Tusinski: TikTok is reshaping music, but we should hold onto our roots

I promise this isn’t me shoving my head up my own ass and giving yet another lukewarm take about how “PoP mUsIc iS rUiNiNg MuSiC.”

TikTok+is+one+of+the+most+popular+social+media+apps+right+now%2C+featuring+videos+of+various+topics%2C+April+26%2C+2020.

Collegian | Addie Kuettner

TikTok is one of the most popular social media apps right now, featuring videos of various topics, April 26, 2020. TikTok is a platform that everyone has the opportunity to get famous on thanks to the “For You” page and TikTok’s high user engagement rate.

Dylan Tusinski, Collegian Columnist

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

The music industry is currently undergoing a creative death.

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That’s not just me having a holier-than-thou, Anthony Fantano-esque opinion. It’s a noticeable trend that musicians, songwriters and producers alike are prioritizing virality over genuine artistic expression.

There are a myriad of reasons as to why this is happening, but you can best sum it all up by pinning the blame on the digital age we’re living in. Digital streaming, TikTok audios and increasingly short attention spans have led people at every level of musical creation to create catchy hooks instead of well-rounded, fleshed-out songs.

Most pop music that comes out nowadays is catchy and fun to listen to, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Plus, Latin artists and Black artists are making increasingly large impacts in pop music, giving much-needed recognition and appreciation to genres of music that haven’t historically received much of it.

What is a bad thing, though, is that songwriters — regardless of genre — are focusing on writing 15-second snippets that will stick in your head and go viral on TikTok instead of writing actual songs.

Take Doja Cat’s song, “Get Into It (Yuh),” as an example. I like the song; it’s fun, upbeat and catchy. But, the chorus is repeated three times throughout the two-minute song, and the phrase “Get into it, yuh” is repeated 24 times total. Regardless of what you think about Doja Cat as an artist or how you feel about the song itself, that’s just objectively lazy songwriting.

Even though the quality of music is headed in a generally downward trend, there is one band that’s experiencing a massive resurgence and is taking music along with it: the Grateful Dead.

“While their music itself may not be for everyone, the ideals the band … embodies are.”

If you know me personally, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now. I’m a pretty notorious Deadhead, but hear me out.

The Grateful Dead is, in essence, the embodiment of what we need more of in today’s music industry. In an era of manufactured catchiness, The Dead’s spirit of improvisation, musical exploration and overall authenticity is the perfect antidote.

The Dead have always been centered around the idea of musical authenticity. Rather than recording and releasing records, The Dead preferred performing live. They toured near-constantly for 30 years straight, never playing the same show twice. They would vary their set lists each night, making sure to give their audience a unique experience with each concert. On top of it all, within each song, The Dead would add space for long, improvisational jams that made each version of each song unique in and of itself.

This inherent authenticity gave The Dead one of the most dedicated — if not the most dedicated — followings in music. Ask any Deadhead out there, and they will echo their love for the authenticity of the band. Whether it be those long jam sessions, the intricately poetic lyrics or the drug-induced vibes at concerts, The Dead have an allure about them that doesn’t rely on cheap songwriting or catchy hooks.

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It’s a truth that is seemingly rebounding into the mainstream. Dead & Company, the latest iteration of the Grateful Dead, experienced a massively successful tour in 2021. The band’s 2021 tour was the fifth-most profitable of the year, selling 588,658 tickets over 31 shows.

Now, the Grateful Dead isn’t for everybody. In fact, I’d bet that most people would find it hard to sit through a 23-minute long version of “Dark Star” — even though you should totally give it a shot. But while their music itself may not be for everyone, the ideals the band — and that 23-minute song — embodies are for everyone.

When we listen to music, we’re searching for joy. In fact, music releases the same chemicals in our brains that sex and food do. Just like with good sex and good food, good music has to be authentic, personal and truly orgasmic. All of those qualities are, of course, central to the music of the Grateful Dead.

What I’m trying to say here is that whether you like the Grateful Dead as a band or you think they’re an overrated bunch of tripped-out hippies, the values their music helps carry are values that need to be breathed back into music. With TikTok changing the way we write and consume music, now would be the perfect time to go back to our roots and enjoy some Deadhead vibes.

Reach Dylan Tusinski at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @unwashedtiedye.