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TikTok’s Missing Music Is Making Users Very Upset

TikTok’s Missing Music Is Making Users Very Upset

#SwiftTok had a rough day. Early Thursday, after Universal Music Group and TikTok failed to reach an agreement on licensing music from UMG artists on the app, sounds from those artists—including Taylor Swift, Drake, and others—went silent.

“Some of my most viewed videos are ones talking about Taylor Swift that have Taylor Swift songs in the background,” says Savannah Delullo, a Wordle influencer on TikTok and a Swiftie. “So, them being muted is pretty sad, because we put in all of that work.”

Delullo notes that creators might switch over to alternative versions of the official songs or experiment with ways to avoid copyrighted music altogether, but still the mood on #SwiftTok is far from light.

“Half my drafts are muted now,” says Madeline Macrae, a Swift fan and TikTok creator. While initially frustrated by the change, Macrae thinks there might be positive impacts. Even though many ardent fans value the online community built through social media, some are also uncomfortable with the flattening of poetic songs into 60-second memes. “Songs that Swifties would usually gatekeep aren’t going to be TikTok-ified now,” she says.

It’s not just Swifties who are missing music on TikTok. Multiple videos posted on Olivia Rodrigo’s official account, including one with over 50 million views, are now quiet. Similarly, TikToks with UMG licensed music posted by Billie Eilish to promote her album display the message “This sound isn’t available.”

During recent years, UMG and other labels have built marketing strategies around getting songs to go viral with the TikTok algorithm. Younger users see the platform as a great way to discover their next favorite song and build out cool playlists. If TikTok and UMG don’t reach a new deal soon, the prohibition could dramatically alter how artists tease new music and connect with fans through social media.

In an email to WIRED, Barney Hooper, a global head of music communications at TikTok, indicated that the change impacts only music from UMG and confirmed that videos with previously licensed music will stay muted until another deal is closed. Soon, TikTok might also take steps to remove songs in the Universal Music Publishing Group catalog, which would increase the number of impacted artists.

So, licensed music from UMG artists is gone from TikTok, for now, but it remains unclear what will happen to unofficial remixes and mashups as the catalog is wiped from the platform. Viral sounds on TikTok are sometimes warped versions of an original song, with vocals frequently sped up, and while some of those sounds remained on the platform Thursday, they may not for much longer.

A well-known musician for almost two decades, Swift has seen her popularity skyrocket in recent years. Her Eras Tour is so massive it has the power to impact local economies and her appearances at NFL games to watch her boyfriend, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, play have altered football viewership this season. Losing her music as well as tunes from Drake and others in UMG’s lineup could alter the fabric of TikTok itself.

Swift’s songs may no longer be all over the platform, but music remains core to the user experience of scrolling through TikTok. The cascade of snippets from huge artists disappearing could even usher in a new era on the For You Page feed. “I feel like a silver lining to this is that smaller or independent artists can have their chance to go viral,” says Macrae.

How TikTok Is Changing Stage Design

How TikTok Is Changing Stage Design

“You can have the world’s best idea, but if it doesn’t fit on the back of a truck then it’s a nonstarter,” says Ray Winkler, who’s been loading ideas onto the backs of trucks for close to 30 years now.

Winkler is the CEO of Stufish, where he leads a team of architects who take designs for mind-blowing stage sets from drawing boards to concert halls and stadiums all over the world. He’s showing WIRED around the company’s central London office/workshop/studio—it’s littered with plastic scale models; a highlights reel of some of the biggest bashes in recent memory.

There’s the Union Jack–streaked set for the Coronation Concert and a mini troupe of dancers tiered up the steps for Beyoncé’s 2018 Coachella slot. Across the room, a balsa prototype of the iconic, spiderlike rigging used on U2’s 360° tour leans off an easel spattered with inky sketches. That tour, which ran from 2009 to 2011, held the title of the highest-grossing jaunt in history for a decade. In 2023, Elton John’s epic five-year farewell took the top spot. And the model for that stage—a burnished gold frame, embossed with the hallmarks of the Rocket Man’s long career—is here too.

Winkler opens another door, revealing a batch of 3D printers hard at work (they run 24 hours a day). “This has become my obsession,” he says, fizzing with the enthusiasm of a kid unwrapping their first Meccano set. The days when models were painstakingly constructed by hand don’t seem that long ago. “It was a bit of a faff,” says Winkler. “You were basically sitting in a room sniffing glue all day.” These days, as well as plastic, the team uses 3D digital re-creations to put artists on stage months in advance of the real thing. But these are not the gadgets Winkler wants to talk about today. “It’s this,” he says, gesturing to the smartphone in his hand.

The swaying field of little screens that typifies crowds at a modern stadium show means that firms such as Stufish are now designing sets not just for the thousands that might pack out Wembley Stadium or the O2 Arena, but the potential millions—if not billions—waiting to experience it vicariously on TikTok and Instagram. Winkler and his team had to think about what the stage looks from a grassy patch 60 yards away, with the view partially obscured by a tall guy in front of you—but now they factor in how it might look once it’s been pinged across the web onto a smartphone screen a foot from someone’s face.

“Every single person in that stadium has a slightly different point of view, and every single one of them is the curator of the content that they are about to share with the rest of the world. Any show is basically judged by the moment that somebody hits the Send button on the picture that they took a millisecond prior to that,” says Winkler. “So you have to make sure that what it is that they point their camera at will look good—on camera.” In the industry they call this the Instagram Moment. And far from the perfectionism associated with the photo-sharing app, the Instagram Moment has to work “in some of the most unflattering conditions.” People are not good at taking photos at concerts.

The Wild Logistics of Rihanna’s Super Bowl Halftime Show

The Wild Logistics of Rihanna’s Super Bowl Halftime Show

All told, the performance required the participation of some 800 people, from camera operators to stage crews to Rihanna and her 80 dancers and seven band members. It also required a great deal of building. In order to minimize the weight on the field, the stage Rihanna performed on had to be constructed out of no more than 15 rolling structures (called “carts”). 

Because of the shape of the tunnels leading down to field level at State Farm, All Access—the company responsible for fabricating the stage—had to build platforms with stairs that could be tilted up for transport. The carts range in shape from 10 by 24 feet to 8 by 31 feet, and each one weighs anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 pounds and is outfitted with “turf tires” (not a technical term) designed to roll gently and evenly over the grass. “You don’t want to have a player taken out of the game on concussion protocol because we left hard spots on the floor,” says Tommy Rose, All Access’ staging supervisor. “We are really mindful about that.” 

Then there are the platforms themselves. Each one, roughly 10 by 17.5 feet, had to be stored up by those trusses during the first half of the game and then guided down to field level on synthetic cables in those precious seven-plus minutes the stage was being set up using a series of automated motors. The bottom of each one was affixed with 512 lights choreographed to move along with Rihanna’s performance. The platforms also had to be returned to the trusses and stay there until the game was over. And unlike the equipment used for previous halftime shows, they couldn’t be wheeled in and out of the stadium easily, meaning some of the final rehearsals before the Big Game had to be done in the stadium, not at an off-site location like in previous years. 

“This will be, in my opinion, the most technically advanced Super Bowl halftime show that’s ever been done because of the amount of tech used to move the platforms,” says Aaron Siebert, the project lead from Tait Towers, which made the platforms. 

underside of floating platforms

Floating platforms helped decrease the halftime show’s impact on the Super Bowl playing field. 

Photograph: Ryan Young

The Year Music Reminded Us About the Beauty of Analog Life

The Year Music Reminded Us About the Beauty of Analog Life

The day before the July release of Renaissance, Beyoncé’s seventh studio album, her management team announced in a press statement that the record would not include visuals as part of its rollout. “It is a chance again to be listeners and not viewers,” it read. The choice was odd, if a little disappointing, for the sole fact that Beyoncé persists as one of the foremost image-makers of our time. The surprise release of the singer’s self-titled album, in 2013, and of Lemonade, in 2016, were accompanied by a breathtaking suite of music videos that rewrote the rules of modern artistry. (The collection of videos for Lemonade premiered as a film on HBO.) Nowadays, when she does “speak” outside of an album cycle, it is primarily through expertly curated Instagram posts, which in turn become the subject of endless fan theories. So the fact that Renaissance would enter the world without its own visual language was, well, kinda baffling.

Images are the dominant record this era. We exist in and across screens. We yearn to make ourselves seen, and our most prescient social media apps allow for such an exchange. YouTube was the foundation of our looking, a bottomless video bazaar that gave everyday users the power to create what they wanted, to be who they wanted. Instagram was, for a time, a seductress, impossible to live without. Influencers built an entire economy around the concept of being watched. More recently, TikTok has become the new frontier of cultural production, where moving images flicker across our iPhones with a persuasive, practically irresistible kineticism.

As the digital age became a surreal inevitability of my everyday life, social media magnified my looking exponentially, a nearly exhaustive lens through which I peered. It is a province for me to discover and test meaning; meaning often derived from all manner of visual renderings. As I have written previously, images make us true. Memes and GIFs are the authoritative vernacular in almost all of my group chats. There are nights where I stalk the checkered grid of hookup apps with a feverish obsession, scrolling in the possibility of what I see and the promise of everything those squared snapshots—angled faces, cropped brown bodies—can offer. Even TV’s bloated streaming age has provided a well of content and imagery that I continually devour. The images are all around us. It seems only natural to crave more, to want to find new permutations to define ourselves.

But then I listened to Renaissance. And listened and listened and listened. And I understood. Its songs are meant to live in us, not necessarily as a reflection of Beyoncé’s artistic invention but as a reminder of our own fantastic possibility in spite of the surrounding hardship. She wasn’t alone in this creative endeavor. Other marquee artists this year attempted similar detours, making music meant to be experienced on a more analog, human level. 

Listening to Drake can, at times, feel like watching the History Channel filtered through TikTok. A shameless interloper, if an eager student of the past, his six solo albums are a collage of global influences, a siphoning of local scenes, sounds, and sensibilities. The most recent, Honestly, Nevermind, was surprise-released in June. Like Renaissance, what I loved about it was how it veered into the neon mist of the dance floor, seeking a more analog moment when digital terrains didn’t dictate so much of how we interact, create, and make ourselves. In Drake’s case, he drew inspiration from Baltimore and Jersey club music, setting the mood with leg-twisting production from house luminaries like Black Coffee. Bad Bunny’s and Kendrick Lamar’s respective albums also implored us to get on our feet and move this year. Even now I can hear it; the quake of Bad Bunny rapping “Titi me pregunto,” its own kind of summer spell, booming from city blocks, the energy of New Yorkers more alive than ever. It was the sound of a city, of many cities worldwide, finding their way again.

It’s been five months since the release of Renaissance, and the call for visuals has not quieted one bit. But that yearning misses the point. Renaissance’s spirit was never about what it could wholly envision through Beyoncé’s eyes. We were her canvas all along, our bodies in motion, our joy realized, were the very images we sought. The music—buoyant, abundantly Black, and perfectly queer—turned us into our own avatars of creation and meaning, prisms of joy and resilience. Whether it was singing the lines “comfortable in my skin” on “Cozy,” randomly blurting out “unique!!” or even losing yourself in the sparkling production of “Virgo’s Groove” on a Friday night, that was where the album most came alive, and where it was meant to be seen. Those are the images that endure. Renaissance’s most compelling imagery will always be us, together, celebrating ourselves.

In March I lost a friend to suicide, and by summer’s end I’d lose my grandmother to dementia. There were other losses too. It was a year when everything felt big and dark and finite. The music that called to me, that saved me, provided the inverse: It was bright and messy and profoundly vulnerable. It offered clarity. It lifted the lingering fog. The best of the year’s musicians got us moving again—not to the office, that bygone invention of pre-pandemic life, but back into the world, and back onto the dance floor, where the kindred embrace of friends and new flames was like a conjuring, and the swoosh of bodies against one another a balm. All of us radiating with electricity and intention. All of us rebuilding life in the thick, ongoing aftermath of death.

Is Beyoncé’s Renaissance a Sign of the Apocalypse?

Is Beyoncé’s Renaissance a Sign of the Apocalypse?

This week, Beyoncé released her seventh studio album, Renaissance. Soon—if the hidden messages in the album’s various promotional images are correct—the end days foretold in Revelation will come.

Or, at least, that’s what some folks believe. Social media has told us for years that Beyoncé is a member of the Illuminati. Now, the internet is adding an addendum: These days, Beyoncé is not necessarily trying to run the world—she’s just trying to tell us it’s ending.

It started with the horse imagery. The cover of Renaissance is a striking shot of a mostly nude, be-heeled Beyoncé on top of a silver horse. The cover of this month’s British Vogue is a striking shot of Beyoncé riding a red one. Newsweek explains the rest: “In July 2020, Beyoncé sat atop a white horse in the Black Is King movie and in August 2022 she posed with a black horse for Harper’s Bazaar.” It’s a simple enough equation: Beyoncé. Horses. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—one riding a white horse, one a red one, one a black one, and one a pale one. Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death. When they show up, it means our earthly world is over.

At least one TikToker explained that Beyoncé was tipping her hand re: the impending literal actualization of the Bible’s Book of Revelation (a third of the world dying immediately and all that) because “they [vaguely defined “they,” presumably Illuminati-adjacent] have to tell you what’s next on the agenda.” If you want to dig deeper, you can lose yourself in a 42-minute YouTube video promising that “Beyoncé OPENS Demonic PORTALS in JULY.” (There’s only a few days left in the month; she better hurry up.)

The writer Titi Shodiya, who’s analyzed Beyoncé’s career on the podcast Dissect, says the Beyoncé Apocalypse era is a natural continuation of the Beyoncé Illuminati era. “She’s so good at what she does, she has so much influence and power, everything she does is so exquisite,” Shodiya says. “Most people don’t understand how a person can get it right every time. In order to compensate for our own insecurities, we have to project. We say ‘It’s impossible. There has to be some kind of magic associated with it, or the Illuminati.’ But really, it’s because she works really hard, she’s really serious about her craft, she takes her time, and she surrounds herself with people that she trusts that are also very talented.”

Beyoncé is too good. She’s not fallible. She’s not really one of us. Sprinkle in the horses and the well-worn history of theorizing around the superstar, and it’s actually not that much of a leap to “Beyoncé is proselytizing the end of days.” Just to be clear with something this important, I ask the on-hand Beyoncé expert bluntly: So is Beyoncé telling us that the apocalypse is coming? “Nah, I don’t think so,” Shodiya laughs. But “I’m open to other interpretations.”