TikTok, the music industry’s current disruptor, is catapulting a new generation of artists from the phone screens into mainstream success. Traditional industry gatekeepers who, at one point in time, had a stronghold over society’s music taste, have now found themselves at the mercy of the apps’ millions of users worldwide. It’s yet another democratisation of music – a beat or song can travel the world over, if people are into it.
Newcomers such as Joshua Stylah, AKA Jawsh 685, have capitalised on the TikTok’s ability to make sure-fire hits and at at 17, his debut track ‘Savage Love (Laxed – Siren Beat)’ was this year’s explosive summer hit. It peaked at Number One in seventeen countries, whilst garnering around 563m TikTok views and over 230m Spotify streams – it’s also been the UK’s second biggest song of the year. But for Stylah, these accolades came accidentally, stemming from a track that he says he just “made at home after school one day” whilst “chilling” in his bedroom last year.
In this ‘siren jam’ – a New Zealand-led genre where tracks are designed to be played through siren speakers attached to cars or bikes – Stylah drew inspiration from the music of “specific artists from the Islands” to create a soundtrack of the summer for his Pasifika community in South Auckland, New Zealand. “We all listen to these sounds in my culture, I wanted to make a similar song that reminded me of home, he tells NME. And it works – TikTok users proudly tote it as a ‘Culture Dance’ anthem and a celebratory track for uplifting one’s heritage and roots.
Jawsh 685 talks to NME about TikTok virality, a begrudging Jason Derulo team-up and the significance of his culture.
How did ‘Laxed – Siren Beat’ come about?
“There wasn’t a set plan to make the song. I was in the mood to make music in July last year. I came home from school, brought out my laptop and started to mess around until I got that beat. I was just mixing and matching whatever I felt went right. I don’t have any specific to say about the beat itself, it honestly just came about! I shared it that day in July, then it ended up going viral on TikTok in April this year.”
Did you see the blow-up coming?
“No, I wasn’t even the one to upload it onto TikTok! I just put it on YouTube. Someone must have seen it on my channel and sampled it on TikTok. I made the beat for fun and luckily it went viral. If I’m honest, I wasn’t even on TikTok that often when it happened, a friend sent me a video saying that the beat was blowing up on the app, and then I went on TikTok and saw videos of people using it over and over. It was weird to see.”
Both your stage name Jawsh 685 (685 is the calling code for Samoa) and your debut track are tributes to your culture. Do you think it’s important to publicly embrace your culture?
“I don’t see it as ‘embracing’ my culture, it’s literally a part of who I am. I’ve always cared about my culture and I try to represent it in every way I can. Why wouldn’t I try and represent my culture? It’s my family, it’s where I come from, it’s where I started out, it’s my home. That’s why it was really exciting seeing it blow up the way it did with the ‘Culture Dance’. I guess people could tell that I had created something I thought was important to my community and they wanted to get involved too. I didn’t intend for anything like this to happen. It was a real blessing seeing everyone use it to represent their heritage.”
‘Savage Love’ is technically a remix of your beat and originated from a Jason Derulo clip where he sampled your tune without crediting you. How did it feel seeing an artist as big as he steal your music?
“I wasn’t happy about it, but I wasn’t angry. My team was able to handle it and deal with it. Luckily the collaboration then became official, and it achieved worldwide success. So, I can’t be too mad! But it was nice knowing that I have all these people around the world willing to back me up if they think someone is mistreating me.”
Your second single, ‘Sweet & Sour’ is also being used as a TikTok dance track similarly to ‘Laxed’/ ‘Savage Love’. Are you hoping that every future release goes big on TikTok?
“TikTok is a good app to promote your music and get it known by lots of people, but you can’t just put out any old beat and expect people to start a trend from it. People only share the tune if they like it. You’ve still got to work on the beat and make sure that it’s up to scratch. You can’t predict these things, you’ve just gotta make do with what you’ve got and see what happens.”
When you made ‘Laxed’, you only shared it on YouTube, yet it was on TikTok where you found success. It seems as if many artists are focusing on TikTok virality to promote their work. Do you think that TikTok has overtaken YouTube in being recognised as the key social media platform for music promotion?
“Well, having the full track for people to access is so important, so YouTube seems like it’s here to stay. But, with TikTok, you can have the snippets that people dance to and that’s how things trend. Then trending songs go viral and become hits. Both sites are needed in my opinion. But I’m not going to be the kind of producer that only makes music for it to sound good on TikTok, I don’t want those ideas in my head. If the whole song sounds good, then it will sound good in TikTok. You’ve got to be confident in your sound.”
Do you worry that you’ve peaked with your debut?
“I don’t worry too much about that, I just care about making sure the music I like gets out. If it blows up, that’s a bonus to me. I’m not too focused on the numbers and making sure things are a hit, I make songs for fun because I like making music. I’ve always wanted to make beats, but I wasn’t too serious about it because I just didn’t know enough. And I’m still learning now, but I’m going to try and see it through and make a career out of it.”
What’s in store for you in the future?
“I’m still learning about how I can do gigs. As a beatmaker, I’m wondering how that will work for me. But, in the future I’d love to work with other big artists – Akon would be a dream to work with. I grew up listening to his music, it slaps, and I know he’d sound good on one of my beats. I’ve still got one year of school left, so I need to focus on that for now!”
Jawsh 685’s ‘Sweet & Sour’ is out now