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

(Black Press Media file photo)
School parking problems plague Oak Bay residents

Need exceeds official requirements for parking at St. Michaels school

Brian Korzenowski rides with Athena, left, and Venus who are safely strapped in and goggled up with the wind in their fur. (Zoe Ducklow - Sooke News Mirror)
Double-dog motorcycle sidecar brings smiles to Sooke Road commuters

Athena and Venus are all teeth and smiles from their Harley-Davidson sidecar

Camper the dog was found Wednesday night by someone walking their own dog along Hollywood Crescent. She had gone missing after a violent attack on June 11. (Courtesy of VicPD)
Camper the dog found safe after fleeing violent van attack in Victoria

Camper was found on Hollywood Crescent Wednesday night

North Saanich is in the process of revising its tree protection bylaw. The proposed changes have drawn much public interest and criticism, as council heard this week during their special meeting on the matter. (Courtesy District of North Saanich)
Revisions to tree protection bylaw in North Saanich face cutting criticism

Councillors to take up issue again in August after staff summarize massive public feedback

A lift on marine border restrictions by next summer would bring an economic gain to Greater Victoria through the cruise industry. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich calls for opening of marine borders by summer 2022

Council to ask feds to end restrictions in time to allow planning for next cruise ship season

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

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: When was the last time you visited the mainland?

The films are again lighting the screens at local theatres, the wine… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of June 15

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Kimberly Bussiere and other laid-off employees of Casino Nanaimo have launched a class-action lawsuit against the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
B.C. casino workers laid off during pandemic launch class-action lawsuit

Notice of civil claim filed in Supreme Court of B.C. in Nanaimo against Great Canadian Gaming

A float plane crashed into the waters near Painters Lodge in Campbell River on Thursday morning. Photo by Alistair Taylor / Campbell River Mirror
Float plane crashes into water near Campbell River

Pilot uninjured, plane hit sandbar while landing

John Kromhoff with some of the many birthday cards he received from ‘pretty near every place in the world’ after the family of the Langley centenarian let it be known that he wasn’t expecting many cards for his 100th birthday. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
Cards from all over the world flood in for B.C. man’s 100th birthday

An online invitation by his family produced a flood of cards to mark his 100th birthday

FILE – Nurse Iciar Bercian prepares a shot at a vaccine clinic for the homeless in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, June 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
B.C. scientists to study effectiveness of COVID vaccines in people with HIV

People living with HIV often require higher doses of other vaccines

A 50-year-old woman lost control of her vehicle Tuesday, June 15, crashing through a West Vancouver school fence that surrounds playing children. (West Vancouver Police)
Driver ticketed for speeding near B.C. school crashes into playground fence days later

‘It’s an absolute miracle that nobody was injured,’ says Const. Kevin Goodmurphy

Most Read