Johnny Orlando poses in this undated handout photo. Orlando, who’s nominated for pop album of the year at the Juno Awards, recently passed 10 million followers on TikTok. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Universal Music Canada, Norman Wong

Johnny Orlando poses in this undated handout photo. Orlando, who’s nominated for pop album of the year at the Juno Awards, recently passed 10 million followers on TikTok. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Universal Music Canada, Norman Wong

Young Juno nominees on why they’re moving to the algorithm of TikTok

Artists say platform offers unparalleled exposure

Passing 10 million TikTok followers was a monumental accomplishment for Johnny Orlando, so he celebrated by plowing his face into a frosted cake.

In a goofy clip made for his account, the 18-year-old pop singer from Mississauga, Ont., drew from many ingredients of a successful TikTok moment. The soundtrack layered two of his catchiest songs and the video peaked with a grand finale that was instantly rewatchable: Orlando’s face emerged from the sugary dessert with remnants of “million” stuck to his forehead in red icing.

“It’s a bit of a tradition,” Orlando said of his faceplant, which has racked up 1.6 million views and counting on TikTok.

“I did that for one million followers like four years ago.”

Orlando’s TikTok wizardry is the stuff of legend at his record label Universal Music Canada. Long before Shania Twain, Nickelback and the Tragically Hip planted their flag on the platform, he was making waves with cute pet videos, the occasional thirst trap and lots of singing.

But as the Juno Awards roll around this weekend, TikTok’s outsized influence on Canadian musicians is on full display.

No less than three Juno contenders for breakthrough artist rose from TikTok’s algorithms to global popularity over the past year.

Calgary native Tate McRae’s “You Broke Me First” became a Generation Z anthem when TikTok users embraced it for their tearful breakup videos. So far, it’s turned up in more than 900,000 TikTok clips and peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Vancouver-born musician Powfu’s sombre “Death Bed (Coffee for Your Head)” became an even bigger TikTok success as the theme of a trend where teens attempted to lay a kiss on their secret crush. It’s been used in more than five million videos and hit No. 23 on Billboard’s main chart.

And Napali-Canadian artist Curtis Waters, who spent part of his youth in Alberta and British Columbia, saw TikTok fashionistas adopt the hook of “Stunnin’” for their bedroom runways. It’s appeared in more than one million TikTok videos.

Orlando — a Junos breakthrough artist nominee in 2019 — heads to the awards on Sunday with a pop album of the year nomination for “It’s Never Really Over.” And he understands that his next single’s success could be determined by however it strikes audiences on TikTok.

“It’s a really good idea to have a TikTok strategy,” he said.

“If a song does well on (there), it does well everywhere else. And that’s the reality these days.”

Not everyone in Canada’s music industry is so savvy with the platform. Even some musicians who found success there were downright unwilling to use it for the longest time.

Before the release of “Stunnin,’” Curtis Waters shunned TikTok as a gimmick for preteens, but when he saw how Lil Nas X used TikTok dance crazes to launch “Old Town Road” into the cultural zeitgeist, his opinion started to evolve.

“I’d ask my female friends, ‘Hey can you make a TikTok with my song?’” remembered the 21-year-old musician, born Abhinav Bastakoti.

TikTok’s popularity spiked around the start of the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, which gave Bastakoti a few ideas. He said he began scouring the internet for dance tutorials in hopes of building “Stunnin’” around some irresistibly viral choreography. The problem was, he couldn’t dance to save himself.

He did have one trick up his sleeve: an alter ego named Dancer Dan who he often brought out at drunken college parties. The character moves to his own sleepy stoner beat, complete with a few simple arm waves and handclaps.

In one of his earliest TikTok videos, he vibed to “Stunnin’” with Dancer Dan’s moves in full effect. Viewers swarmed the clip demanding he unleash the full song.

By summertime, “Stunnin’” was spreading all over TikTok and gaining prime real estate on popular streaming playlists. Bastakoti describes his success as mostly an effect of the pandemic.

“It was just good timing for me ‘cause everybody was already home on TikTok,” he said.

“I just happened to be caught in the middle of that.”

Isaiah Faber, who records under the name Powfu, said he was completely surprised when the popularity of “Death Bed” made him one of TikTok’s biggest success stories. He said he’d been uploading music to various platforms for two years steady before this song took off. He now ranks among Spotify’s Top 500 most played artists in the world.

“It was a giant leap forward,” he said of his TikTok popularity.

“I felt a lot more comfortable knowing that my songs after that (one) are going to do a lot better as well.”

Having one TikTok hit makes it hard not to want another, he acknowledged, and sometimes his creativity has been influenced by the platform.

In the wake of “Death Bed,” Powfu issued “Mindurmanners,” a song he wrote with TikTok in mind. The lyrics include the line “We be sipping Kool-Aid jammers,” which he imagined might inspire some TikTok users to mimic the action with a dance.

“It didn’t really catch on,” he said with a chuckle.

And yet he still feels pressure to keep feeding TikTok with new videos, which he admitted isn’t always so easy.

“I don’t really know how to come up with ideas because I’m not really a performer or actor,” he said.

“I write music, you know, so it is weird trying to make TikToks all the time.”

Eric Reprid, a Vancouver indie rapper, said the power of the platform still overshadows whatever creative challenges it might present. He jumped on TikTok last year after friends suggested it would draw unparalleled attention to his music.

By September, he launched his single “Cold World” with a TikTok campaign that encouraged people to help him reach one million streams on Spotify.

The song crushed that goal, racking up 24 million plays and counting. “Cold World” is now among the contenders for rap recording of the year at the Junos.

“No label could do what TikTok has helped us achieve,” he said. “The exposure it gets us is unmatched.”

While countless Canadian musicians are worshipping at the altar of TikTok this year, many acknowledge they’re beholden to the mysterious inner workings of the platform, which inexplicably elevate some clips and not others.

The views on Orlando’s cake video, for instance, are dwarfed by the 14 million views he got on one posted a week earlier where he lip-synchs to a British rapper.

But numbers are only part of the puzzle, he suggested, as a successful TikTok strategy blends interaction, authenticity and “gauges the state of the union” with fans.

Beyond his verified account, he recently opened up a second TikTok that houses what he described as less “polished” clips. He’s attracted fewer than 200,000 followers so far, but he only opened it in January to offer a more personal side of his public face.

“It’s good to have both to give a more accurate picture,” he added.

The 50th annual Juno Awards will air Sunday on CBC-TV and its digital platforms.

—David Friend, The Canadian Press

RELATED: VIDEO: ‘Nomadland’ wins best picture at a social distanced Oscars

Music

Just Posted

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Holger Schwichtenberg and his son Philip talk in the barn of the 150-acre Schwichtenberg farm. This farm is one of many throughout B.C. that support more than 12,500 jobs across the province in the dairy industry. (Contributed Photo/B.C. Dairy Association)
Agassiz dairy farm a model of care for environment, animals, and family

Farm is part of a dairy sector centred in the Fraser Valley, supporting 12,500 jobs province-wide

Kalyn Head, seen here on June 4, 2021, will be running 100 kilometres for her “birthday marathon” fundraiser on July 23. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Woman’s 100-km birthday marathon from Chilliwack to Abbotsford will benefit Special Olympics B.C.

Kalyn Head hopes run raises awareness, advocates for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

The Great Gordini puts on a magic show for an avid audience during the first Storytime in the Park in this 2019 photo. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)
Storytime in the Park returns this summer

Day 1 registration is on June 30

Dancers from the Sts’ailes First Nation perform the eagle dance at a welcome banner dedication ceremony on Thursday, June 10. “Ey Swayel” is a Halq̓eméylem term translated as ‘a good day.’ (Adam Louis/Observer)
VIDEO: ‘A good day’ for Agassiz school as Sts’ailes welcome banner is dedicated

Banner hangs above the school’s entrance, welcoming students, staff and visitors

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Surrey Fire Service battled a dock fire along the Fraser River late Friday night (June 18). It was on Musqueam Drive, near Industrial Road, around 10:45 p.m. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
VIDEO: Fire engulfs pier on Surrey side of the Fraser River

Dock has reportedly been unused for a long time

Most Read