For many artists nowadays getting a TikTok hit is the ultimate goal. Well, Kid Cudi isn't one of them.
TikTok success is a strange vortex that few artists manage to hack, so you'd think Cudi would be flattered when his 2008 song “Day ’N’ Nite” inspired a new viral meme. Instead the Man on the Moon III: The Chosen rapper took to Twitter on Friday, writing: “I dont fuck w what they did to my song on tik tok takin out the lyrics. We live in a strange time. I’m not flattered.”
The “Day ’N’ Nite” meme strips Cudi’s song of lyrics except for the phrase, “Now look at this,” after which the video cuts to a clip of something strange or random.
When a Twitter user criticized the rapper’s objection, insisting “it’s not that deep,” Cudi disagreed. “I dont think im makin it ‘deep’ by tweetin how I feel,” he responded. “Now if I was ranting thats another thing. Nothing wrong w me stating I don’t approve, plus if u are such a fan, u know my lyrics are most important to me. Im passionate about my shit so idc who has a problem w that.”
While TikTok has boosted many musicians and turned them into viral sensations, the process often isn't collaborative. In the case of the artists who have seen their songs take off in ways they never expected, TikTok doesn't actually need consent or even need to pay to use their catalogs. For independent artists, the lack of a formalized and consistent structure has made it clear that virality can run in two directions. It's a question of exposure versus monetization and credit issues.
Take Fousheé for example, the singer's voice was recognized across TikTok before listeners even knew her name when rapper Sleepy Hallow used an instrumental sampling her voice on its makeshift hook. Dwayne Wade and thousands of others made viral videos to her music, yet the song went credited only to Sleepy Hallow. For several months, Fousheé had to fight to get her credit until she could rerelease the song under her own name.
“Songwriters, music publishers, and owners of recorded music are having their music basically stolen with no incentive for the TikToks of the world to do anything about it,” music attorney Richard Busch told TIME Magazine. “You are destroying the value of that music.”
This dynamic of the world’s most valuable startup profiting off rising musicians who are just grateful for the exposure isn't sustainable. But since it isn’t a streaming service it will take a while for the music industry to catch up to the cultural behemoth that is TikTok. Faced with this imbalance of power, TikTok claims it is "[working] closely with rights holders to build and protect a library of sound on the platform." And there are active licensing talks between TikTok and the National Music Publishers Association, an organization that fights for copyright protection and compensation for songwriters.
As long as TikTok sticks around there will be a fan base of users finding creative ways to rediscover or push new music. And even if artists aren't actively behind these challenges and memes, that's okay, as long as they get their flowers.