TikTok has the power to change song titles.
The shortform video app thrives on 15-second audio clips from songs, films, and TV shows. Its more than one billion active users lip-sync to them, often turning them into challenges and memes–and if a song-turned-meme catches on with TikTokkers, its popularity can explode.
When that happens, the song needs to be as searchable as possible, even if that means changing its title to something TikTok users will more easily recognize, according to music industry experts who recently spoke to Rolling Stone.
Toby Andrews, general manager of record label Astralwerks, gave a specific example: “ily,” a remix of Franki Valli’s 1967 hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” became one of Spotify’s most streamed songs just four weeks after artist Surf Mesa independently released it. Why? Because the track went viral on TikTok. According to the platform, it’s been used in nearly 200,000 videos globally, including this one from singer/songwriter Jason Derulo:
@jasonderuloThank you for 13 Million 🥳 ##quickrecipes ##happyathome♬ ily (i love you baby) – Surf Mesa
That virality led Astralwerks to sign Surf Mesa–and to take a closer look at how the song was performing outside of TikTok.
“We found that because the song was titled, ‘ily,’ the search terms ‘Surf Mesa I Love You’ weren’t finding the song,” Andrews told Rolling Stone. Crucially, the 15-second clip of “ily” that was popular on TikTok involved the song’s oft-repeated lyric “I love you, baby.”
So Astralwerks changed the title to “ily (i love you baby),” in an attempt to capture search queries from TikTok users who want to listen to the full song. Andrews said voice searches for the song tripled after the change. At press time, “ily (i love you baby)” is currently Spotify’s 20th most-listened-to song in the world, with more than 32 million streams.
After changing the title of “ily,” Astralwerks took a look at the rest of its catalog, including “Sex,” by EDEN. The song is currently one of the top 10 trending tracks on TikTok, according to Andrews, but there’s a similar issue: the clip users are listening to–and thus searching for when they want to find the full song–revolves around the phrase “catching feelings” rather than anything to do with the song’s original title.
“Users are gravitating towards a certain phrase, a certain lyric,” Andrews said.
Astralwerks has now changed the song’s title to “Sex (Catching Feelings)” to “optimize how people are absorbing the song,” he said. That track has been streamed more than 88 million times on Spotify.