A hazy purple background showcases the Tik Tok logo as if it's being played fast forward.
Illustration by Meaghan Lamontagne, Montserrat College of Art
Screens /// Sounds /// Thoughts x
A hazy purple background showcases the Tik Tok logo as if it's being played fast forward.
Illustration by Meaghan Lamontagne, Montserrat College of Art

Music trends come and go, yet the viral consumption of these sped-up audios have transformed the music industry.

TikTok’s primary attraction is its short-term content that provides instantaneous dopamine. Because the app’s content must be condensed down to fifteen seconds, it has birthed and popularized a new genre of music: sped-up audios.

What Are Sped-Up Audios?

Sped-up audios increase a song’s speed until it’s around three times faster than the original. The singer’s voice becomes high-pitched and the lyrics dissolve into a stream of barely intelligible words. Pauses are eliminated, thus resulting in a quickened, higher-pitched version of the original song. Not only are sped-up audios used on TikTok, but they have also permeated short-form content on other social media apps such as Instagram reels and YouTube shorts.

Why have sped-up audios become so prominent? The faster-paced quality of the music creates a more cheerful, catchy tone compared to the original. Due to the trending prominence of sped-up audios, content creators can add them to their videos to garner attention and likes. As music teacher and producer Timothy Peters explained on WhyNow, “Along with the cultural connotations of cutesy-ness that comes with sped-up vocals do a lot of the heavy lifting regarding the visual content. A video of a dog is nice and all, but with a sped-up vocal, it is adorable.”

Furthermore, TikTok provides more accessibility to their users by allowing them to manipulate songs to be two to three times faster or 0.3 to 0.5 times slower. This feature allows anyone to create their own sped-up audios and re-vamp someone else’s song.

Effect on Artists

Some sped-up versions of songs on TikTok have become more popular than the original versions, as evidenced by “No” by Megan Trainer (1.6 million videos vs. the original’s 647.5 thousand videos), “Sure Thing” by Miguel (3.1 million videos vs. the original’s 68.2 thousand videos) and “Sweater Weather” by The Neighborhood (2.3 million vs. original’s 532.2 thousand videos). The demand for sped-up audios has even caused artists like SZA, Miguel and Sabrina Carpenter to release official sped-up versions of their music on streaming platforms such as Spotify.

Live Performance and Musicality

The sped-up versions of R&B artist Steve Lacy’s songs “Bad Habit” and “Dark Red” have recently gone viral on TikTok. Unfortunately, Lacy was less than enthused at this development, as evidenced by a video from one of his latest concerts. As seen in one video, an overwhelming number of attendees only sang along to the chorus, which is the most viral section of the song. When the next verse was met with silence from the audience, Lacy questioned “Why’d it stop?” and said “Let’s get the second verse, c’mon.” In another live performance of “Dark Red,” Lacy mocks the sped-up version of the song. He starts the music off normally before skipping over lines and strumming the guitar at a rapid, jerky pace, mimicking the sound of the sped-up audio. Lacy then exits the stage, adding “Alright, goodnight you guys.”

These sped-up versions of Lacy’s songs only brought shallow attention them, as the parts that went viral were distorted from the originals and only lasted thirty seconds. Such attention undercuts his legitimacy as an artist and the hard work he puts into his carefully crafted albums. The artificiality of sped-up songs does not translate well to live performances, as singers’ voices become unrecognizable, and their tempo becomes impossible to play an instrument to. Furthermore, sped-up audios can diminish an artist’s original message and the effort they put into the production of a song. For example, d4vid’s viral song “Here With Me” is an intentionally slow and heartfelt song with a loving and hopeless tone. Such emotions are ruined by speeding up the song, as the sped-up version of “Here With Me” possesses a happy and upbeat tone. An artist’s individualized vocals, intentional pauses and meaningful lyrics are erased and replaced with formulaic copycat tracks.

Steve Lacy is among the artists who’ve featured sped-up versions of their songs on Spotify. Although this can be interpreted as ironic given his distaste for how these audios affected his live concerts — if the original artist does not release an official version of their sped-up song, someone else inevitably will. Numerous accounts on Spotify and YouTube release sped-up versions of artists’ songs, which garner thousands upon millions of likes and views. Therefore, if artists do not join the trend, they miss out on profiting from their own songs.

Moreover, the favorability for sped-up audios of already prominent songs diminishes the opportunity for new and original songs to thrive and garner attention. Instead, it is now trendy to listen to the same famous songs at a quicker frequency over and over again. Musician and former drummer of Galexie 500, Damon Krukowski, described in an article in The Guardian, “All of us out here trying to make new music are losing out … Labels don’t have to go out and find new artists. They can just create three to five versions of what they already have, knowing people will respond to what they’re reselling.”

The Future of Music

As quickly as TikTok gives rise to popular music trends, they fall out of style. The short nature of TikTok’s videos is their downfall — users become bored of what’s highly trendy and eventually revert back to standard conventions of music. Ultimately, edits and remixes of artists’ songs are nothing new in the music industry, simply creative interpretations that revitalize the originals. It is the popularity of sped-up TikTok audios that hurts artists’ voices and musicality.


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