TikTok Musicians

How Artists Are Going Viral Overnight

Singer Recording Music Video

When you think of famous musicians who become popular thanks to TikTok, you immediately think of artists like Lil Nas X, Doja Cat and Jack Harlow. In this article, we’re exploring a few of the other, slightly smaller musicians who made it on TikTok, and owe their popularity to the platform. These are the artists who became viral overnight sensations.

Marketing Without Money

Unlike YouTube where creators spend hours or even days putting together scripts for their content, on TikTok, everyday creators produce engaging content within a matter of minutes. This content can also include an original piece of music, or popular tracks that are currently trending. Anyone can create engaging content without much of a budget on TikTok. No longer do musicians need to have expensive marketing plans and record label contracts to find success. Below we’ll look at a few of the artists who made it all by themselves, using TikTok.

Beach Bunny

The band Beach Bunny started off as a solo project by front woman Lili Trifilio, in Chicago. in 2015. Trifilio worked on their music for years before becoming an overnight hit in 2019 thanks to the viral nature of TikTok.

Beach Bunny - Prom Queen (Official Music Video)

But how did this 26 year old guitar, lyricist, and songwriter make it happen? 

Their EP song “Prom Queen” became popular after being released for a little over a year. Trifilio unaware at the time, found out from a close friend that the song was going viral on TikTok, due to the song’s commentary greatly resonating with TikTok users. The lyrics revolved around the pressures young women have today by having to adhere to impossible beauty standards. The song was heavily duetted and lip synced by content creators, further increasing its reach. The popularity of the track quickly turned into millions of new Spotify streams as well, all while the band worked on their debut album, Honeymoon, which was released in February 2020.

Jack Stauber

TikTok perhaps wouldn’t be the same place without Jack Stauber’s two hits that we all know and love. Before his viral hits, Stauber was primarily known by his quirky YouTube videos, edited in the style of 80s and 90s VHS videos. Despite all of the work he had put into his initial first two albums, he still hadn't made his way into the spotlight. It wasn’t until the release of his third, experimental pop, lo-fi album, “Pop Flood", that he actually went viral. The album's first two tracks “Buttercup and “Oh Klahoma”, both become staples of TikTok culture, being used widely on the platform for all kinds of skits, memes and TikTok challenges.

As of February 2023, the song boasts 375 million Spotify streams. Despite no official music video being made, the upbeat dramatic pop-song with Panda Bear-esque vocals, has still captured the imaginations of internet users. YouTuber Lisuga used it to make a popular fan-made video with clips from a Japanese anime short film, Kick-Heart, and garnered over 230 million views...

Jack Stauber's Buttercup - Video by Lisuga

Many popular creators have used the sound as part of their content. If you've spent much time on TikTok, you've likely come across a video with this song as its background.

With one hit song under their belt, the next one, “Oh Klahoma” become famous for being used as the background sound to the #ghostphotoshoot challenge. The challenge had TikTokers dress in white sheets and take photoshoots as ghosts during Halloween, usually paired with sunglasses and other accessories. The challenge also had participants carving pumpkin heads and wearing them while playing the same song, revitalizing it’s popularity even after the Halloween season had past.

Oh Klahoma by Jack Stauber

Stauber’s success online opened many new doors, most notably the collaboration with Adult Swim on two large, animated projects: "Opal" and “Shop: A Pop Opera”. This is what Stauber was most excited to be part of, having been animating for years on YouTube which is how he originally amassed his loyal following. The most notable aspect of Jack’s songs was the fact that the internet challenges and memes were also produced and practiced outside of TikTok, especially on Twitter.

Stauber's popularity is also an important lesson in how going viral doesn't always work out for the best. Oh Klahoma may have propelled his popularity on the internet, but it also garnered criticism and backlash, as some people commented that the sheets worn in the Oh Klahoma videos resemble those worn by members of the KKK.


Powfu - death bed (coffee for your head) (Official Video) ft. beabadoobee

Many would consider Powfu's success brilliant timing and luck. The song “Death Bed” absolutely blew up and become a viral hit instantly, with 4.1 billion plays on TikTok in the month of March 2020 alone. Before he knew it, Powfu had the paperwork signed for a major record deal. As of writing this article, the song has so far amassed 1.39 billion Spotify streams. But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. It took Powfu a couple of years of hard work building a devoted following on SoundCloud before he uploaded his hit song to TikTok, that made him the artist he is known for today.

Honorable Mentions

Sub Urban

Another on our list is Sub Urban and their creepy track “Cradles”. Blowing up almost overnight, the song became a top viral dance track. Thanks to the style of dance that was used, reminiscent of the Fortnight’s emote style jigs, it quickly grabbed the attention of TikTok's younger users. Although their sound doesn’t fit with all TikTok users, Sub Urban was still able to amass a loyal following of alt-fans who dig the dark tone of their songs.

Avenue Beat

Their creative song “F2020” went viral for giving the year of 2020 a big fat middle finger. Their song encapsulated the world’s feeling about the COVID lockdown, having no money, and hoping 2021 will be a better year.

Curtis Waters

It started off as just a song with a green screen in his garage. And yet Curtis Waters has become a hit on TikTok with the song “Stunnin”. TIt blew up on TikTok for the “What I’d Wear if…” challenge, where TikTokers would share their quarantine outfits. 

Fun fact: Curtis Waters is the first Nepal-born musician to attain international success.

Ricky Montgomery

Montgomery founded The Honeysticks primarily to experiment musically. With a solo album already under his belt in 2016, and very little profit to show for it, in 2018 he took a year off from making music to try to generate more income. By 2020, he was ready to throw in the towel when to his surprise, during the COVID-19 pandemic, his two singles “Mr Loverman” and “Line Without a Hook” went viral on TikTok. This explosion in popularity had him being hounded by essentially every major label that year. He finally cut a deal with Warner Records. The songs reflect the traumas he's experienced in his own life, and he believes their popularity are largely due to listeners being able to relate to them, being released during such a traumatizing year.

How to Go Viral on TikTok

If you're a musician considering using TikTok as a platform to try to garner success. It's important to remember that songs don’t become trendy with ease. It takes collaboration, planning, strategy, and a lot of effort to get there. Try to reach out to some successful influencers, ask to collaborate with them, and pitch your ideas to possibly create a new trend of your own. Even well known names like Drake, have to form some kind of marketing plan to get their songs popular on TikTok. Drake did just that with his song “Do You Love Me”, creating the Keke Challenge, where TikTokers would dance along to a moving car, while filming a passenger from the side door. The trend was immensely popular, but it did unfortunately receive a huge backlash from the police, warning participants about multiple people being injured from attempting the viral dance.

Going viral requires graft, perseverance, and a little luck doesn't hurt as well. But the most important aspect to all of these viral songs, the one thing they all have in common, is that the artists never gave up on their dream. And neither should you.

Leave a Reply!

Sharon Welke

somehow i know all of these songs but none of the names

Sharon Welke

wasnt bieber on tiktok or was that you tube? and what about jax??

Band Pioneer

Yep Bieber got noticed on YouTube. Jax has done well on TikTok, but I believe started on American Idol.

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