The Steve Lacy Effect: A TikTok Phenomenon

How TikTok has changed the trajectory of what music means from an artist’s perspective

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Alessandra Chang and Vanessa Chang

The Steve Lacy Effect is a phenomenon festering on TikTok that leaves trending music with little substance in the long run. TikTok, known for brief 15-second audios and an absurd amount of trends with short fuses, promotes this sensation, and Steve Lacy, an indie musician, happens to be this phenomenon’s most prominent and recent victim.

Steve Lacy’s hit single Bad Habit cover

Recent clips from Steve Lacy’s concerts have been posted to social media platforms (mostly on TikTok or Instagram) broadcasting Steve Lacy’s almost hostile attitude toward his fans—forcefully shattering cameras and bluntly telling fans to be quiet. However, videos from years past show a completely contrasting side of the artist; Lacy can be seen gleefully prancing around the stage wearing an almost blinding smile—he seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself. So, what changed?

The videos from his tour make it plain to see that his audience is mainly composed of fans from TikTok only singing the popularized 15-second interval of his song “Bad Habit.” In fact, there is a video where he lets the crowd sing, and after the viral part is over, the whole audience falters, unsure of the lyrics. It is then completely understandable why Steve Lacy is dissatisfied with his performances: he wants to be known for his musical talent, not just a temporary internet trend. The fact that his audience doesn’t even bother to listen to his other music is frustrating and demotivating, especially as a musician.

These superficial fans perpetuate a poor reputation among Lacy’s genuine fans. ”

Contributing to his relatively disappointing tour was the struggle fans experienced trying to buy tickets. Because Lacy booked small venues, his tickets were limited and sold out fast, thanks to the fanatics he amassed through TikTok. These superficial fans perpetuate a poor reputation among Lacy’s genuine fans; due to the selling out of his tickets, other fans weren’t able to buy one themselves.

Steve Lacy is just one specific example of a much broader phenomenon that seems to have plagued the music industry: TikTok. Undoubtedly, TikTok itself is the problem, not the fans. It is no secret that this double-edged social media app has dramatically changed the music industry—it has been the cause of various artists’ rise to fame, from famous song makers like mxmtoon to rappers like Lil Nas X. With insignificant terms such as “TikTok songs” and “audios,” the credibility of an artist is easily diminished, and can go as far as being disrespectful.

Lottery by K Camp best known for sparking the Renegade dance on TikTok

Music and trends are commonly referenced together, such as Lottery (Renegade) by K CAMP and the dance formulated around its lyrics. However, as time progresses, trends have become increasingly brief, flying by for as short as a month to a couple of weeks. As these trends boom and die down, so does the music associated with such trends. One-hit wonders become more common and can devastate an artist’s career. Social media platforms such as TikTok aren’t used to create longevity or a big fan base, but rather to entertain the viewer through different forms of content.

Even though TikTok is a great platform to promote exposure for smaller artists, this bizarre phenomenon of only knowing a couple of lines from a song is extremely problematic for artists who want to hold concerts for genuine fans (i.e. Steve Lacy). Steve Lacy’s behavior on the stage is completely understandable; as an artist starting small to amassing such a great audience only for none of them to know one song completely is extremely frustrating and diminishes an artist’s career. However, for now this pervasive situation will continue to infect the music industry—a phenomenon referred to as the “Steve Lacy Effect”.