Pop Shots – Halsey’s TikTok Tirade, & Promoting Music in 2022

Welcome to your weekly dose of pop world musings. Covering all things pop culture, this week Pop Shots is hitting you with thoughts on Halsey’s recent TikTok tirade, and some of the evolutions promoting music has experienced over the years.

In late May, Halsey posted a video telling the world that her label was essentially forcing her to create a viral TikTok moment before they would release her next single. Other artists chimed in – including Charli XCX, FKA Twigs, and Ed Sheeran – to say their labels had similar conversations with them. Ironically, all of these artists, Halsey included, made these comments using TikTok.

My first thought after hearing all of this was – OK, and? Clearly promotional methods evolve over time, and right now TikTok is an incredibly relevant way to get something heard, so a label wanting an artist, especially a pop artist, to go viral on TikTok before releasing a single is essentially the present day version of a label wanting a song be a hit on radio before releasing an album. The only differences are there’s probably considerably less money spent creating a TikTok than on a radio promo campaign, and a TikTok video can be done wherever an artist wants to do one, whereas a radio campaign oftentimes requires a bevy of personal appearances at radio stations.

I don’t think it’s too difficult to understand why a label would want some sort of initial buzz before investing a lot of time, money, and effort into a single, or an album. There are no guarantees in music, but a decent buzz is always going to push an artist to the front of the line.

Halsey – who I was an early supporter of, listing Badlands as my favorite album of 2015 – is someone who is in need of some decent buzz right now. In the clip where she was lamenting having to do TikToks she claimed she’s “sold over 165 million records.” I have no idea where she got that number from, but it seems like she used some very creative math, seeing as The Rolling Stones have sold just over 240 million records, and Halsey doesn’t exactly have that deep of a discography.

When it comes to her actual “sales” numbers, Halsey has two platinum albums (1 mil in “sales” each), and one double platinum album (2 mil in “sales”), and those platinum plaques came mostly from streaming equivalent units, not actual sales. Perhaps the 165 million is the combined sales, and streaming equivalent units, of each song she has online.

Regardless, her most recent album, 2021’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, was a relative flop, still not having attained gold status (500k in “sales”). So is it really any wonder that her label would want some sort of buzz before releasing anything new from her?

When it comes to how an artist gets that buzz, perhaps Halsey, and all the other artists who are lamenting having to come up with TikToks, might want to talk to some of the pop artists who helped pave the way for them. A conversation with Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, or even Britney Spears would let them know that back in the ‘80s and ‘90s a lot of pop artists had to do mall tours, performing a handful of songs in front of a local crowd in random spots across America, with some shoppers just passing by, looking for a deal at Macy’s.

What would you rather do – create a TikTok at home, or ride a bus across the country, performing the same three to five songs every afternoon hoping one connects, and surviving on a diet of mall food court delicacies? I hope Sbarro, and Orange Julius are on your tour rider!

I know some of you may be thinking, “But Adam, that was an eternity ago, and Halsey is established!” First off, thanks for calling me old. Second, you’re right, promotional tactics evolve, and Halsey is a veteran artist. With both of those things in mind, perhaps she would prefer to have existed during the height of the blog era, and spent every waking moment giving interviews to folks like me.

Back in 2007 I interviewed one of the originators of online promotion, Theda Sandiford, and she related the following about how hard LL Cool J, a legit legend, worked to promote his G.O.A.T. album, which would end up being his first album to debut at #1 (full disclosure, I interviewed LL during his press run for his subsequent album, 10, and that interview was set up by Theda) ...

“… he attributed that success to both his press presence, and his online presence. He was one of the hardest working artists I ever had. He did every single interview. There were high school kids running websites that he talked to. It was very exciting to see the power of the internet build buzz.”

She added that if an artist has great music, an excellent work ethic, and great management, a unique marketing campaign could be what puts them over the top.

With TikTok, labels are essentially asking the artists to do some of the work in creating that unique marketing campaign. I do think it’s kind of BS for a marketing person to just say, “Go make TikToks,” because that’s not really a marketing plan. There needs to be some guidance from professionals. That said, artists of the past put in work in malls, on radio shows, and doing countless interviews, so the current crop of pop stars need to get creative, and make some content people will want to see.

As any DIY musician will tell you, a major aspect of being an artist is working your ass off to get your music heard. Just because you’re signed to a label doesn’t mean that ideology should go by the wayside. In fact, you should be working twice as hard, because if you won’t, someone else will.


That’s all for this edition of Pop Shots, but come back next Monday for more shots on all things pop.


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