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If you think a musician’s primary job is to release music, then c’mon, Grandma, let’s get you to bed. Actually, according to Halsey, labels are making TikTok an artist’s main focus. In a now-viral TikTok video shared May 22, the singer claimed that Capitol Music refuses to release their new music unless the unreleased song reaches an unspecified measure of virality. “Basically i have a song that i love that i wanna release ASAP but my record label won’t let me,” the video’s captions say over the sound of what seems to be the unreleased track. “I’ve been in this industry for eight years, and ive sold over 165 million records and my record company is saying that I can’t release it unless they can fake a viral moment on tiktok.”
In a follow-up video posted an hour later, Halsey shares a conversation with an unspecified person discussing the new song’s TikTok strategy. Halsey appeared to anticipate the idea that this was a marketing stunt, captioning the video “I wish I was kidding lol.” Responding to fans in the comment section, they clarified that the label wants them to reach a certain benchmark of likes or comments over multiple videos before it is released. “Our belief in Halsey as a singular and important artist is total and unwavering,” a Capitol Music Group spokesperson said in a statement to Vulture. “We can’t wait for the world to hear their brilliant new music.” Halsey debuted the unreleased track on TikTok on May 17. “The tiktok is already viral + I still don’t have a release date,” they tweeted May 23. They added that the music video is already done.
“Everything is marketing,” Halsey says in the first video, appearing to criticize their label. “And they are doing this to basically every artist these days. I just wanna release music, man. And I deserve better tbh. i’m tired.”
Manufactured virality on the app can yield successful results. Case in point: a Doja Cat x Dolly Parton x Mexican Pizza x Taco Bell jingle. But even while peddling “her pizza with refried beans,” Doja Cat expressed frustrations with how she’s being asked to use TikTok. “Just know,” she whispers one video ahead of her jingle. “It’s contractual.” FKA Twigs, Charli XCX, and Florence + the Machine are among those criticizing their labels as a relatable way to sell their music to TikTok audiences.
“When the label asks me to make my 8th tiktok of the week,” Charli XCX, who also doesn’t shy away from the app, captioned a viral TikTok last October. Even best-selling balladeer Adele wasn’t immune to label pressure. In an interview with Zane Lowe in November, she claimed her label asked her to make videos for app, to which she responded: “Tika Toka, who?” In March, Florence Welch, the front person of Florence + the Machine, wrote in a caption of a video, “The label are begging me for ‘low fi tik toks’ so here you go. pls send help.” “It’s true,” the “cellophane” singer posted on May 18 in a now-deleted TikTok. “All record labels ask for are TikToks and I got told off today for not making enough effort.” (Vulture has reached out to their reps for comment.) Most of these artists have been posting with varying levels of activity, but Adele has managed to avoid making a public account.
While Halsey insisted their latest TikToks weren’t just publicity stunts, defending themselves against skeptics on Twitter, it has become a meme for musicians to caption their videos with something along the lines of “my label made me do it” or “should I release this lol,” with their fans expressing sympathy or excitement in the comments and making the videos go viral along the way. They got the views, got the clicks, got the engagement.