For the past year, Masked Wolf‘s ‘Astronaut In The Ocean’ has had a constant TikTok presence. This week, the 22-year-old Australian rapper Harry Michael’s viral single returns to the top of the TikTok charts. According to music data website Chartmetric, the song sits ahead at Olivia Rodridgo‘s ‘deja vu‘ at number two and Dua Lipa‘s ‘Levitating’ at number three.
Why is ‘Astronaut In The Ocean’ so popular?
‘Astronaut In The Ocean’ is a song about feeling isolated and adrift. Its lyrics reflect the feeling of the present time. The song captures the paralysis and depression many millions experience quarantining at home amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
“What you know about rollin’ down in the deep?” Harry Michael raps during the song’s chorus, “When your brain goes numb, you can call that mental freeze. When these people talk too much, put that shit in slow motion. Yeah, I feel like an astronaut in the ocean.”
Michael digs deep for his emotional vocal performance. He has a long history of anxiety and depression resulting from the separation of his parents at a young age. The song’s feeling of isolation and pent-up emotion draws on Michael’s teenage experience living in the care of conservative Greek Orthodox grandparents. This was a home where Harry was prohibited from rapping. After he moved out, his aspirations of a career in music were further frustrated by an ill-informed record label deal. “I couldn’t release any music for about five years,” he recently informed GQ.
Masked Wolf’s musical inspirations
The song draws on several familiar hip hop styles. Masked Wolf has shared that his narrative approach to writing lyrics is informed by popular y2k rapper 50 Cent as well as Eminem on singles like ‘Stan’ and ‘Lose Yourself. ‘ Astronaut In The Ocean’ is also evocative of Kendrick Lamar, who Michael namechecks during the track.
The viral power of the internet
One of the great promises many predicted the internet would hold for artists was a levelling of the playing field between Do It Yourself creators and major label acts. With the celebrity-driven era of photogenic Instagram pop stars and the decline of Soundcloud, this has recently seemed far from true. (Though there have always been success stories, and let us not forget Bandcamp.)
TikTok is different. A song’s success on the platform is not based on the image of its artist. The video-sharing app more heavily favors good songwriting, meaningful lyrics, and catchy musical hooks.
How a song becomes a TikTok hit
TikTok is a social media network where users share short videos. These videos are often set to music. And with 689 million users worldwide, many of them members of Generation Z, the app has proven to have an enormous cultural influence. TikTok’s ability to propel an artist to fame has quickly earned it the status of “this generation’s hit machine”.
In a recent article for Bloomberg journalist Shelly Banjo investigated how TikTok can make or break a song. Banjo used Megan Thee Stallion‘s hit single ‘Savage‘ as an example. Released in 2020, it bubbled to fame as a result of user enthusiasm. TikTok users shared videos with the song. Many seeing the videos of their friends, in turn, made ‘Savage’ featuring videos of their own. “[Users’] choreographed their own dances for the song,” Banjo revealed, “introducing it to other fans who watched those videos tens of millions of times. That mysterious formula for success on TikTok has turned the app into the most important new social media platform in years.”
Masked Wolf’s ‘Astronaut In The Ocean’ on TikTok
The story of Masked Wolf‘s ‘Astronaut in the Ocean’ on TikTok follows a similar trajectory. The song was first released with mild success in Australia in 2019. As TikTok began to explode in popularity throughout 2020, so too did Masked Wolf’s song. It has since featured in thousands of videos. In 2021 it is jumping from TikTok to a mainstream audience.
Chartmetric notes the song is currently the 3rd most listened to song on Spotify. It is a Top 5 single in the US and Australia. It is number 16 in the UK charts and number three on the Billboard Global 200 singles chart. The song also occupies top places on Deezer and Itunes. What is more, it is the third most Shazammed song in the last seven days.
These numbers do not lie. Masked Wolf has found fame. He now faces a greater challenge. Holding on to it.
Timeless theme of isolation
This song keeps on going
Is it a fluke?
Can he maintain success?
Uncertain future for live music in 2021