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TikTok helps songs go viral, but does it make them hits?

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If you’re on TikTok — the social media platform for short videos — you may have noticed an odd song going viral lately. 

Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride,” a one-hit wonder from almost 40 years ago, has been listened to millions of times by the app’s users. Almost 800,000 TikTok users have posted goofy videos featuring the song.

Does that make it a hit?

TikTok alone won’t get Wilder back on the Billboard chart — Billboard doesn’t track the platform. NYU professor Larry Miller said Billboard does consider streaming elsewhere, but it takes a lot of listens to “equal” one album sale, and that’s still the measurement that matters to the charts.

Wilder’s recent exposure has boosted his listens on Spotify, but those charts can be gamed. Last month, Justin Bieber asked fans to stream his new record while they slept to drive up his ratings.  

Such a stunt might not make much money for artists directly, according to Michael Smith, a professor of information technology and marketing at Carnegie Mellon. 

“Artists get a fraction of a cent every time their song is streamed on Spotify,” Smith said. “What they’re hoping is that Spotify promotes the things that do matter to them.”

Things like touring. Virality is short lived; by the time a one-hit wonder could organize a concert on the back of a viral hit, audiences will have moved on to the next TikTok trend. Music analyst Cherie Hu said there’s a big gap between streaming and “recognizing the artist to the point where they want to, you know, go see the artist in person.”

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