‘I’ll probably be OK, right?’ Musicians and users concerned as Universal music taken off TikTok

<span>Noah Kahan, one of the major artists affected by the dispute between Universal and TikTok.</span><span>Photograph: Aysia Marotta</span>
Noah Kahan, one of the major artists affected by the dispute between Universal and TikTok.Photograph: Aysia Marotta

TikTok has had music from the world’s biggest music company, Universal Music Group (UMG), removed from its platform after the two parties failed to agree on new contractual terms.

It means that users’ videos can no longer be soundtracked by music from hundreds of artists ranging from megastars such as Taylor Swift, Abba and Harry Styles to emerging musicians, with fans quickly expressing dismay on social media. UMG artists who use TikTok to promote their work and interact with fans can no longer post their own music.

Videos that once carried UMG music now trigger a variety of messages such as “this sound isn’t available” or “this music is currently unavailable”.

The content removal comes a day after UMG posted an open letter accusing TikTok of bullying and intimidation, and complaining of “how little TikTok compensates artists and songwriters, despite its massive and growing user base, rapidly rising advertising revenue and increasing reliance on music-based content”.

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TikTok said UMG had “chosen to walk away from the powerful support of a platform with well over a billion users that serves as a free promotional and discovery vehicle for their talent”. The two companies have not made fresh statements since the content removal.

In refusing a deal that it saw as not adequately compensating its artists, UMG will position itself as a protector of artist revenues – but there will also be fears that the decision will shut its artists out of an important cultural meeting place, and diminish their marketing power. Viral dance challenges on TikTok complete with a song soundtrack, for example, have helped to propel stars such as Megan Thee Stallion and Victoria Monét to wider fame.

Noah Kahan, who is top of the UK singles chart with Stick Season, addressed the decision on TikTok, saying with a concerned expression: “I won’t be able to promote my music on TikTok any more … I’ll probably be OK, right? I’ll probably land on my feet, right? Right?”

But some artists have found engaging with TikTok a hindrance to their creativity, and an experience that negatively shapes approaches to songwriting. Metro Boomin, one of the leading producers in rap music, wrote on X following the publication of the UMG open letter: “I love the creativity and appreciation the kids show for the music on TikTok but I don’t like the forced pandering from artists and labels that results in these lifeless and soulless records.”