How TikTok Is Bridging The Generational Divide Through Music

It's an inter-generational exchange happening in real-time...

Generational disconnect and divides are ubiquitous with every decade. They become more prominent as a new generation finds their own culture and voice, then begins to question the choices and views of their predecessors. Boomers vs Gen X, Millennials vs Gen X, and Gen Z quite literally vs everyone. An incredibly vocal generation, Gen Z are those born between 1996 and 2015 and they exist predominantly in the online space. 60% of TikTok’s users are Gen Z. So TikTok is to Gen Z what MySpace was to Millenials. Them being so vocal online means you can see the chasms between them and older generations in real time. But despite the fights from both sides, there is a powerful medium that seems to be bridging this generation divide; music.

Music is a huge part of TikTok, with sounds dictating trends and influencing creativity and videos. The app’s influence on the music industry is a particularly interesting one. In a time of shortening attention spans, “fast food music” and the incessant pressure on artists to stay engaged with fan bases, TikTok’s explosion has largely exacerbated these pre-existing and complex issues. Virality on the video sharing app is increasingly being used as a barometer for a song and an artist’s success. Over the past 2 years, we’ve seen artists engineer their songs to achieve success on the app, or others – notably Adele – reject the idea that you have to make music for Gen Z. But there’s no formula to a song going viral. Record labels would like to think they’ve cracked the code but the algorithm is engineered in a way that allows incredibly niché and random content to blow up. 

The randomness of virality on TikTok has caused songs from the 70s to 90s to have a resurgence and become favourites amongst Gen Z. In this way, TikTok is becoming a gateway to discovery and bridging the gap.


THNX FOR MAKING THIS VIRAL BABES. we had to do it one last time

♬ More Than A Woman – SG's Paradise Edit – Bee Gees & SG Lewis

@pennylancaster Rod can’t get enough #christmas #felizNavidad #festivefashion #christmasdecor #winteroutfit ♬ Da Ya Think I'm Sexy? – Rod Stewart

Three Six Mafia – 'Stay Fly' has nearly 140,000 videos attached to the sound, The Bee Gees – 'More Than A Woman' just shy of 600,000 and Rod Stewart – 'Do Ya Think I’m Sexy' 3.1 million and Mint Condition – 'Breaking My Heart' just under 700,000. Some of the songs have dances with them, whilst others like Breaking My Heart involve a particular trend or challenge, with users lip-synching the lyrics with words that detail an embarrassing or disappointing experience they’ve had.

@erenz_wife happy new year <3 #anime #fypシ #aot #snk #attackontitan #shingekinokyojin #eren #erenjaeger #erenyeager #simpfor2dmfs ♬ Breakin my heart – Jodeci’s groupie

How users find these songs is unclear, but their passion and love for the music is evident in the amount of videos they make to it. Given that the songs are older than them, they’re not aware of the cultural significance they held at the time. That’s where Millennials, Gen X, and boomers come in. The comments section acts almost like a classroom, with Millennials and Boomers breaking down slang or why the song was such a hit for their age group. This is where stitches and duets also come in, features on the app that allow users to almost “live react” to another user’s videos. Millenials will show photos of how they dressed at the time and hairstyles they did.

Gen Z have also taken from older generations; making mashups of songs, sampling or interpolating them. Producer Saint Cardona took Nirvana’s classic 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and placed it on top of a drill beat, creating 'Smells Like Drill Spirit'. The classic rock song from 1991 is transformed with winding 808 production, giving it the classic sound of the genre that’s now just a decade old.

Or how producer Amorphous perfectly combined Brent Faiyaz and 2Pac and created the magic that is 'Trust For Love'. Two songs that were released 20 years apart sound so effortless together that you’d think they were made in the same time. Gen Z may know Tupac, but not necessarily all of his music, so now a song released the year Amorphous was born, has been introduced to a whole new set of younger listeners.

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Sharing music on the app won’t necessarily close the chasm between generations, Gen Z will probably still blame boomers from ruining the economy, and older generations will continue to complain that Gen Z spend too much online and don’t experience the real world. But through music on TikTok, there’s an intergenerational exchange happening in real time, creating a connection and an understanding that previously wouldn’t have happened en masse in this way.

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Words: Akachi Priscilla Mbakwe // Instagram
Photo: Creative Commons

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