For awhile,TikTok felt likeone big joke that anyone outside of Gen Z didn't understand. The video sharing app is brutally inescapable, though, and has probably exposed you to a handful of clips of songs you can't get out of your head just by appearing on your social feeds that aren't TikTok. Originating from the lip-syncing app musical.ly, much of the TikTok-verse is all about making content to lay over the perfect song—be it coming up with a new dance craze, lip-syncing, or soundtracking some sort of comic relief. The success of a TikTok song is a bit confounding since "old" songs do resurface on the app—going all the way back to the freakin' 19th century—but its pull on what's trending in music is undeniable, making charting hits out of even obscure releases that the kids are playing over their videos.
Like all music, not every TikTok song is amazing, but there are a handful of gems on the app that are definitely worth listening to in full. Here are the best of those TikTok songs you've heard parts of, but should definitely listen to the entire thing.
If parents are at all freaked out by Billie Eilish, Ashnikko might be their worst nightmare. The neon-blue-haired rapper looks like a walking anime punk princess. Although, to that she would probably say, "Fuck a princess, I'm a king," which is the commanding chorus of her hit "Daisy" that's all about how much of a badass she is. It's menacing with her snarky lyrics and trap beat that sounds like it could soundtrack a Halloween movie—but that's what makes it so twisted and fun. It's the perfect fit for not only on glam TikTok, but Harry Pottervillain Draco Malfoy fan fiction TikTok. (Yes, you read that right.)
"Prom Queen," Beach Bunny
Emo band Beach Bunny went from a Chicago DIY scene staple to one of the best up-and-coming groups today, and singer Lili Trifilio's earnest lyrics about the doldrums of young womanhood are part of why they're so great. Songs like "Prom Queen," about how much beauty standards suck, are extremely relatable, so it's no surprise that it took off on TikTok with videos that interpret the lyrics and encourage viewers to be comfortable with themselves. The song's got a thoughtful message, even as it somberly recognizes how difficult it is not to compare ourselves to others, and those hooks are things of pop-punk dreams.
"Unlock It (Lock It)," Charli XCX (feat. Kim Petras, Jay Park)
If TikTok is what it takes for British alt pop artist Charli XCX to finally see major levels of pop stardom, so be it! TikTokkers unearthed her fan favorite deep cut "Unlock It" off her acclaimed 2017 mixtape Pop 2 for a dance challenge. The song is the epitome of Charli's bright and bold sound, with its bouncy production that bubbles until it bursts. Even with its simple, dizzying repetition, the creation between her and her frequent collaborator producer A.G. Cook is like a trip into the digital cosmos.
"Kiss Me More," Doja Cat (feat. SZA)
Doja Cat is basically the queen of TikTok with more than a handful of sexy viral hits, so leave it to her to serve up the ultimate catchy ode to kissing. The song features her signature disco touch with a mid-tempo groove, and she lays on the Studio 54 '70s hedonism strong with sensual references throughout that'll get you in the mood. As a certified song of the summer contender (with explicit lyrics that make for spicy lip syncs), the track is all over the app. It's basically meant for a spot on your makeout playlist, and a jam on its own, no less.
"Levitating," Dua Lipa
One of the best songs off Dua Lipa's 2020 album Future Nostalgia finally hit the No. 2 spot of the Hot 100 in spring 2021 thanks to TikTokkers (and a late 2020 remix). People on the app frequently recorded over the "you want me, I want you baby" verse in reference to everything from junk foodto risky decision making, but the nu disco song is even more fun beyond the line. The pop star invokes images of futurism with references to jet setting off into the Milky Way over a pop-disco track. The result is a blast, and makes you wish you could actually join Dua at a roller rink on Mars.
Even as the frenetic electronic genre hyperpop increasingly becomes part of the conversation in music, a lot of songs and artists still exist on the fringes. Teenaged Canadian artist ElyOtto has seen some success on the charts, though, thanks to his track "Sugarcrash" blowing up on TikTok. Singing about feeling burnt out in a pixie-esque voice over eccentric production, it sounds like, well, the euphoria of a sugar rush. The song's own lyric rings true: "Hyperpop up in my ears, everything just disappears."
"In the Party," Flo Milli
When you listen to 20-year-old, LA-based rapper Flo Milli, her fast-spewing rhymes in her signature cutesy voice make it feel as if you're hanging out with her and she's gossiping your ear off. It's what she manages to do on her song "In the Party," joined by a beat that sounds especially saccharine, looping her vocals into a nursery rhyme-like "la la la." Made up of great, domineering lines about how she secures men, the song was basically meant to take off on TikTok with its very lip sync-able moments. (That is, if you can keep up with her bars.)
"Looking Out For You," Joy Again
Joy Again is a band from Philadelphia who makes buoyant, at times sweet, at times goofy, and at other times wry indie rock. One of their fan-favorite songs, which was originally released in 2016, found delayed success on TikTok. With jangly guitars and a lo-fi sound, it's the kind of song that snuggles up next to you and makes a flutter of butterflies go off in your stomach, as its lyrics detail the feeling of being shy around a crush. Of course the song would captive thousands of young people.
"Dealer," Lana Del Rey
The ultimate Cancer sun/purveyor of the sad girl aesthetic Lana Del Rey has been getting fans in their feelings for over a decade now. While TikTokkers have gravitated towards her trip-hop-heavy early work performed under her birth name Lizzy Grant (which is technically not even officially released), they've also found themselves in a pool of angst as a result of her Blue Bannisters track "Dealer." Co-written and performed by English artist Miles Kane of The Last Shadow Puppets, it's one of her most rock-influenced songs in years and extremely moody, with Lana howling that she doesn't want to live if the male figure in the song continues to give her nothing. It'll make you want to put on all black, channel the beats, and try to be the coolest version of yourself… until you're ultimately wailing, too.
"INDUSTRY BABY," Lil Nas X (feat. Jack Harlow)
No pop star understands memes, trolling, and turning something into a pop culture phenomenon like Lil Nas X. (He broke out with "Old Town Road," so that was a given from the start.) Obviously, that means he's a master at TikTok, and makes bangers that are meant to be danced to on the platform. One of his most popular songs off his debut record MONTERO has dominated the charts and the app, considering how easy it is to choreograph to the melodic pop-rap and bombastic production (crafted in part by Kanye West). Rapping about how he's evaded being a one-hit-wonder and how his queerness has only helped his success, it's a blast to hear the young rapper thriving. He's no industry plant—he's all his own, and thank goodness for that.
"Thot Shit," Megan Thee Stallion
Megan Thee Stallion has got the hits—all of which are excellent on TikTok. Her first single since the 2020 albumGood News, "Thot Shit," gets play on the app, just like "Savage" and "Body" before it. Taking on her fierce persona Tina Snow in the song, she reclaims the term "thot" over an uptempo, bass-heavy banger. It's got everything that Meg's hotties love about her: sexually liberating lyrics that give a hair flip and fuck you to backlash she's gotten for being bold and suggestive, and uninhibited fun. Allow yourself to get your hands on your knees and shake it.
"Silk Chiffon," MUNA (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)
Even if life can feel pretty shitty at times, LA three-piece MUNA is here to remind you just how fun it can be with this indie pop gem. It's their first release as signees on Phoebe Bridgers' label—even featuring a verse from the indie star herself—and a blissful, utterly addictive track about those sweet moments when you're with the one you love (exchanging glances down the convenience store aisle, being out together until dawn) that make life worth living. How could you not smile hearing those lyrics as sweet as cherry chapstick over such an explosive chorus?! TikTok's been getting ready to the song ever since it was released, and can't get enough of how queer it is.
"Deja Vu," Olivia Rodrigo
Olivia Rodrigo seemed to come out of virtually nowhere in early 2021, and immediately started breaking records with her debut single "Driver's License." TikTokkers contributed to the success, since many were already familiar with the star, who just so happens to be a Gen Z Disney darling. Her follow-up, "Deja Vu" proved she was never going to be a one-hit-wonder, though, and is one of the best songs off her debut Sour. The song is similarly all over the app, and shows how much of a pop wunderkind Rodrigo is. It's in the vulnerable details of her past relationship (eating ice cream with one spoon and singing together like two obnoxious starry-eyed teens) that heighten her mourning of, as she describes, seeing her ex recycle those same moments with another girl. It's transfixing, and no wonder her heart-on-her-sleeves lyrics have inspired some teary Toks.
"Just For Me," PinkPantheress
Few artists have successfully grown out of TikTok quite like PinkPantheress. Sure, a lot of acts have songs that blow up on the app or design challenges to coincide with a release, but few are essentially products of the app and know how to game it like this 20-year-old English recording artist. The singer uploaded a handful of tracks to the app that went viral in early 2021, and even ended up adapting her handle into her stage name. "Just For Me" is one of her catchiest. The wistful, glitchy bedroom pop song is produced by British producer Mura Masa and plays like a toxic, all-consuming day dream—her high, pixie-like voice detailing an obsession she can't get over.
"I Like Him," Princess Nokia
As women have been objectified in rap for years, it's been a treat as more women rappers blow up and flip the script. On this brief, sexy song from New York City-based rapper Princess Nokia, the blunt recording artist iterates all of the boys she's crushing on, and what she'll do in order to get them under her spell. It's like the soundtrack for swiping on dating apps—that is, if the app only showed hot, swipe-right-worthy options. And since everybody's got crushes that keep them up at night, the teens are playing this one over vids that highlight the fictional characters and celebrities that have stolen their hearts.
"Freaks," Surf Curse
Some songs just find a way to strike a cord with the youth. Like this one, for example, which was first released by LA surf rock band Surf Curse way back in 2013 and has been somewhat of an anthem for the band and the DIY scene surrounding them. The song blew up on TikTok in 2021, which helped the band land their first-ever major label deal and even a remix from Travis Barker. It makes sense that it (eventually) catapulted them to success and has been embraced by young listeners—you can't help but want to mosh to those repetitive guitars. And what kid doesn't feel like a bit of a freak every once in a while?
"Good Days," SZA
SZA has the power to get anyone in their feelings, TikTokkers included. "Good Days" is the R&B singer's dreamy song about trying move on from the past in order to chase the good days of tomorrow. One verse in particular has been knocking the wind out of the TikTok teens—"I worry that I wasted the best of me on you, babe / You don't care"—which should be enough of an indication of this one's emotional potency.
"T r a n s p a r e n t s o u l," WILLOW (feat. Travis Barker)
If you haven't heard, pop punk is back, with Gen Z-ers convinced they were meant to grow up with Myspace, Warped Tour, and scene haircuts, thanks to the influence of Hayley Williams and Machine Gun Kelly's 2020 albums and a few of Olivia Rodrigo's tracks. The pop punk of 2021 looks a bit different from its past, though, with more young women and people of color leading the charge. One of the biggest hits from the revival is this song from WILLOW (a.k.a. Willow Smith). Taking pointers from her mother Jada Pinkett Smith's time in a nu metal band, the artist goes full mall goth, singing with a vengeance at exploitative, fake peers. With Travis Barker of Blink-182 firing away on drums, it calls for head banging and a trip to Hot Topic.