge, which involved a young woman licking a plane’s toilet seat on her way to holiday in Miami; the Mole Removal Challenge (I’m sure you can imagine what that entails) and one trend involving ice cubes, women, warts and genitalia; the less said about that one, the better.
These somehow manage to not be the most unusual things that the community is involved with. No, what I want to make you all aware of is the extensive history of fan made musicals that have quite recently gotten very popular on TikTok.
I should specify that these musicals aren’t just original ideas from one or two content creators that happened to get quite big, the oddity of these projects is that they are not only adaptations of pre-existing ideas, but that they also get the whole community involved.
I’ll get into more specific examples in a bit, but for now I’ll lay down the rough formula that this fad tends to follow. It starts with a well-known or recently popular franchise that has come into the light through a streaming service debut, becoming popular thanks to memes involving it, or by the simple virtue of being a new and popular release.
Once there is a title that people know and love in the lime light, a bored and dedicated fan will get an idea for a song that relates to the franchise; sometimes it’s a joke, sometimes it’s a genuine attempt at art. Whatever the reason, if it’s good enough then it becomes popular.
One person will see the song and share it, leading to someone else doing the same thing until another person with an interest in the title and in music sees it, and then they make their own song. Rinse and repeat until there are quite literally hundreds of songs about the same piece of media, and at that point you’ve got yourself a TikTok musical.
Most of the time these ‘musicals’ won’t have any real coherent story or plot and often won’t be associated with one another in any way, but it’s an odd phenomenon none the less. The fact that so many people feel inspired by the same muse, the same TV show, and manage to create some genuinely good music that gains real attention, is kind of odd.
So, with all this talk and hype around these many mythic musicals, I can only imagine that by this point you’re basically gagging for some examples, and history, of these real musicals that took TikTok by storm.
The Avatar Period
Dances, Lip-Syncs, Music and Comedy. A year ago the four major genres of TikTok lived together in harmony. Then everything changed when the Music Nation attacked.
The year was 2020. Cult TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender had just came to Netflix, and the internet went wild. A mixture of new fans, long-time fans, and ex-fans who’d seen it drop off their radar, all watched or re-watched it. For a short period of time it was the internet’s new favourite show; new fans learned to love all the jokes from it and got all the references they never used to while older fans fell in love with it all over again. All in all it was a good and active time for the community, which found itself having the most engagement within it since the show first aired.
The show got so popular that it managed to make its way to TikTok. From people talking about the show to cosplays, Avatar was taking the app by storm. Eventually, this content evolved into the form of original music.
It’s hard to say for sure who the first person was to start the trend of Avatar songs, but it’s pretty certain to say that the one who popularised and really upped the quality of the songs was Katherine Lynn – Rose with her romantic ballad In the Clouds, uploaded 20th June 2020. It was not only a pretty solid standalone song but also a part of her ownAvatar musical, with a semi-coherent story being told that roughly followed the original show. Each song released was a part of her own self-contained musical universe, where she often dressed up and played as the characters who’s points of view she sang from.
Other people followed in Lynn – Rose’s footsteps and made their own music for their own Avatar musicals. Some were good, others less so. The one thing most of them had in common, however, was that each song was in its own universe; no two songs from two different persons was ever for the same musical.
Despite this trend bringing a community together, it seemed like it would never realistically be brought to completion and made into a real musical. For every great, original, well-written and character driven song, you had just as many songs that were nothing more than words sung by a 13 year old and layered over a song from the soundtrack. This and the lack of coherence between all the songs, meant that this was nothing but a fun little fad. Completely unlike…
Remy The Ratatouille: The Musical
By this point we were a good few months into lockdown, so that’s something I hope you understand while I try to explain this next sequence of events.
Near the beginning of 2020 the song Le Festin, coming from the Ratatouille Soundtrack, got quite popular on TikTok and became something of a meme. Many TikToks were being made using this audio. Whether it was earnestly implemented in cooking videos or used simply for a joke, it was incredibly popular. I’m unsure as to whether this was the catalyst for any future Ratatouille based projects, but it isn’t unlikely that this was what sparked the memory of the movie for many, and resulted in what follows:
Enter August 11 2020, and the world changed forever. Emily Jacobson released a song that would set the world on fire and change lives; Ode to Remy. This ‘Ode’ was a short and sweet tune dedicated to Remy, the rat from Ratatouille, and how much he was loved. In keeping with Jacobson’s other content, this song was clearly a joke and wasn’t really meant to amount to anything, but the internet (being the internet) took it, ran with it and made it 10 times bigger and more extravagant. On October 20 2020, TikTok user danieljmertzlufft made the original ode into an epic Broadway closer with a full orchestral score that he composed himself. If Jacobson’s ode was the springboard for this trend then Mertzlufft’s was the rocket’s launch pad. With now well over 2 million views on TikTok, it was clear that something beautiful had been made. The mission was a go.
Everyone wanted a piece of the titular ratatouille and to make something great of it. Unlike the Avatar musical, this got the whole community to come together to make something for the one grand theatre experience. Everyone was chipping in how they could. And even though (like with Avatar) there was a whole host of songs being composed, the music getting attention.
TikTok accounts like shoeboxmusicals got involved in a different side of the production, designing a whole theoretical stage for the performance to take place on. With extravagant lights and a lift for grand reveals, there was no other space that could do it justice. There was choreography being planned, props and costumes being constructed and a playbill design by Jess Siswick. This was all that TikTok could think about for months and, although still a pipedream, it truly seemed like something tangible could come of it.
Then, on November 15 2020, Patton Oswalt, the voice of Remy, not only tweeted about the musical but also tagged Brad Bird, the director of the modern day cinematic masterpiece himself.
This was the first piece of real meaningful recognition that our project got, it made the pipedream seem worth it and as though if we become lucid, the dream can be manifested into something. But ultimately, it was just that, a dream…
OH SHIT, NEVERMIND. December 9 2020, and it has just been announced that the dream is real. Coming on January 1st of 2021 is an actual legit, Disney approved, real life, virtual, official Ratatouille The TikTok Musical, with its soundtrack coming straight from the TikTok fans, and the proceeds going to The Actors Fund. People were excited. It was truly one for, and by, the fans, with all the songs that people loved from the app and the mock Playbill design by Siswick being used for the official playbill.
This wasn’t a small, niche event either. It came with a star studded cast that ended up performing from home: Wayne Brady (The Wayne Brady Show, Kinky Boots, Hamilton) as Django, Tituss Burgess (30 Rock, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Little Mermaid) as Remy, Kevin Chamberlain (Seussical, The Addams Family, Wicked, Jessie) as Gusteau, André De Shields (Hadestown, The Wiz[,] Ain’t Misbehavin’, Play On!, The Full Monty) as Ego, Andrew Barth Feldman (Dear Evan Hansen, SW: A New(sical) Hope) as Linguini and Adam Lambert (Queen) as Emile. This cast came together to help raise over 2 million dollars (and counting) for the aforementioned Actors Fund.
I write all of this not to hype up the project or help with SEO, but just so that you can fathom just how big of an event this was, and it all originated from TikTok and one person’s obsession with a charming cartoon rat.
Only 20.45% of Broadway musicals make their money back. No reason for saying, just letting you know.
Bridgerton: A Renaissance Of Musical
Picture this: it’s Christmas day. Snow is gently floating to the ground outside. Sleighbells jingle while frost forms fantastic and intricate fractals on windows, and Gran sits home alone, unable to see anyone for what could be her last Christmas ever…
This is of no concern to anyone though, because the whole family is at home watching Netflix’s brand new original show Bridgerton. Set in 1800s England, it follows the lives of the prestigious Bridgerton family as they try to marry their daughters off to paedophiles without their consent. Naturally, everyone loves it. Quickly rising to number 1 on Netflix in over 70 countries, this show was in its stride and it was hard to see anything else of note happening with it.
January 10 2021, fan of the show and musician Abigail Barlow posts a song to TikTok based on the central character of Bridgerton as she falls for a man she can’t have. Starting the video with “Ok, but what if Bridgerton were a musical?” Barlow performs her original song to some success. It becomes really noteworthy when, the next day, she posts another song, Burn for you. The song got even more popular than the original and paved the path for other songs for Barlow’s musical.
Despite the intense popularity of Barlow’s original idea and the amount of passion and support the project had recieved, something strange happened with this that hadn’t with the other musicals. The internet left it alone and didn’t try, and fail, to make it better.
Unlike Avatar or Ratatouille, which both thrived on contribution from other fans, people seem to have unanimously agreed that the Bridgerton Musical is Barlow’s thing. Sure enough, people have pitched in with choreography and poster design, but no one has even tried to touch the music side (well obviously a few have, but no other original song has really been accepted as canon).
What’s more, this really seems like it could have the potential to become a real musical. Aside from Barlow being an incredibly talented and accomplished musician, the project has been recognised and praised by people associated with the musical’s source material. Many of the cast members, during interviews and the like, have admitted to not only knowing of the project but also to enjoying it (including co-stars Jonathon Bailey and Regé – Jean Page). Netflix themselves even tweeted about a particularly popular duet featuring the song Burn for you. As the days go on and Barlow writes more music for her concept album for the musical, it seems more and more likely that Broadway could be hosting a new show; one backed by Netflix.
Whether it be that the lockdown is making us all go a bit crazy, or that the future of content creation is evolving at a rapid rate, it really does appear that some of our future celebrities and artists are being born and bred on TikTok. It’s not really that hard to believe. Adele first found fame on MySpace and Justin Bieber came from YouTube, so why can’t the next Sondheim be from TikTok? These social media sites are often seen as negative, and as a distraction that ruins the youths imagination, but I think it’s quite the opposite.
A truly creative teen will create, no matter how many new YouTubers there are and no matter what trend is making its rounds on TikTok. These apps don’t prohibit productivity but rather inspire it; by giving these youths a platform to share their art and learn about it, to get feedback and be found, they will only improve. Using TikTok and being some kind of artistic genius aren’t mutually exclusive. One day, the new big act in the arts will have first gotten their name on TikTok.
Illustrated by Hollie Joiner