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News / Inês Ferreira / 19 Jan 2024

User-Generated Hits: The Viral UGC Tracks That Defined 2023

15 minute read

We've rounded up the biggest UGC videos, trends and moments of 2023.

The last couple of years have shown us that user-generated content (UGC) has been disrupting the linearity of music popularity as we know it. No longer are we seeing the conventional correlation between a track’s commercial success and the effectiveness of its marketing campaign, and artists who were the face of a previous generation are making unexpected comebacks thanks to platforms like TikTok and YouTube.

So how is UGC upending the status quo? User-generated content refers to videos uploaded by users to social platforms, many of which feature sound bites of music. UGC is inherently unpredictable and chaotic by nature. Seemingly unimpacted by commercial or populist agendas, UGC trends are organic by nature, rising up from the depths of internet subculture and capturing an ephemeral zeitgeist.

Increasingly we are seeing that the virality of music on these social platforms is spilling over  into the ‘IRL world’, leading many tracks to make surprising comebacks in music charts worldwide as their popularity online boosts streams. 

Here, we break down the biggest UGC hits, tracks and trends from the last 12 months.

1. ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ - Ghostwriter

We can’t ignore Ghostwriter977’s ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ which accrued more than 15M views on TikTok and 275K views on YouTube before its first removal. It was the most prominent track to debut AI voice-generation without its original artists’ knowledge and consent, and kick-started an entire debate on the role of AI in the music industry. People used it mainly for reaction videos and to discuss the topic.

2. ‘Another Love’ - Tom Odell

2023 was a year of protests, and ‘Another Love’ was the track that firmly established itself as the  protest soundtrack , featuring heavily  in UGC addressing the Ukrainian war. From videos made by soldiers on the frontlines to edits featuring Zelensky’s speeches, Tom Odell’s song made him the unexpected face of Ukranian resistance movement, even leading him to perform in Bucharest’s train station to freshly arrived Ukrainian refugees.

3. ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’ - Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Sneaking in at the end of 2023, Emerald Fennell’s cult film ‘Saltburn’ brought Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s 2001 hit ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’ to new TikTok heights. Trends emerged, with users either recreating the film’s now infamous last scene, or capturing its upper class lifestyle and aesthetic. This surge in popularity led to the song’s entry into the US Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time ever. Despite Ellis-Bextor’s success in the early 2000s, with many of her songs charting in the UK and Australia, none had entered an U.S. chart until now.

4. ‘Now and Then’ - The Beatles

On November 3, 2023, history was made with the release of the last Beatles’ song, ‘Now and Then’. Following the 90s releases of  ‘Free As A Bird’ and ‘Real Love’ – two out of three John Lennon demos gifted to Paul McCartney by Yoko Ono – the remaining Beatles were only now able to complete the last demo thanks to developments in technology. With the help of AI, they separated Lennon’s piano sound, previously hard to discern in the original tape, and seamlessly joined George Harrison’s guitar parts from a 1995 session. Alongside the music video and documentary, The Beatles gained some momentum on TikTok and Instagram with their official accounts heavily posting about the new release. On YouTube Shorts, they have made it available, along with the expanded editions of the ‘Red’ and ‘Blue’ albums’, enabling users for the first time to incorporate their work into UGC creations. ‘Now and Then’ inspired the creation of over 24K TikTok videos, the majority emphasising the significance of this release, particularly as the first for the Millennial and Gen Z audience.

5. ‘Water’ - Tyla

One of last year’s highlights was the viral UGC dance challenge that catapulted South African-born Tyla to international fame. Since the release of her song ‘Water’ in July, along with her TikTok videos featuring the song’s choreography, Tyla’s track has consistently trended on the platform. Millions of users have engaged in the challenge, attempting to master the moves, creating dance tutorials, and sharing their own variations. The official music video, posted on YouTube in October, amassed more than 3M views in three days, while some of her own TikTok videos have over 65M views each.

6. ‘Makeba’ - Jain

2023 was also the year when an anti-Apartheid-referenced song sampling Hamilton Bohannon’s 1978 hit ‘Me & the Gang’ went viral. ‘Makeba’ released in 2015 by French singer Jain gained fame in 2018 when it was featured in a Levi’s commercial. However, in December of last year, it soared to the #1 spot on the TikTok US Top Tracks chart as it became widely used in millions of meme videos, often paired with Bill Hader’s dance on an SNL sketch, matching the beat perfectly.

7. ‘Boy’s a liar Pt. 2’ - Ice Spice

Ice Spice is no stranger to TikTok, having already made waves with her breakthrough hit ‘Munch (Feelin’ U)’ back in August 2022. However, it was her PinkPantheress remix titled ‘Boy’s a liar Pt. 2’ that propelled her to a new level of fame last year, featured in over 5M TikTok videos and 500K Shorts. Many celebrities embraced the lip-syncing trend, including Bella Hadid and North West and Kim Kardashian, who posted a total of 8 videos with that song. Even Keke Palmer and Lewis Capaldi joined in with some dance moves.

8. ‘(It Goes Like) Nanana’ - Peggy Gou

A short clip from Peggy Gou’s set at the Lost Nomads festival in Marrakech turned her not-yet-released song into an instant summer hit. The clip, posted on 5th June, garnered over 7M views and featured a small snippet of ‘(It Goes Like) Nanana’, which was officially released on June 15th. The single made its way to the Top 40 of Billboard’s Global 200, and earned more than 27M streams in the U.S., according to Luminate. At the time, Gou didn’t have a TikTok account and seemingly didn’t even know what a chart was, saying ‘My song was never on a chart before. In the beginning I wasn’t sure what [charting] meant exactly’. People have used the original video’s snippet on TikTok for every kind of content, but mainly to hype up the single’s release.

9. ‘Everybody’ - Nicki Minaj

Right at the end of 2023, Nicki Minaj released ‘Everybody’ with Lil Uzi Vert as part of her highly-anticipated ‘Pink Friday 2’ album. It quickly became a hit, mainly fueled by the sampling of Junior Senior’s funky track ‘Move Your Feet’. On TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, users joined the dance challenge, with even Kevin Hart and his family joining the craze.

10. ‘Collide’ - Justine Skye

Another highly-used track on TikTok last year was the sped up version of Justine Skye’s ‘Collide’. Originally released in 2014, the song resurfaced on TikTok due to a dance challenge that started to gain traction in late 2022, ultimately propelling the track to reach Billboard’s Global 200 chart in early 2023. ‘Collide’ can proudly claim to be featured in one of the most-viewed TikTok videos of 2023, with over 30M likes and 300,000 comments.

11. Sure Thing’ - Miguel

If you were on any social platform last year, you certainly couldn’t have missed Miguel’s ‘Sure Thing’. Back in 2011, the song cracked the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 and it went viral – even though such terms were not yet used- on MySpace with over 4.5M hits. As the song regained momentum in late 2022, Miguel’s label urged him to get on the app and ride the wave. Peak virality arrived in 2023 with a sped up version also released to DSPs. The song is featured in all types of videos, without sticking to any particular trend.

12. ‘From The Start’ - Laufey

The 24-year old Icelandic musician, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Laufey gained fame by sharing her nostalgic and jazz-inspired songs on social media. While the melodies in most of her music evoke compositions from the last century, her contemporary lyrics incorporate modern-day expressions like ‘awkward silence’ or ‘blah blah blah’. Last year, she released her second album ‘Bewitched’, featuring a stand out track, ‘From The Start’.With its Bossa Nova beat, it has already been used in over 97.5K TikTok videos and 10K YouTube Shorts. Many now consider her the prodigy responsible for bringing Jazz back to popularity among Gen Z listeners. Her YouTube channel boasts over 1M subscribers, and her concerts are consistently sold out, with the majority of her young audience sharing the experience online. Fans often pair her song with sweet and sentimental visuals, such as illustrations and pet videos, to complement the emotions her music evokes.

13. Tube Girl

Sabrina Bahsoon, also known as Tube Girl, exploded last summer with her lip-syncing videos shot in the London Underground amidst unsuspecting commuters. The unconventional filming setting swiftly transformed into a global trend, inspiring millions of users worldwide to create similar videos in their city’s public transport systems. As a result, Bashoon garnered thousands of followers and accumulated over 28M likes across all her videos.  Now she travels the world in major brand deals with companies like Tiffany and Co., and MAC. Her most recent videos feature collaborations with world famous celebrities and musicians like Omar Apollo, Leigh-Anne, and Geri Halliwell.

14. ‘What Was I Made For?’ - Billie Eilish

In what was probably the biggest film release of the year, Barbie not only made waves at the box office but also on user-generated content. More specifically, one of the film’s main singles, Billie Eilish’s ‘What Was I Made For?’ almost perfectly captures the female coming-of-age experience, a sentiment that many online users found fitting to pair with clips of their own ‘girlhood’ moments. One of the most famous audio versions online is one where the track is mixed with one of the film’s most powerful lines, read by Ruth Handler, Barbie’s creator: ‘Take my hands, close your eyes. Now feel’.

15. ‘Snooze’ - SZA

SZA’s last mid-album highlight ‘Snooze’ gained popularity online among social media users to feature all types of content. From makeup tutorials to food recipe videos, the track was used in over 300K videos across platforms, including those from celebrities such as Victoria Beckham, Kim Kardashian, Hailey Bieber, and Sophia Richie Grainge. By September last year, the song had spent 13 weeks atop Billboard‘s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart and reached #7 on the Hot 100. Later that month, Justin Bieber joined the singer to release an acoustic version, which has garnered over 4.8M views on YouTube so far.

16. Priti Patel and Nigel Farage - Conservative Party Karaoke

A viral moment we can’t let pass happened last October at the Conservative Party’s conference after-party, hosted by GB News. Although the original video of Priti Patel singing to Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels,’ with Nigel Farage and Liz Truss singing along in the crowd, has apparently been taken down, The Telegraph’s edited version on YouTube has garnered more than 86K views so far. The video’s comment section is filled with many frustrated opinions on this piece of user-generated content, which also includes a sing-along moment to Frankie Valli’s ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ at the end.

17. Running Up The Hill - Kate Bush

To conclude, an honourable mention goes to Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up The Hill’, one of the first instances of a legacy song being catapulted into mainstream media decades after its initial release, ultimately climbing to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, back in 2022. Following its feature in the 4th season of the Netflix series Stranger Things, the track went viral on both YouTube and TikTok, reportedly earning Bush over $2.3M and boosting her YouTube channel subscribers from 1K to 33K.

Some of last year’s viral UGC moments highlight the power that a new generation of users has in redefining success and breathing new life into tracks and artists. Any guesses on what will be the hottest UGC moments of 2024?

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