#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.