A strange remix shot up the Billboard Hot 100, after creators on TikTok started dancing and posing to it. It was “Roses” by the Guyanese-American rapper SAINt JHN, which a Kazakh teenager named Imanbek had pitched and sped up, adding a bouncy bassline in the process. In June, the electronic musician Jaime Brooks of Default Genders tweeted about it, wondering: “Is this the first nightcore chart hit?”
Named after a Norwegian duo who sped-up trance and eurodance tracks, “nightcore” in the colloquial, watered-down sense refers to cover tracks that accelerate the source material by 10-30%, generating chipmunk-y vocals; on YouTube, the thumbnails are often anime-related images. Perhaps extending from their relative ubiquity on TikTok’s predecessor Musical.ly, nightcore audios have a strong presence on the app; so do their opposites, “daycore” or “anti-nightcore” remixes, in which tracks are slowed down for a heady, sluggish effect. Go another step further, and you have the highly controversial “slowed + reverb,” pejoratively referred to as “gentrified chopped and screwed.” Listening to all these manipulated tracks disrupts your perception of time: When I heard Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Withers’ 1980 song “Just the Two of Us” on the app, I was surprised to realize its speed hadn’t been altered, especially because some “Just the Two of Us” TikToks I’d seen had slowed down the visuals.
The presence of so many different remixing styles reaffirm the desire among teenagers to customize music to their own specific scenarios. One series on YouTube imagines songs from the perspective of someone crying inside a bathroom at a party, aligning with the ethos of TikTok’s “pov” videos, in which creators inhabit an alternative point of view. (For example, the perspective of the girl who finds you crying in the bathroom.) The remixes also affects artists’ own promotional strategies: Last year, after a slowed version of Lykke Li’s “sex money feelings die” boomed on the app, her label RCA released an official slowed version of the 2018 song. The remixes are a little lazy, and often too functional to be interesting, establishing TikTok as a base for cut-and-paste listening.
Ethan Fields’ Music Memes
The musician Ethan Fields first attracted my attention with his flashy series of mashups, in which he answers hypotheticals like “What if Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” Was Made by 100 gecs?” and “What if La Roux’s “Bulletproof” Was Made by Two Door Cinema Club?” But his greatest work is a set of highly sarcastic quarantine-themed jingles, each one catchy and great for office commiserating. “I worked for five minutes, so it’s time to take a break,” he sings chipperly in my favorite one. For those seeking more specialized music content, check out his crazy TikTok about shoegaze.
“If Addison Rae Listened to MF Doom”
It’s easy to knock dancing videos on TikTok, because what the genre usually evokes is shirtless white boys dice-rolling to Pop Smoke, himbos investing their collective brainpower into sexualizing the same five dance moves. In response to these peers, some TikTokers have created their own parody dances, woah-ing and ass-shaking to weird audios. Others have seen dance crazes as an opportunity to promote less conventional music. Following the mission to “normalize playing experimental rap in front of the hoes,” for example, a group of guys at North Carolina State University imagined what it’d look like if Addison Rae danced to MF DOOM, hip-swaying and nose scrunching to Madvillain’s “Raid.” Meanwhile, at their fans’ request, the rowdy friends behind @basementgang have vibed to soca, K-pop, and Bollywood music.
Even if creators’ enjoyment is masked behind an ironic—and sometimes sexist—premise, these videos ultimately confirm that dancing is fun for everyone. As seen with Doja Cat’s “Say So,” a good dance greatly enhances the listening experience: Now choreography is no longer just for major pop and hip-hop songs, but even modest bedroom pop numbers like Francis Forever’s “Space Girl.” (Thanks to a cute dance popular among indie girls and nonbinary people, it hit No. 2 on the Spotify Viral Chart in early December.) I’m personally fond of the self-proclaimed “dance captain of the sad girl club,” a ballet dancer named Claire, who serves up choreography for all your indie faves, like Mitski, Alvvays, and Courtney Barnett. Before the weather got cold, a few friends and I gathered in the park and learned her motions to Snail Mail’s “Pristine,” thinking about how nice it was to be outside, hang out together, and move our bodies.