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Because China // s01 e05

China is changing how we listen to music

Joshua Frank
Member exclusive by Joshua Frank

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.

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