Oh my god, something is happening at the intersection of music and the internet, so you know I (Molly O'Brien) have to be there with my own thoughts and opinions. A few days ago, a video popped up on my TikTok For You page of a young man with a focused and slightly anguished expression on his face, doing a stumbly-bumbly dance to the Pinegrove song "Need 2." The caption: "Pine muthafreakin grove." The comments: "average pinegrove listener"; "Bro gettin jiggy to pinegrove"; "dude yes let it out." Now others are doing their own Pinegrove shuffles. This is the way of TikTok...viral music, viral dance, followed by a smattering of "what the hell is going on with this"-style journalism posts.
I knew of Pinegrove as a band from the large genre umbrella of emo, but didn't know too much else about them. Regardless, I was able to understand from the wistful quality of the music and the exaggerated dance move that the video was either ironic (a TikTok-style dance...to a non-TikTok-style song???) or sincere (the positive reactions in the comments suggest the Pinegrove shuffle may be the most authentic expression of how this band makes people feel!) or some combination of the two.
And this tension of intention is one of the most interesting things about TikTok and music that I've seen thus far: the most successful content often takes something niche and makes it legible in a way that locals can understand and find entertaining, and longtime fans can find either find exhilarating or upsetting. I.e. Pinegrove fans will marvel at the wide reach of the content (or freak out about it), generalized emo music fans can sensibly chuckle at it, and people who have no idea what's going on will think it's a funny dance.
I guess this is just what a meme is — a codified joke that you need to be in on in some way — but TikTok takes the memeification and straps an extremely powerful engine to it and then lets it rip. A while ago, my husband taught me the gaming phrase OP, aka "overpowered," and I've used it ever since to, uh, describe things I think are OP. TikTok's algorithm might be OP 🧐
Again, I'm not coming to this as a previous fan of Pinegrove (and from a cursory sweep of their past press coverage, they have a more complex history than I can truly get into in this blog post.) But what has truly pinged my "music + internet" antennae is the way the band, who apparently announced a hiatus just a few weeks ago, have been able to take advantage of the virality. As was pointed out on Twitter by the band Aren't We Amphibians, Pinegrove just re-released "Need 2" and created some TikTok-ified speed remixes that are very common now in the wake of viral videos.
"fast pinegrove", "hyperspeed pinegrove", "slow pinegrove" — because TikTok basically lets you remix + reupload music with seemingly minimal copyright restrictions, clips and snippets of viral songs then start floating through the internet, untagged and uncredited, and I suppose bands putting out their own TikTokified remixes lets them take some ownership and lasso a few penny fractions from the machine.
The internet reaction to the Pinegrove speed-ramping seems mixed, and I wanted to talk to a Pinegrove fan about the ramifications of their response to the Shuffle. Musician Elijah Johnson kindly obliged me via Twitter DMs. When I asked what his interpretation of the Spotify remix and general response to the Pinegrove shuffle was, he wrote, "It’s definitely a little odd and sort of embarrassing but also I think at this point they seem unafraid to do things that are earnest/dorky/embarrassing if it feels like meeting the people where they are." He pointed out their concert film, and Evan Hall's Instagram guitar tab videos as examples of this. "It's definitely goofy but I don’t think it’s insidious. If their songs were in, like, a Capital One ad, people probably wouldn’t be joking about it as much, but it would be a more aggressive break from their stances on stuff."
I also DM'd with Ben Sooy from the band A Place for Owls, who put Pinegrove's fan culture in more context: "They've had a wild trajectory, but have a wildly committed fan base. Seeing them live is like church, everybody's singing along so hard." When I asked about the logistics of making money off this viral moment while being viewed by fans as "so heart on your sleeve earnest" (in Sooy's words), a link popped up in my DMs to a tweet from Really Rad Records: "**wagging my finger knowing full well if one of our tracks popped on the clock app i'd be uploading 30 remixes and cashing out**" and the follow-up comment "This sums me up pretty well." Understandable!
What does it all mean? Say you're a band. A random dude who appears to be just a couple of years out of high school does a silly dance to your song. It goes viral. You could ignore it and move on. You could decry it and create a negative spiral of press. Or you could surf the wave. To me it doesn't seem as egregious as something like Ian MacKaye playing the Clear Channel Stage at Brandchella. But I recognize that feeling of seeing your favorite band becoming suddenly, violently more popular: kind of like watching a balloon slip out of your hand and fly away into the air. Nice balloon, no longer yours, now it's everyone's. Loving a band can feel like taking possession of them, and even as TikTok exists as a platform that can create life-changing opportunities for bands both new and old (just look at the story of Mother Mother), it's also a supercharged popularity generator that can bring in negative attention as quickly as positive attention.
Remember when a music video would get put on "heavy rotation" on MTV, making bands extremely well-known but also causing viewers to get totally sick of them after weeks of repetition? For better or for worse, that's what TikTok is right now: heavy rotation in a post-MTV world. I will be here at my typewriter, keeping a beady eye on this whole situation. And if you have thoughts of your own, please email me at ienjoymusicblog [at] gmail [dot] com :)
Thanks to Elijah Johnston and Ben Sooy for your helpful perspective — blog readers, go check out their tunes!