RIP Musical.ly: A Very Brief History
The video creation platform loved by teens is getting a rebrand. Here are a few of its best moments.
Screenshot via YouTube
Musical.ly, a lip-syncing video app aimed at teenagers, is no more. Chinese company Bytedance announced Friday that its music video platform TikTok will absorb Musical.ly’s content and user base, and ditch Musical.ly’s name. It’s essentially a rebrand not a shutdown, but for the app’s 100 million monthly active Musers—what Musical.ly’s users call themselves—it represents a new home for their weird, silly, high school-bedroom videos.
If you’re in your 20s or older, you might have missed the Musical.ly boat altogether. Musical.ly videos are 15 seconds to one minute long, and usually involve some sort of song or voiceover, simple editing, and a dance. Most of the content kids made on there was mostly wholesome and fun. But it had an influence far beyond being a silly selfie app for teens.
Musical.ly influenced the way viral internet stars were born. Billboard put it best in its look at Musical.ly stars, including teen celebrities Jacob Sartorius and Baby Ariel who got their start on the app:
Musical.ly has become a bona fide cultural phenomenon, even inspiring pearl-clutching among “olds,” from parents fretting over sexualized youth and online predators to traditionalists questioning the artistic validity of lip-syncing. It may not be Elvis thrusting his hips or Public Enemy speaking truth to power—but then again, would anyone who’s not a teen admit it if Musical.ly did represent a new frontier in pop?
It wasn’t just individual stars that drew people to the platform, but often it was the shared experience of a meme. While Vine gifted us with such iconic moments as SCREW YOU, JAKE and jingle-creation app Ditty brought us the thrussy, Musical.ly gave us a myriad of memes that you might not even realize came from the platform.
There’s my personal favorite, the “Karma’s a Bitch” transformation videos, a meme allegedly based on a moment from TV drama Riverdale and started on TikTok’s Chinese version of the app, Douyin, that involves a relatively plain-looking person suddenly and violently becoming a sexed-up version of themselves:
Even though all of the videos are pretty produced—all of them have a voiceover or lip-syncing aspect, and most feature some kind of camera editing like zooms and smash-cuts—there’s still something raw and riffing about the stuff Musers put on the platform. And not all of it is as pure as the karma meme.
A quote from the show 13 Reasons Why, where the central character sets up the narrative about her suicide, was memed into oblivion, but in these videos it comes across as more flippant than homage:
Musers pissed off the ever-level headed Rick and Morty fandom with their cosplay videos, and while they’re not exactly the height of cosplay-as-art, they’re just kids having fun with something they like:
That meme made it onto Rick and Morty as a meta-joke, where Morty threatens to kill himself over Musical.ly cosplayers:
The El Chombo reggaeton beat “Dame Tu Cosita” (Spanish for “give me your thingy”) got the Musical.ly treatment after a game animator uploaded a video of a green frog-like alien dancing to the song. Musers turned this viral hit into the “Dame Tu Cosita Dance Challenge:”
These are all fairly well-known memes, but then there’s this guy, Gaurav Gera, who makes videos that occasionally star an adorable woman named Mrs. Rajeshwari. They get into all sorts of shenanigans. I love them.
The news of Musical.ly’s merger into TikTok comes after Facebook announced last week that it was testing a lip-syncing app that was seen as a major Musical.ly competitor. Whether Facebook, a website for old people, will have the same scrappy gusto that drew young people to Musical.ly, remains to be seen.