Billie Eilish's TikTok shade exposes deeper truth as singers silenced online

The music industry is at war with social media, but it's the artists who are ultimately missing out, writes Lollie Barr.

There is no denying that Billie Eilish is so A-list it hurts. So, imagine her surprise when a table of TikTok's most prominent personalities were seated near her at the People's Choice Awards. Billie made her thoughts known while engaging in a good old gossip session with Kylie Minogue. "I'm like, there's some... TikTokers here," she said, saying "TikTokers" behind her hand as if it was a slur word.

The inference is that it must be a low-rent event if you're an iconic singer sharing the rarefied A-list air with a bunch of lowly TikTokers. Cue the cheering on social media, "She's so real for that," and the outrage, "OMG, who let the unwashed masses in here?" That's what she really means…."

Billie Eilish at the People's Choice Awards.
Billie Eilish has benefited extensively from TikTok in her own career. Photo: Getty

One of the TikTok invitees, Bryce Hall, was so offended that he's been milking the moment for everything it's worth, vowing to stop listening to Billie's music. "The most sad thing is I was a Billie Eilish stan. I stanned you, Billie Eilish," he said in a video that has racked up nearly half a million likes. "And now I don't think I can renegade to any of your songs anymore. So thanks for taking out all my content."

I don't want to go into bat for a butt-hurt TikToker, but Hall does have a point. Billie, like most artists today, has greatly benefited from TikTok. Then there's the fact that Billie is not only the voice of her generation but also a TikTok content creator herself, albeit one with a captivating musical talent.


Unlike the olden days, where we'd hear new music purely from radio or on MTV, artists today are plugged directly into their fans via socials and boy, do they work it. Therefore Billie probably shouldn't be so haughty about TikTokers, as she has over 50.5 million followers, who obsess over her every move, including ultimately having a direct line to her new music. Her 17-second hauntingly beautiful acapella version of 'What Was I Made For?' was released on TikTok around the same time as her single in July 2023. It has 20.1 million likes and a massive 143,000 comments.

TikTok silences musicians

However, you can't hear Billie sing on TikTok right now as there is no sound on her videos. Bryce Hall is somewhat disingenuous to suggest he won't use Eilish's music for his content on TikTok because he can't anyway. Billie's been silenced and not because she allegedly dissed the TikTokers at some awards show.

Billie Eilish TikTok profile saying 'this sound is not available'.
Billie Eilish's music is not available on TikTok at the moment. Photo: TikTok

This month, the world's biggest record label music, Universal Music Group, home to Billie, Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny, The Weeknd and Drake, failed to reach a deal with TikTok on licensing rights. Universal then ripped all their artist's music off the platform, including top Aussie performers Hilltop Hoods, Middle Kids, Matt Corby, Mallrat, and The Avalanches.

It wasn't just the musicians who suffered an immediate disconnect from their fans; billions of TikTok videos, including dance trend videos, were suddenly muted. Content creators have been in disarray.

Universal cited appropriate compensation for artists and songwriters, protection of artists from artificial intelligence and TikTok users' online safety as their reasons for the move. The label said the music-based app makes up around 1% of their total revenue. "Ultimately, TikTok is trying to build a music-based business without paying fair value for the music," UMG moaned.

TikTok then retorted that Universal put "their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters." To be fair, like the Billie vs. TikTokers situation, both parties have benefitted from each other.

Billie Eilish speaks with Kylie Minogue in front of a crowd of people.
Billie Eilish gossips with Kylie Minogue about having to sit near TikTokers. Photo: Twitter/ Minogue Updates

TikTok's very foundations have been built on music. Beyond TikTok dance trends, imagine the app's videos without music. They'd fall flat, as it's music that creates the emotional context and connection to the imagery.

Meanwhile, labels can thank TikTok for launching artists like Lil Nas X's mega-hit Old Town Road, which found its audience on TikTok in 2019. In 2020, Jack Harlow's What's Poppin? became a mainstay in content creators' videos, propelling him to fame. Meanwhile, Olivia Rodrigo's viral moment came with 2021's Driver's Licence and made her the massive star she is today.

TikTok has also become the launching pad for unknown, upcoming musicians who can find an audience through the platform. Like UK postal worker Nathan Evans, who signed a three-year deal with Universal's Polydor Records after sharing an acapella version of a 19th-century sea shanty Wellerman in 2020. It went to the top of the charts in the UK. I'd like to know what his 1.7 million fans think now his music has disappeared from the app that launched his career.


Music industry, social media fighting for bigger profits

According to Adam Maggs, Founder of Liveschool, which coaches the next generation of musicians to self-produce their own music and navigate the music industry, streaming and social media platforms have been stoushing over licensing rights for decades. "It goes back to the early digitisation of music. There has always been an argument about artists receiving exposure, but artists also have a right to equitable payment," Maggs said.

"But I don't buy the argument that record labels are fighting for better deals for their artists. They are fighting for a better deal for themselves. Ultimately, we are talking about two of the music industry's biggest corporations taking a bigger slice of the pie from the artists."

When it comes down to it, TikTok pays the label 4.5 cents for each video. We're not talking about per view, mind you. So, if Bryce Hall lip-syncs a Billie Eilish song and gets millions of views, they get under 5 cents from it. The artist receives a very small proportion of that. No wonder Billie isn’t thrilled with TikTok.

Billie and Bryce should end their beef by demanding artists get paid what they deserve, and then everyone will be happy.

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