The Youth Lab


In this week’s 52INSIGHTS we unpick the new agreement between Universal Music & TikTok and explore the impact of music on the platform.


In recent days, a new contract has been signed between UMG and TikTok, meaning access to Universal’s tracks is back. The new agreement between the two groups signals a fresh phase of teamwork, where they're joining forces to support UMG’s artists and songwriters in reaching their creative and business goals. With TikTok’s top-notch tech, marketing and promotional abilities, UMG and TikTok aim to boost payments for UMG’s artists and songwriters, provide fresh ways to promote and engage with their music, and set high standards for safeguarding against generative AI. TikTok plans to invest heavily in artist-focused tools like "Add to Music App," improved data insights, and integrated ticketing systems. For creators, it means access to gold standard music libraries is back.

“In the US, TikTok users, on average, spend 22% more money on music-related purchases compared to the average music listener.”
TikTok Luminate Report - Nov 2023

The news of the updated agreement has our FAME team thinking about TikTok and music; a harmonious union that has birthed rockstars, shot brands into virality and seen hundreds of millions of budding two-steppers give the dance challenges a whirl. The relationship between UMG and TikTok has not been plain sailing, with ups and downs since its inception.


  • 2016:, TikTok's precursor, lays the groundwork for short-form video content and music integration, setting the stage for TikTok's meteoric rise.
  • 2018: With the merger of and TikTok, the platform undergoes a transformative shift, becoming a global hub for creativity and music discovery.
  • 2020: TikTok faces a setback as UMG removes its music catalog from the platform due to licensing issues, leaving a void in the music offerings for users and content creators alike.
  • 2021 (Early): UMG takes a stand against TikTok, highlighting concerns over fair compensation for artists and songwriters, signaling the need for a recalibration of industry norms.
  • 2021 (Mid): After extensive negotiations, UMG and TikTok reach a new licensing agreement, reinstating UMG's music on the platform and revitalizing TikTok's musical ecosystem.
  • 2021 (Late): UMG's Chairman and CEO, Sir Lucian Grainge, expresses satisfaction with the renewed partnership, underscoring its mutual benefits for artists, creators, and audiences.
  • 2024 (Early): UMG made the decision to remove its extensive catalogue of tracks from TikTok earlier this year due to the expiration of their licensing agreement. TikTok users were left without access to the music of renowned artists such as Taylor Swift, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and electronic music icons like Aphex Twin and Skrillex.
  • May 2024: UMG and TikTok sign a new contract, and access to Universal’s musicians and tracks is reinstated with fresh stipulations.


1.The Drake and Kendrick beef that blew up on TikTok

  • The last few months has seen two of rap's biggest stars release diss tracks about each other that blew up on TikTok. Now we are seeing this music industry feud erupt into TikTok stitches, lip syncs and deep explainers on the platform.

2.ELF Cosmetics - Eyes Lip Face Challenge

  • One of the first brand campaigns to go viral on TikTok. Racking up 7 billion views and 5 million in USG content. ELF was one of the first brands to realise the musical potential of TikTok with the ‘Eyes Lips Face Challenge’ and the original track the brand developed was subsequently released on Spotify.

3. The original TikTok dance challenge - Renegade

  • Renegade was the original dance challenge on the platform doing the rounds, choreographed by 14 year old Jalaiah Harmon. When the dance originally went viral in 2020 Jalaiah wasn’t credited and it wasn’t until months later she was discovered as the creator. This would be the first of thousands of viral dance challenges on the platform. The phenomenon of dance challenges on TikTok was studied by a professor (Trevor Boffone) in the University of Houston and translated into a book by Oxford University Press in 2021.

4.Nathan Abodaca brings huge fame to Ocean Spray

  • What’s more soothing than listening to Fleetwood Mac? Listening to Fleetwood Mac whilst watching a pro skateboarder on the move while drinking cranberry juice.

5.CAIRDE - Irish dancing to Run Boy Run by Woodkid

  • We love the remixing that the lads at Cairde do with contemporary music tracks and Irish dancing. They land the views each and every time with their hard shoe choreography; this piece of content racking up almost 30 million views.


“If brands want to show up in a fun way for young people on TikTok, I think it’s about showing up like us! Don’t try too hard. Bring us some new music, and something cool to try out. Don’t overthink it.”
Deirbhle, 19, Dublin.

At THINKHOUSE, we understand the importance of staying attuned to emerging trends and cultural shifts within platforms like TikTok that carry immense influence in youth culture. The reunion of UMG's music with TikTok presents a wealth of opportunities for our clients to leverage the platform's reach via its evolving music ecosystem, and to create compelling content that resonates with today's youth.

“Brands shouldn’t take themselves too seriously on TikTok. It’s so embarrassing when brands show up with a TikTok challenge and try to be too perfect and polished. Be OK with celebrating imperfections. I love what Curry’s PC World is doing on TikTok now. It’s so gas and relatable.”
Niamh, 24, Dublin.


At THINKHOUSE, we don’t like the term ‘rules’ when it comes to TikTok, as it is such a playful, UGC-led platform - the perfect place to embrace imperfection and rule-breaking. However, there are some brand best practices when it comes to showing up on the platform that we’ve gathered from feedback through our Love Network of young people and creators.

  1. Set the Mood with Music: As we’ve just explored, music sets the tone on TikTok. Harness the power of popular tunes or craft your own catchy melodies to enhance your campaigns and leave a lasting impression.
  2. Stay True to You: Authenticity reigns supreme on TikTok. Brands, ditch the overly polished adverts and opt for real, relatable content that speaks to the heart of your audience.
  3. Trends are your friends: TikTok thrives on trends, from dance crazes to viral tunes. Keep your finger on the pulse and weave these cultural phenomena into your campaigns to stay relevant and capture attention.
  4. Get the Community Involved: Engage your audience by inviting them to join the party. Encourage user-generated content that fosters a sense of belonging and builds a tribe around your brand.
  5. Challenge Convention: Create challenges that spark creativity and inspire action. By setting the stage for your audience to showcase their skills, you'll not only boost engagement but also generate buzz around your brand.
  6. Team Up with TikTok Talent: Collaborating with popular TikTok creators through THE LOVE NETWORK can give your campaign a turbo boost. Tap into their influence and creativity to authentically connect with their dedicated following.
  7. Keep it Lively: TikTok is all about fun and frivolity. Embrace the platform's playful spirit and leave the corporate jargon at the door.
  8. Short, Sweet, and to the Point: With attention spans shorter than a TikTok video, brevity is your best friend. Keep your content snappy and punchy to captivate your audience from the get-go.

Music will always be a part of TikTok for as long as the platform is thriving. A bond that cannot be broken. The challenge trend was born in 2020, but is very much alive and kicking. We’re predicting that there will be even more of a professionalisation of dance challenges and how they show up; with more technical, challenging choreography and movement coming to the fore.

“Some of the dance challenges now are getting harder! But that’s exactly what they are I suppose - a challenge! I’m so proud when I nail it. And me and my friends get so giddy when we get all the moves right. We even replicate them when we’re out!”
Bláthnaid, 21, Dublin.

So if your brand is yet to get into TikTok, it’s time to dust off the dancing shoes and get into the music.

Check out some of the work we’ve done with brands on TikTok:

Lucozade Alert Gets Sharp on TikTok

Goodfella’s launches Pizza Pockets on TikTok