What makes a song go viral on TikTok? It’s obviously not a scientific process, but viewed through binoculars from the brink of 37, this much seems obvious: The tracks that blow up on the youth-dominated video app tend to be ones that lend themselves to silly dancing or sight gags. My fellow old millennial Drake appeared to have drawn the same conclusion when he released “Toosie Slide,” a #1 single that hybridized his signature dour, introspective rap with the world’s simplest line dance. Perhaps the idea for “Toosie Slide” arose early this year when “Nonstop,” a highlight from Drake’s blockbuster 2018 double album Scorpion, more organically became a TikTok meme in which users filmed themselves swapping clothes at the sound of opening lyric “Look, I just flipped the switch.” Or maybe he’s been plotting it ever since Scorpion’s chart-topping “In My Feelings” inadvertently spawned one of the most pervasive viral “challenges” of the social media era.
The comically morose resignation of “Toosie Slide” notwithstanding, TikTok seems geared toward goofiness. It’s a story told by “Old Town Road,” the song that alerted many non-teens to TikTok’s star-making power, and by countless subsequent viral tracks from “Break My Stride” to “Blueberry Faygo.” Even Powfu’s depressive “Death Bed,” sung from the perspective of a dying man, contains a lyric about “taking goofy videos” — and “Death Bed” itself mostly soundtracks clips under the umbrella of goofy’s close cousin, cutesy. So it makes sense that Benee reached a new level of success when she started releasing singles with a skip in their step.
You’d think a song called “Supalonely” that hit big in 2020 would credit its success to the global pandemic that has caused billions of people under lockdown to feel, um, super lonely. But no, Benee and Gus Dapperton’s collaboration was already a huge deal on TikTok in February, a month before the events that forced the Western world to take coronavirus seriously and sent most people into isolation. Did “Supalonely” pop off because lyrics like “I know I fucked up, I’m just a loser/ Shouldn’t be with ya, guess I’m a quitter” reflect the depressive self-loathing of a generation mired in a mental health crisis? Maybe, but mostly it popped off because, as is usually the case these days, somebody came up with a dance.
Stella Rose Bennett, a 20-year-old former teenage water polo prodigy out of Auckland, was doing well for herself before “Supalonely” came along. Under the name Bene, she debuted three years ago with “Tough Guy,” a downcast, trap-influenced slow jam seemingly under the influence of Lorde, Lana Del Rey, and Halsey. She scored a minor hit in her native New Zealand and nearby Australia a year later with “Soaked,” a song that traded the trap drum programming for a funky bass groove. She signed to behemoth major label Republic for her Fire On Marzz EP and went on to win big at last fall’s New Zealand Music Awards, around the time “Glitter,” another single from the EP, gained traction via a TikTok dance challenge among Kiwi teens.
“Glitter” was another track built on funk bass and a syncopated beat, this one even speedier than “Soaked.” “I know it’s getting late now, baby,” she sang in a muscular tone reminiscent of Dua Lipa. “Maybe you should stay here with me.” On Stella & Steve, Benee’s second EP of 2019, she was settling into this sound, sort of a Gen Z equivalent for the stylish hip-hop lounge music Mark Ronson and Lily Allen were serving up in the mid-aughts. She matched this sound with a fashion sense and visual sensibility that has a lot in common with fellow young stars like Billie Eilish or indie rocker Lindsey Jordan of Snail Mail. It’s possible to imagine a timeline in which she was marketed to music-critic types like myself if “Supalonely” had not found genuine populist success on TikTok.
“Supalonely” represents the continued acceleration of Benee’s bpm. It’s almost cartoonishly zippy, a disco-funk gem in the vein of Doja Cat’s “Say So” (another one of this year’s big TikTok-abetted hits), punctuated by light-as-air “la la la” backing vocals and Benee proclaiming “I’m a lonely bitch” through heavy Auto-Tune. In early February, the song got a colorful video which gave Benee and guest vocalist Gus Dapperton ample opportunity to move their bodies to its four-to-the-floor pulse. The video that properly launched it, though, was a dance routine posted by TikTok user Zoi Lerma three days later, which was soon replicated by influencers like teenage TikTok superstar Charli D’Amelio and YouTuber/podcaster Emma Chamberlain. Soon users all over the app were performing their own version of Lerma’s moves.
Benee is signed to the same label as Drake, Taylor Swift, the Weeknd, Post Malone, and Ariana Grande. Given that association plus all the industry attention swirling around tastemakers like D’Amelio, it’s natural to be a little skeptical of how grassroots this “Supalonely” groundswell is. Labels are leaning on popular TikTok users the same way they lean on iHeartRadio programming directors, so who knows whether some invisible hand was working behind the scenes to put Benee and Dapperton’s fizzy breakup anthem in front of the right audience. But regardless of how organically this all began, “Supalonely” has since embarked on the now-standard procession out of the TikTok app and into more established industry corners. In March it cracked the Hot 100, where it currently is hovering in the 30s and 40s. It’s in rotation at both pop and rock stations. Benee made her US TV debut on Fallon in June and performed on Ellen last week.
“Supalonely” merits the fanfare. It’s obscenely catchy and disarmingly funny, and even though Dapperton strikes me as an adult-contemporary soft-rocker in zoomer attire, his conversational verse does nothing to dissipate the song’s effervescent cloud. It bodes well for Benee’s full-length debut, scheduled to drop later this year. It will be intriguing to see whether she stays in her lane or veers off in some new direction, but either way, presumably the music will be catered to people extroverted enough to film themselves dancing for the whole internet to see. For years artists have been attempting to engineer “challenges” to boost their songs to ubiquity, and now there’s a whole class of influencers focused on exactly that. Tentatively I’d like to view it as a needed shot of adrenaline after years of zoned-out depression-pop, but don’t hold me to that if Benee comes back this fall with “The Charli D’Amelio Slide.”
Presumably, this is a constant now, like gravity: Lil Baby’s My Turn is the #1 album in America. The set first topped the Billboard 200 in March in its debut week, but it returned to #1 three weeks ago and has not yet relinquished its grip. With four straight weeks at the summit and five overall, My Turn is now the longest tenured #1 album of 2020. Streaming has powered Lil Baby into the vacuum created by a dearth of new blockbuster releases, with the vast majority of My Turn’s 70,000 equivalent album units powered by streaming.
Another months-old rap album is in at #2: With 43,000 units, also almost entirely derived from streaming, Lil Durk’s Just Cause Y’all Waited 2 shoots back up from #56 thanks to the release of its deluxe edition. It’s a new peak for the project, which debuted at #5 upon its initial release in May. DaBaby, Post Malone, and the Weeknd are at #3, #4, and #5 respectively. Harry Styles’ Fine Line hops back up to #6 thanks to sustained radio success for “Adore You” and “Watermelon Sugar.” Polo G, Lil Uzi Vert, Drake, and Future round out the top 10.
DaBaby and Roddy Ricch’s “Rockstar” holds on to #1 on the Hot 100 for a fourth nonconsecutive week, and given that I heard it on Top 40 radio over the weekend, I wouldn’t expect it to descend any time soon. However, Jack Harlow’s “What’s Poppin,” which rises to a new #2 peak partially thanks to a remix with Tory Lanez, Lil Wayne, and DaBaby, could easily cross over to pop radio too, especially given the format’s longstanding adoration for white rappers, so maybe Harlow will build up enough juice to dethrone “Rockstar.”
Former chart-toppers from the Weeknd (“Blinding Lights”) and Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé (“Savage”) are next, followed by SAINt JHN’s “Roses” at #5. Another former #1, Doja Cat’s “Say So,” is at #6, with Justin Bieber and Quavo’s “Intentions” up next at #7. Harry Styles’ aforementioned “Watermelon Sugar” rises to a new #8 peak, becoming the former One Direction member’s third top-10 hit as a solo act (following the #4-peaking “Sign Of The Times” and the #6-peaking “Adore You”). Lil Mosey’s “Blueberry Faygo” stays strong at #9, and Lil Baby and 42 Dugg’s summer anthem “We Paid” hits a new #10 peak. It’s Lil Baby’s fourth top-10 hit (following “Yes Indeed,” “Drip Too Hard,” and “The Bigger Picture”) and the first for 42 Dugg.
Juice WRLD – “Life’s A Mess” (Feat. Halsey)
Would this have been a #1 hit if Juice WRLD lived? Will it still be? The production here is sanitized like something written to be YouTube preroll, but the guy’s hooks were getting sharp enough at the end to elevate that aesthetic into the realm of genuine emotional connection.
Ellie Goulding – “Slow Grenade” (Feat. Lauv)
If this whole song had to exist as an excuse to get that knotty computer-pop chorus into the world, so be it.
Jason Derulo, Puri, Jhorrmountain – “Coño”
I mean, why wouldn’t Jason Derulo attempt to ride the urbano wave? And why wouldn’t it be too craven to love but too competent to hate? The falsetto just before the halfway mark is worth the price of admission.
Joel Corry & MNEK – “Head & Heart”
If you love dance pop with huge soulful hooks, don’t miss this. MNEK remains one of the most underrated talents in modern pop.
Dixie D’Amelio – “Be Happy”
What was I just saying about TikTok leading us out of the age of zoned-out depression-pop? Forget all that, I guess.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Juice WRLD’s posthumous album Legends Never Die is out Friday. [Twitter]
- Tina Knowles spoke out against the “social media terrorists” who are accusing Beyoncé’s upcoming Black Is King visual album of cultural appropriation. [Vulture]
- Sia is a grandma now. [ET]
- Alessia Cara hosted, and picked up the most trophies (with three), at this year’s virtual Juno Awards. [CBC]
- Katy Perry released an acoustic “Daisies.” [YouTube]