[This was my weekly column for GlobalNews.ca. – AC]
When I first heard of TikTok a couple of years ago, I didn’t really pay too much attention. It sounded like another silly social media app with grandiose dreams of occupying space next to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter.
Something that existed on quick servings of video featuring goofy dance moves, memes, and lip-syncing to songs hardly seemed like something that had any legs. It looked like just another social media app experiment that would end up on the heap with Vine, Meerkat, Periscope, and so many others.
But things iterated quickly and now TikTok has an estimated 820 million regular users, surviving an extinction threat by Donald Trump. What’s more, is that the platform — the first global social media juggernaut to emerge from China — is now having a very significant impact on the direction of recorded music.
In the beginning, TikTok was called Douyin, a video-sharing social network created in 2016 by ByteDance, which is based in Beijing, with all its legal and financial matters funnelled through the Cayman Islands. Originally called A.me, Douyin began expanding overseas, adopting the international name, TikTok. But it needed to bulk up, which is why the company started looking at a Shanghai startup that had grown incredibly quickly in just three years.
Musical.ly was co-founded by Alex Zhu, a hard-to-pin-down software entrepreneur, who had an incredible understanding of teenagers. After failing with an education app that he hoped would allow people to teach each other things with short videos, he noticed a group of teenagers giggling over what they were doing with their phones. Half the time, he observed, they were listening to music. The other half, they were taking videos and posting selfies. What if those two activities could be combined in a super-shareable way? And so Musical.ly was born just 30 days later, launching in July 2014.