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Put a finger down if you know this song: how TikTok music challenges memes to build community


Hispanic millennial users on TikTok claim they are not Hispanic if they don’t know eight mythical songs from their country’s history.

Japanese users show their passion for anime by singing each opening or ending song when randomly reading the title of the series on a piece of paper.

One day, users will create ongoing videos with the “Corn Kid” audio meme. Next time users turn Shakira and BRZP’s song love and breakup into a meme that satirizes relationships.

These are all examples of ‘music challenge’ memes on TikTok: re-sharing and remixing reactions to music and sharing personal stories.

In our new researchwe wanted to discover how these challenges have taken over the internet.

Read more: It’s corn! How the online viral ‘Corn Kid’ is on a proven track to fame in the kid influencer industry

A social activity

Music has always been a form of expression for human beings, even if it is considered to be itself a language. It has also been a social activity. Music memes allow this social activity to be global.

We no longer share our musical interests only with our family, friends or colleagues. We now share them with people we barely know from the internet.

And we share not only the songs, but also the way we respond to them. This gamified angle of sharing music memes on TikTok increases our entertainment value – a competitive element that entices users to participate even more.

Our research looked at the global impact of these memes and collected music challenges in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French. We wanted to know how users used visual, audio, textual and narrative elements to tell stories through music.

The users not only share their music knowledge. Instead, they share insights into who they are as people through music.

The challenges that bring us together

These memes can self-reference, such as the meme that asks “how addicted are you to TikTok?”

Using songs that have gone viral on TikTok, the meme asks users to rate how many they recognize. The more you know, the more “hooked” you are on the app. This challenge has become a game to demonstrate our self-proclaimed love for — or addiction to — TikTok.

These songs can also represent a particular fandom, asking users to “put a finger down” for any Disney song they recognize in a playlist, or how many K-pop songs they can name.

Other music challenges focus on testing your level of belonging to a group, such as “how millennial you are” by how many songs you know.

Another type of music challenge focuses on users’ musical aptitudes. Can they follow the rhythm by outlining the time signature of the song? Can they lip sync skillfully without missing any words? Can they sing a song that has just been titled?

These music challenges can also be a unique form of storytelling: dividing your past heartaches by how many love songs you recognize.

Read more: Encanto, TikTok and the art of social storytelling: why music isn’t just for listening anymore

Group of connections

By studying these trends closely, we learned that music challenge memes are a way for us to move away from self-centered social media based on likes and comments.

Rather than simply aiming for the most likes and most comments, users participating in TikTok music challenge meme trends focus on identifying with and fostering a sense of community, connected through their collective interests.

TikTok has a “For You Page” (popularly known as the FYP) as its main tab: an algorithmically curated feed uniquely programmed for each user. This algorithm leads us to subcultures that specifically intersect with our interests, thoughts, tastes and experiences.

Being featured on the FYP is often an accelerated way for users to get noticed by others. As music challenge memes become more and more popular, participating in them is one way to maximize our chances of getting recommended algorithmically. And jumping on viral trends is a way for users to break into other subcultures and genres on TikTok.

Music challenge memes on TikTok foster community connections that flow across musical genres, languages, racial identities, and generations. This transforms the “For You Page” system into a “For Us Network” that drives and inspires people through music.

Read more: How ‘TeachTok’ helps teachers connect with their students on TikTok

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