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

Brandon Hobbs (turquoise shirt), brother of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs, gathers with other family and friends to distribute posters in Chilliwack on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Search efforts expand to Chilliwack and beyond for missing Abbotsford man

Family, friends put up posters in Chilliwack, Agassiz, Hope for missing 22-year-old Adam Hobbs

A CH-149 Cormorant from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron out of CFB Comox on a training exercise in Chilliwack on June 16, 2021. (William Snow photo)
VIDEO: Military search and rescue training in Chilliwack Wednesday

CH-149 Cormorant and CC-115 Buffalo from CFB Comox participated in downed aircraft rescue simulation

Stock photo by LEEROY Agency from Pixabay
Drop-in vaccination clinics slated in Abbotsford for construction workers

Among three sites in Lower Mainland holding no-appointment clinics in June and July

Linnea Labbee outside the Chilliwack Law Courts on April 1, 2021 on day 16 of her trial in BC Supreme Court. Labbee was convicted April 12 for the fatal hit-and-run of 78-year-old Fourghozaman Firoozian on Dec. 1, 2016. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Sentencing hearing scheduled for 72-year-old Chilliwack woman found guilty in fatal hit-and-run

Crown will seek jail time for Linnea Labbee who struck and killed 78-year-old woman in 2016

Chilliwack Spartans Swim Club coach Justin Daly.
Chilliwack Spartans swim coach Justin Daly wins Rubber Boot Award

Daly was recognized in a vote by fellow coaches in the BC Swim Coaches Association

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

Most Read