This story is part of our ongoing series on how China is reshaping our world.
“Old Town Road,” by 20-year-old rapper Lil Nas X, has already become the viral sensation of 2019. A Billboard #1 hit merging Atlanta rap with country music, the song was streamed 143 million times in one week, breaking a record previously held by Drake. But the song didn’t go mainstream by making it onto a Spotify playlist or getting on the radio: it was because of a cowboy-themed viral challenge on the Chinese short-form video app TikTok.
“Old Town Road” wasn’t the first track to break out because of TikTok, either. Just a few months months earlier, “Slow Dancing in the Dark,” by the Japanese artist Joji, broke into the Billboard Top 100 thanks to the #microwavechallenge, where users film themselves spinning as if in a microwave, set to a 15-second snippet of Joji’s track.