Blasts from the past are #trending, but what does this mean for the music industry?

Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s hit ‘Murder on the dancefloor’ is being sung all over the world again, more than two decades after its release. In fact, it might not be the only classic hit that’s back on your radar.

New technology, especially the wildly popular social media platform, TikTok, is quickly blurring lines between music, film and audiences. The return of Ellis-Bextor’s earworm is just the latest example.

It started with the 2023 film Saltburn.

While the film’s popularity rose due to its huge cast, 2000s feel and arthouse cinematography (that’s all we will say on that), Saltburn‘s final scene, featuring Ellis-Bextor’s 2001 classic, quickly found its way into the TikTok sphere. It’s there that the interest exploded.

Four billion views later, the 2001 banger has been propelled back into the United Kingdom’s top 10 and, just recently, the British artist made her US Billboard Hot 100 debut.

But aside from giving us the perfect opportunity to dance in our birthday suit, à la Barry Keoghan, in our titular castle (kitchen)— TikTok and its Gen Z-dominant communities are quickly redefining new algorithms of popular music.

As seen with Doja Cat — who quickly rose to fame due to her song ‘Say so’ gaining unprecedented traction on TikTok — artists are now able to break into the charts through trends that work in harmony with their fans.

@mirandaalol

can we pls bring this dance back 😩🙌🏽 dc : @yodelinghaley ✨ #LinkBudsNeverOff #OREOBdayStack #foryou

♬ Say So – Doja Cat

Dr Pat O’Grady, Lecturer in Music Technology at The Australian National University (ANU) College of Arts and Social Sciences, says that while the music landscape is changing, that doesn’t mean there’s cause for alarm.

“I think it speaks to popular music’s long relationship with technology,” O’Grady explains.  

“TikTok might just be challenging our relationship with music, in the same way that streaming challenged the idea of the album and took us back to focusing on singles. If you think about the history of music, recorded music has occupied a very small space of that.”

Even though the 30-second world of TikTok sometimes feels fleeting, O’Grady says underneath viral videos lives a deeper narrative, which is often anchored to its aesthetics and nostalgia.

“These (TikTok) videos often become a gateway to the full version of the song that then plays out on digital platforms, such as Spotify,” O’Grady says.

“We’ve seen instances where Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ and ‘Running up that hill’ have now performed well on the streaming charts because of those initial, viral videos.

“But these TikToks are often part of something much more than just music. For example, skateboarding is central to the TikTok revival of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’.

“Similarly, a broader interest in the 1980s, and the popularity of [Netflix series] Stranger Things is in part responsible for the viral nature of, and renewed interest in, ‘Running up that hill’.”

That’s not to say Gen Z are the only generation holding onto soundtracks from the past. O’Grady says music has a long history of recreation and resurrection.

“Even prior to TikTok, we can see an interest in previous decades, as shown by an interest in 70s pop in the late 90s.

“Even in the 1960s, which we often think about as a really experimental and innovative time for music, there was a lot of interest in music from the past, such as the Baroque period, which influenced artists such as Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and The Left Banke.

“Whether it be in the music that’s made at a particular time or the dances and culture that go with that music, technologies such as TikTok are just instruments for that exploration,” O’Grady says.

While Saltburn might not be the time and place for Gen Z to reconnect with their parents (no spoilers) — O’Grady says TikTok does serve as a meaningful bridge between older and younger audiences, giving new life to music that everyone can hit play on.

“TikTok is a nice way for younger people to connect with music from the past and introduce older music to new audiences,” O’Grady says. 

“Just because we are having these fragmented encounters with music doesn’t mean they can’t be really meaningful and connected to the broader cultural interest of that time — I don’t think you can disconnect that.”

As for what O’Grady hopes the next #trending song will be, O’Grady says Gen Z shouldn’t stop at ‘Dreams’.

“There are lots of other Fleetwood Mac songs that are terrific, so it would be great to see those explored more.

“But I think as long as TikTok can be continued to be used as an instrument by which people can explore music from the past — that’s a great thing.”

Top image: Sophie Ellis-Bextor performs. Photo: Sam Pollitt/Alamy Stock Photo

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