By Emilee Lindner
What determines a Grammy-winning tune?
Is it how many weeks a ditty spent on the Billboard Hot 100, how much money it made, or how musically endearing an anonymous group of Recording Academy voters deems it to be? Consider them all. But when it comes to declaring last year’s cream of the crop, TikTok’s impact can’t be ignored.
2020 was the year of staying inside, adopting new hobbies, scrolling for hours, and TikTok taught us new ways to move our bodies as we limbered up to the latest dance trend. As screen time soared, so did the spins on viral tracks that would eventually make our collective quarantine memorable. And they weren’t determined by record labels or radio DJs. TikTok choreographers and creators became 2020’s tastemakers, sending songs both new and old soaring up the charts, and it seems as though the Grammys are following their lead.
Sure, there have been hits boosted by internet virality before (Drake’s “In My Feelings” and the Shiggy Challenge, Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles” and the Mannequin Challenge, Katy Perry’s “Swish Swish” and the Backpack Dance). But none of these songs have won a Grammy before. The “Whip/Nae Nae” and the “Dougie” were never considered awards-bait. Will this be the year that changes that? Let’s take a look at the Grammy nominees and their TikTok come-ups.
Roddy Ricch: "The Box"
@charlidameliosorry to break it to you but i have the best manager and dad ever♬ The Box - Roddy Ricch
It’s not the title of Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” that you remember, it’s the intro: a squeaky “eee-err” voiced by Roddy himself. TikTokers turned that sound effect into a phenomenon.
The app’s golden child Charli D’Amelio posted at least six videos of slo-mo “The Box” choreography in January 2020, totalling tens of millions of views. While other dance influencers followed suit, more comedy-inclined users turned “The Box” into skits. In February, TikTokers inexplicably focused on the lyric “I’m a 2020 president candidate.”
There’s no doubt that the masses love Roddy. After all, “The Box” spent 11 weeks at No. 1. At the 2021 Grammys, it’s nominated for three prizes, including Song of the Year. But will the Recording Academy’s taste align with those of the people?
Doja Cat: "Say So”
@yodelinghaley#duet with @yodelinghaley 1 year ago today 🥰🥰 omg time flies♬ Say So - Doja Cat
Also nominated for Song of the Year is Doja Cat’s “Say So.” The disco-pop song wasn’t even released as an official single until after TikToker Haley Sharpe (a.k.a. @yodelinghaley) plucked it from Hot Pink’s B-side and hurled it to viral heights. Rightfully acknowledging TikTok’s impact, Doja remixed the song with Nicki Minaj and sent it to radio. She continued to ride the prolonged success of “Say So” throughout the end of 2020, somehow reinventing the track with each performance.
As TikTok continues to determine fan favorites faster than any focus group could, Doja’s rise coincided with the app’s. “Without this serendipitous timing, she might not have hit No. 1,” Cat Zhang wrote in Pitchfork. Without a No. 1, would Doja have caught the attention of the Recording Academy, whose pop categories almost only ever include Top 40 (and, in this year’s case, Black Pumas)? Doubt it.
Megan Thee Stallion: "Savage”
@keke.janajahNEW DANCE ALERT! 🚨 if u use my dance tag me so i can see🤗 @theestallion #writethelyrics #PlayWithLife #foyou #fyp #foryoupage #newdance #savage♬ Savage - Megan Thee Stallion
Two weeks after dropping the EP Suga, Megan Thee Stallion seemed focused on singles “B.I.T.C.H.” and “Captain Hook.” But TikTok had other plans. After user Keara Wilson’s “Savage” dance caught fire, it became clear which Suga track would come out triumphant.
Of course, TikTok heavyweights D'Amelio, Madi Monroe, and Addison Rae all had their fun with the dance challenge, as did celebrities like Keke Palmer, Tinashe, and even Megan herself. It wasn’t long until Beyoncé took notice. After Beyoncé’s remix, the song went to No. 1, and now, it’s up for Record of the Year, Best Rap Performance, and Best Rap Song.
It’s a synergetic pairing. Not only did Meg bag the collab of a lifetime, but Bey got a ride to three more Grammy nominations, making her the most-nominated artist at the Grammys this year with a total of nine.
Harry Styles: “Watermelon Sugar”
@minidoodlebentleyThere are three kinds of dogs: #TheHighNote #tiktokanimals #ratethings♬ Watermelon Sugar - Harry Styles
Harry Styles’s “Watermelon Sugar” (Grammy-nominated for Best Pop Solo Performance) was released as a promotional single back in 2019, and it took a while for it to pick up steam. Fans shared watermelon-themed photo hacks, makeup tutorials, and fruity recipe ideas. And when it was finally released with an official music video, the song blew up with summer-hungry TikTokers. It’s now Harry’s only No. 1 single. With 1.3 million documented videos using the song (hundreds of thousands of views on each), it’s hard to deny TikTok’s role in its rise — a trajectory that netted him three Grammy nods, including for Best Pop Solo Performance.
Justin Bieber: "Yummy”
The organic success of “The Box” and “Say So” is mouth-watering for most, but the formula can’t always be manufactured. When Justin Bieber released “Yummy,” his thirst for TikTok fame was all too transparent. He joined the app just to promote the song, attempting to tap into “a generation grown on highly sophisticated, multilayered internet culture” that “can detect bullshit a mile off,” according to Alexis Petridis, Ben Beaumont-Thomas, and Laura Snapes of The Guardian.
However, some fans played along, and “Yummy” soundtracked over 5 million videos. But its success on the app wasn’t user-spawned — Bieber ended up indulging in a paid Chipotle/TikTok integration, which in turn boosted a hashtag. A somewhat less overt strategy can also be pegged to Bieber’s Best Pop Solo Performance competition “Cardigan.” Around the release of Taylor Swift’s Folklore, fans couldn’t help noticing the influx of Swift merch showing up in their favorite influencers’ videos. Coincidence?
DaBaby: “Rockstar” and Dua Lipa: “Don’t Start Now”
Of course, TikTok isn’t directly responsible for the success of every hit song in the past year, but certain Grammy-nominated tracks have resonated with the app’s users. DaBaby and Roddy Ricch’s “Rockstar” (up for Record of the Year, Best Rap Song, and Best Melodic Rap Performance) has a whopping 7.1 million videos on the app, with The Rock, Kane Brown, and Got7 creating their own amped-up clips to the song.
“Don’t Start Now” (competing in the Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Solo Performance categories), was the first release from Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, and it also had us dancing. Hannah Balanay’s (@thexhan) video for the song — now with 6.6 million likes and 53 million views — not only started a dance trend, but the ever-popular Fortnite promoted the TikTok dance as an “emote,” a kind of victory dance, within the game.
This all points to one thing: The connection between TikTok stardom and the Grammys gold is growing stronger. And when March 14 rolls up, we’ll see if the accolades line up with the ultimate people’s vote — a double tap on a viral vid.