Global music chart dominator, TikTok, has become a frontline base for K-pop fandom. On February 26, 2023, a TikTok user in Indonesia uploaded a sped-up version of the K-pop girl group Fifty Fifty’s song “Cupid,” which had been released two days earlier. In early March, a challenge for this song began on TikTok, and on March 11, it reached the 8th spot on Billboard’s World Digital Sales Chart. Later that month, it finally entered the prestigious Billboard Hot 100, securing the 100th position.
Fifty Fifty’s achievement of entering the main Billboard chart within just a month is the shortest record in K-pop history. Starting from the Southeast Asian market, known for its strong K-pop fandom, their popularity expanded to the pop music markets of the UK and the US.
Baek Jeong-hyeon, the head of Asian music development at TikTok, stated, “Starting from Indonesia, ‘Cupid’ made its way to the Philippines and then to English-speaking countries like Australia, the UK, and the US.” Through TikTok, which is considered a playground for Millennials and Gen Z, “Cupid” became the first case of a K-pop song shaking major English-speaking charts for an extended period.
TikTok has been a dominant force on the global music charts for several years. Notably, in 2021, TikTok played a significant role in the rise of American “monster rookie” Olivia Rodrigo. According to TikTok, 175 trending songs on the platform entered the Billboard Hot 100 in 2021. In 2022, out of the 14 songs that reached number one on the Hot 100 chart, 13 were viral songs from TikTok and other short-form platforms.
Baek, the head of TikTok, mentioned that in the United States, 50% of the population uses TikTok, indicating that it has become a mainstream platform rather than just an app for young people. In Southeast Asia and Latin America, TikTok has even started to replace various existing platforms.
TikTok’s global usage increase has also made a significant impact on the K-pop industry. In the domestic music market, TikTok challenges have become an essential part of K-pop artists’ comeback strategies. An example of this is Fifty Fifty, whose music, despite being from a relatively unknown group with limited agency support, went viral on TikTok not only in Korea but also across Asia, North and South America, and the UK. Despite being unable to fully promote their music due to a contract dispute that occurred just seven months after their debut, their chart performance continues to be ongoing.
TikTok’s rise as a dominant force in the music market can be attributed to changes in how people consume music. According to a survey conducted by MRC Data, 75% of TikTok users stated that they discovered new artists through the platform, and 63% said they encountered music they had never heard before. Furthermore, 67% of respondents reported searching for music they discovered on TikTok on streaming services.
When the music used in TikTok videos enters mainstream charts like Billboard or the UK Official Chart, it solidifies its position as “listening music.” Baek explained that people who discover music through TikTok go on to consume music on platforms like Spotify. They then return to TikTok to participate in the “visualized” content, creating a cyclical structure. Through this process, long-term dominance on the charts is achieved. In the case of Fifty Fifty, their “Cupid” related videos have surpassed 5 billion views, and challenge-related videos have exceeded 386 million views, significantly influencing their prolonged presence on the main charts.
Asia serves as a crucial “frontline base” for the global popularity of K-pop, as it plays a vital role in the expansion of K-pop to countries like the UK and the US. Unlike separate movements in each country, Asia collectively acts as a significant driving force. The Asian market is considered a “premium edition” for K-pop, and its influence extends beyond just Korea, reaching various regions across the globe.