TikTok is Altering the Music Industry
It’s not just Lil Nas X: musicians are making their songs shorter and more memeable
Montero Lamar Hill grew up in Lithia Springs, Georgia, a small city in the far suburbs of Atlanta, and had a childhood loaded with the challenges typically faced by black boys in the Deep South.
His parents divorced when he was six and Hill spent years living on a notorious housing project called Bankhead Courts. He quit playing trumpet, despite a glaring talent that saw him become first chair at elementary school, due to social pressure. (It wasn’t great for street credit.) A familiar pattern of abandonment emerged and after a year studying computer science at the University of West Georgia, he dropped out.
Until the end of 2018 he was sleeping on his sister’s couch with a negative bank balance and an obsession with Twitter bordering on the unhealthy, posting memes and stanning Nicki Minaj.
All the while, though, Hill had been tinkering with music in private. One night around Halloween last year, he was browsing YouTube and found a beat by a 19-year-old from the Netherlands called YoungKio. He paid $30 to lease it, and spent a month writing lyrics. By December, he uploaded a song called Old Town Road to SoundCloud under the moniker Lil Nas X. The response was muted.
But Old Town Road became a meme on TikTok as part of the YeeHaw challenge, where people switch into cowboy outfits and dance. Its blend of trap and country music was fresh and, along with evocative Wild West lyrics, caught the imagination. It went viral, as do countless videos every day. But this was different.
With the help of a remix with country star Billy Ray Cyrus and a contract with Columbia Records, Old Town Road has received more than 300 million views on YouTube to date and the 20-year-old has spent the past 17 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 — the longest run ever recorded in the chart’s 60-year history.