April 8, 2022 | LIFE | By Hannah Van Zandt | Illustration by Iris Guo

TikTok is an app mainly used as a source of entertainment. Mindlessly scrolling through its content provides short-lived happiness. Though this may be true on the surface, the rise of TikTok musicals proves that this app is capable of much more.

TikTok musicals are exactly like they sound: musicals created on TikTok. TikTok creators make their own musicals and post them online for the entire world to see. These musicals have become larger than life – with performances, appearances on talk shows and released albums.

Ratatouille and Bridgerton are just a few examples of successful TikTok musicals. Recently, the writing duo Barlow & Bear, creators behind “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical,” have solidified how TikTok can influence theater. Their show was nominated and, as of Sunday, won a Grammy award for best musical theater album.

The first successful Tik-Tok musical that started this wave was “Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical,” which several TikTok creators made during the peak of the pandemic. It first began in August 2020 with a simple video from creator Em Jacobs singing an original song in acapella. The piece was dedicated to the rat Remy from the movie “Ratatouille.”

Then, fellow TikTok creator Daniel Mertzlufft, who is also behind several other TikTok musicals, made a full-scale version of the song, putting in ensemble voices and an orchestra behind it describing what it could look like on stage as a finale number.

Soon after, hundreds of other followed suit by creating their own concepts of the show through costumes, Playbills, set designs, choreography, and more songs. It gained so much traction that the main TikTok contributors of the musical went on to create a recorded version streamed online to raise money for the Actors Fund. From this, they raised two million dollars and received a total of 350,000 viewers.

The show included stars Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Andrew Barth Feldman (Dear Evan Hansen), Adam Lambert (Queen), and Ashley Park (Emily in Paris), among many others. The musical had become a viral sensation with many creators joining forces to create music and perform for a good cause. “Ratatouille: The TikTok musical” was a fun musical that caught viewers’ attention rapidly. That being said, this musical was just the beginning.

It wasn’t long after until the next TikTok musical emerged, but this time, it went further than anyone could have imagined. Based on Netflix’s hit show, “Bridgerton,” “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” was created. It began when Abigail Barlow posted a TikTok saying “ok, but what if Bridgerton was a musical?” She then proceeded to sing a song she wrote titled “Daphne’s song,” which brought millions of views to her video.  

With its large following, Barlow recruited her writing partner, Emily Bear, to work together to bring this potential musical into reality. What made the Barlow & Bear duo even more attractive to audiences was involving them in the entire writing process. They would go live together on social media platforms to show everything they did behind the scenes. This included writing lyrics, recording, composing, and orchestrating their music.

In an industry where writers tend to hide their creative processes, fans were ecstatic to be able to follow their progress collectively. They even caught the attention of the cast of Bridgerton and Netflix, who reposted their work.

Barlow & Bear wrote a total of 15 songs in a matter of six weeks, releasing a concept album in September 2020 with 10 million streams, topping the pop charts. Their success has led them on the Today Show, performing in the Kennedy Center, and being listed in the Forbes 30 under 30 list, among many other accomplishments.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any bigger, they were nominated for a Grammy for best musical theater album. They made history by being the youngest ever nominated in their category at ages 23 and 20, and were the only females nominated as well. Their accomplishments are groundbreaking on so many levels and broke down barriers in the musical theater industry. Their story is like none other, especially with one originating on TikTok.

Both the musicals Ratatouille and Bridgerton show us just how big of an impact TikTok can have on musical theater. TikTok is no longer just a platform – it has now become the forefront of new ideas and projects that can become real success stories for individuals. These musicals were all made for the internet, by the internet, and yet they still managed to reach the level of popularity of Broadway musicals. With Barlow & Bear’s Grammy win, we now know that there can be so much done with TikTok, and this can pave the way for a new generation in the musical theater industry.

This then poses the question: what will TikTok become in the future, and how will it impact musical theater? The win of a Grammy tells us that it is possible for TikTok musicals to take part in the future, and this is only just the beginning. It is hard to say what this win will do for musical theater, but one thing is certain: TikTok musicals have defied everything that was once thought of as musicals.

And who knows? Maybe we will see a TikTok musical someday on the stage.

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