Album art depicting a stray dog running into a church.

These Are the Bands You’re Hearing Everywhere on TikTok and Instagram

Reels are an easy thing to get fixated on, since you can just keep scrolling endlessly to dull your mind while doing another task. Like trying to fall asleep, or take a whiz. And yes, there are ethical icks involved here that we could talk about all day, but I wanted to specifically focus on the songs that are used in most of these reels.

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Oftentimes, a song will suddenly gain traction on the apps, and you’ll hear it on repeat for a couple of weeks or so before the next big thing dominates our earwaves. But there are a few bands that users just can’t get enough of, it would seem. Their songs are continually used, either in their base form or altered somehow (sped-up, slowed down, etc.). I’ve got a few theories as to why, and I also happen to be a big fan of these bands already, so I’m glad to have a moment to talk about this with all of you.

Current Joys

I’ve written about Current Joys’ sudden regrowth in the TikTok era before, where I cited an interview in which the band’s frontman, Nick Rattigan, posits that his increased popularity is due to the fact that Current Joys’ (and its sister group, Surf Curse’s) discography feels particularly “teenage” at times. Rattigan’s vocal and lyrical styles are both untempered and keening, and the way he plays guitar only amplifies whatever feelings he evokes in his songs. I’ve been hearing this one making the rounds lately:

Most of his music isn’t overproduced, yet it isn’t subdued either. Using a very stripped-down songwriting method, he manages to evoke more feeling than even the dreamiest reverb mic could. It’s difficult to describe; listening to songs like “Become The Warm Jets” elicits memories like walking home after a disappointing party. Or after having to tell someone really kind that you’re just not interested, and wondering if this is just gonna be your life now. You know. The sort of life shit that’s particularly present in your teens and early twenties.

What’s notable about all this is the fact that Rattigan’s first real burst of popularity came from TikTok’s predecessor, Vine, when beloved user Emma Greer used his song “New Flesh.” It was her last video before she passed from cancer, and the conjunction of people’s love for Emma and the raw sound of the song itself brought attention to Rattigan’s music from people who weren’t already in the scenes he played in. And though the contexts are entirely different and the last thing I want is to sound callous, it is quite telling about the nature of his music that no matter the platform, young people find a home in his discography.

Alex G

I started hearing people use Alex G’s music nearly a year ago, and while I was pretty delightfully surprised to hear such a throwback, I didn’t anticipate that even now, I’d hear his songs constantly reused and reiterated for all kinds of content. For instance, I’ve seen people use a song like “Mary”—a sexy song that’s, from my understanding, a loose allegory for getting high—to make redpilled opinions about women. Odd shit. This is Mary, for reference:

I dunno about you guys, but to me, this is a song you play when you either wanna get fresh with someone, or get stoned. Not to make “hot takes” about how Jennifer was a bitch for dumping you.

On the other side, I often see the song “Sarah” used to do one of two things: make some sort of positive exclamation OR lament about the current late-stage-capitalist life we’re all living. Which, to be honest, is totally fair in either case, because the song sounds like this:

In my opinion, the reason so many people go back to Alex G’s music is because the guy is uniquely talented. He was one of the first popular “bedroom” artists, where musicians would pretty much do everything by themselves and then mix separate audio files together. He’d do drums, guitar, bass, and vocals, resulting in a pretty great, crisp sound that sometimes gets lost when playing with a band. When you only have yourself to play with, you either fall flat, or echo off your own talents, and Alex G absolutely falls under the latter.

And in a time when loops mean everything, a great guitar riff will set you for life. Alex G has, like, 100 great guitar riffs. Every month, I find that someone discovers yet another great riff from his songs and then that becomes the next apple in the eye of content creators. I’m still waiting for them to discover “Sandy.”

Duster

Now, I only really got into Duster a couple of years ago, so I’m not as knowledgeable about them as I am about these other two. But I figure, if a band describes themselves as “a reclusive experimental electronic slowcore(?) band,” it doesn’t take much of a stretch of the ol’ imagination to understand how and why they got so popular on TikTok. Anything-core is the name of the game for teens these days. And for us old timers, Duster’s specific sound brings us back to our own days of youth.

This song in particular has been making the rounds:

And what’s baffling is I see it equally used for sadder content, AND meme-ier content. Sometimes the song will be used for a video with context like, “I have a bad relationship with my mom.” Other times, it’ll be a video of a kid making a joke and then walking away with a goofy stride. I don’t even know what to say here, other than I think Duster’s sort of sound is the kind of sound that either makes people comfortable enough to share their more difficult feelings OR forces them to confront their difficult feelings … which makes them uncomfortable, cue the memes.

As a whole, I’ve gotten used to hearing a cool song with strained guitar riffs that remind me of MBV, and then looking it up and finding out it’s, yet again, Duster. Like, I didn’t know this was a Duster song, and I’ve heard it everywhere for months now:

And truly? Honestly? I thought this was from Deftones:

So why is Duster kicking up all this dust? I think, like Rattigan and Alex G, the band is fantastic at creating really good riffs for people to work with, but what also helps is how minimal the vocals are. This allows people to use these sounds for whatever purpose they want—especially teenagers, whose comments on this song I’m reading as I write this article, and who are largely talking about things that got us into these bands ourselves when we were teens. Things like the monotony of it all, bullying, mental health, all of that.

Concluding Thoughts

I’m sure I’ve probably missed out on a couple to list here, but ultimately, these are the three I’ve noticed the most, and thinking about all this has me even more baffled about the current ways we consume music. In creating content, we’re scoring our thoughts with just the barest representations of fuller songs. It’s why so many people are fixated on writing good bridges now, instead of entirely good songs.

At the same time, it’s also introducing people of various generations to great bands, which I think is generally a positive. I found a lot of my favorite bands through Vine, after all. What I suppose unsettles me is that there’s potential here for people to become so obsessed with a specific type of sound, they’ll forget about the bands themselves, which would be a shame since these are some very talented people. I suppose all I can do is sit around and twiddle my thumbs, and watch as the way we consume music continues to evolve in weirder and weirder ways.

(Featured Image: Domino Records)


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Author
Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).