Musical.ly: The Next Internet Star Maker

Can you lip-sync accurately for a few seconds? Congrats—you’re on your way to becoming an internet sensation, thanks to Musical.ly.
When YouTube first hit the scene, people were clamoring to post their own songs, or covers of popular songs, in the hopes of making a name for themselves, getting “discovered” and hitting it big. That’s how Usher found Justin Beiber, right? Same with James Bay, Carly Rae Jepsen, The Weeknd, Alessia Cara (way to go Canadians!), Ed Sheeran and so many others.

Vine came along and people started getting famous for short, funny videos. The faster, the funnier, the better. That’s harder than it might seem, and those who do it well are now fronting comedy shows or making millions for their appearances.

Musical.ly is another start-maker in this vein. Download the app, shoot a 15-second video of you lip-syncing with your favorite song, post it. That’s all it takes.

Billboard recently wrote about Jacob Sartorius, one of the burgeoning new crop of pop starlets making a name thanks to Musical.ly.

“The 13-year-old is a pop star in the making: His debut ode to PG courtship, ‘Sweatshirt,’ hit No. 90 on the Billboard Hot 100, and ‘All My Friends’ wound up debuting at No. 25 on the Pop Digital Songs chart. And he owes it all to something many adults have still never heard of: Musical.ly, a video-based social media platform that tens of millions of kids worldwide use, mainly to broadcast 15-second clips of themselves lip-syncing to hit songs.”

He’s not the only one: The same article looks at Musical.ly stars Baby Ariel (15), Deven Perkins (13), Dani Perkins (16) and Alex Hofmann, all making waves with the latest trend in using social media and the internet to launch to fame.

Launched in 2015 and recently valued at $500 million with more than 130 million users around the globe, Musical.ly is “a bona fide cultural phenomenon, even inspiring pearl-clutching among ‘olds,’ from parents fretting over sexualized youth and online predators to traditionalists questioning the artistic validity of lip-syncing,” Chris Martins writes for Billboard.

Or, as Selina Wang says over at Bloomberg, Musical.ly is the app that wants to be the next Facebook. The site has more than 100 million users sharing, creating and swapping the short videos. “Founded in Shanghai just two years ago, the app has exploded among U.S. tweens, attracted mainstream entertainers like Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande and even spawned a roster of Musical.ly stars who pull in millions of followers.” In the same timeframe, Musical.ly has brought in more than $100 million and signed supporters including DMC Ventures, GGV Capital and Greylock Partners, with some saying Musical.ly is a “potential threat to Facebook’s user base.”

It is estimated that 40 million people use the app every month, with 50% using it 15 of 30 days, but Google Play and Apple iOS data suggesting the real-time use is more like three days in 30.

The app’s co-founder, Alex Zhu, openly admits that he wants his creation to be more like Facebook or China’s WeChat. “People use WeChat to talk to companies and friends, livestream, pay rent, invest and book taxi cabs or hair cuts,” Bloomberg says. “Having spent time in both Silicon Valley and China, Zhu believes he’s in the perfect position to watch innovations coming from both parts of the world and cherry-pick the best ones. In social media, he says, ‘you either can become a huge general platform like Instagram or Snapchat, or die. There’s nowhere in between. I believe Musical.ly can become a general social network.’”

Read more here and here, and learn more about the platform’s first breakout star, Baby Ariel—who has more than 13 million followers and just signed a deal to perform on a 28-city tour—here.

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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