At its core, the explosively popular short-form video app TikTok is a platform built on trends: Different dances, songs and transformation challenges come and go, with seemingly little rhyme or reason to their popularity. But over the course of quarantine, TikTok’s mysterious algorithm has become a champion of something much more permanent by pushing all-female bands to the forefront of the platforms’ “For You” page.
Four of Diamonds, K3 Sisters, Taylor Red, Crimson Apple (pictured above), Kid Sistr and Avenue Beat are six of those bands, all of which celebrate sisterhood in their own way. Though they differ in musical genre and content type, they have found TikTok to be a life-changer when it comes to their music careers. Not only has the app offered them a platform and brought an audience, judging by the response, it’s inspiring other young women to create their own content and even form their own bands.
Could these groups” success on TikTok lead to a surge in so-called “girl bands”? Possibly, they allow — but they are also hoping for something more: to help change the longstanding connotation that “girl band” somehow means “less musically competent or valid,” a monstrously outdated concept that, as evidenced by recent interviews with sister act Haim, is still all too prevalent.
“We definitely use ‘girl band’ to describe ourselves, because we do think that it’s something unique,” says Sabel of Kid Sistr. “But it’s kind of conflicting, because that’s not all we are, and we didn’t do it on purpose. We found the people that we bonded with the most and felt were the most talented, and that’s why we’re together.”
The members of Crimson Apple are okay with being called a “girl band” for now, but long for a future where the term is no longer relevant.
“We’re looking for a day where female bands are more normalized so that people are just saying, ‘Oh that’s a really cool band,’” lead singer Colby Benson says.
They both agree that their bands’ popularity on TikTok is a positive sign and great opportunity to begin changing the connotation for a new generation – especially when they all work together.
“Part of what all these female bands are doing on TikTok is changing the expectations and changing the connotation behind it,” says Kid Sistr drummer Becca Webster. “I almost do think it’s important to make the distinction and acknowledge the fact that we all are females because it’s definitely an important part of my experience as a musician. But,” she adds, “it’s important to note that the connotation surrounding the term ‘girl band’ definitely has to change.”
In the UK, where Four of Diamonds are from, the term “girl band” has been used historically to describe singing/dancing pop groups like the Spice Girls or Little Mix — in fact, Four of Diamonds formed on “The X Factor” in 2016 and were the first all-female group to be signed to Virgin-EMI Records since the emphatically female-empowering Spice Girls themselves. For that reason, they’re proud to be called a “girl band.”
“We’re very much for feminism, girl power and we just feel such a strong unity when we’re together,” the group’s Caroline Alvares says. “We’re literally like sisters, so we’re just all about that female empowerment.”
Four of Diamonds feel that Tik Tok has kept them afloat in recent months while touring is not a possibility. With over 21,000 followers and 380,000 likes, they have become addicted to the app’s creative allowances and have come up with several challenges to accompany their songs “The Writer” and “Superstar.”
“I just feel like there’s less hate on Tik Tok and it’s more accepting,” the group’s Sophia Saffarian says. “Everyone’s really nice and they’re so lovely in the comments, so I’m all for it.”
With 1.6 million followers on the app and 34.1 million likes, K3 Sisters consists of Kaylen, Kelsey and Kristen Kassab. Self-described as “folk pop with a bit of Western swing,” K3 Sisters have been on TikTok since 2019 and credit it with the growth of their YouTube channel from 1,300 subscribers to 21,000. Although their TikTok page often focuses on their other interests like the “Harry Potter” franchise and transformation challenges, the followers they have acquired from the app have undoubtedly become fans of their music, too.
“Before TikTok, we knew that we could go out on any stage and play for the audience and entertain them, but what we didn’t have was the national and international reach,” Kelsey tells Variety. “TikTok has really given us those fans, especially integrating with the Harry Potter fandom, because they’re super loyal.”
Triplets Natalie, Nicole and Nika Taylor make up the country band Taylor Red. With 824,400 followers and over 15 million likes, the 29-year-olds have been playing together for almost 20 years, but have never experienced the response they’ve received on Tik Tok. They posted their first video on January 19 and are now consistently gaining around 20,000 followers per day, putting them on track to hit a million by mid-July. Though their TikTok page is mainly pranks and other content related to being triplets, they livestream on the platform almost daily to perform their songs and answer fan questions, hitting as high as 40,000 viewers on a single stream.
“We call our followers the Taylor Red Army because they’re so passionate, they’re so intense,” Natalie says. “Instagram could take us or leave us, but these people are on our every live, they sign up for our text list, they know our inside jokes.”
L.A. based indie rock band Crimson Apple has over 630,000 followers and 5.8 million likes on the platform. Known for their creative arrangements and mash-ups of popular songs, Faith, Shelby, Colby and Carthi Benson have seen their TikTok following directly translate to Spotify streams. “Break Your Heart Worse,” the first single they have released after joining TikTok, has over 83,000 plays in just over a month.
“Our Instagram is just through the roof and all of our streaming numbers are way more than we’ve ever gotten before,” Shelby says. “We went from just a few thousand streams to 30, 40 and 50 thousand after continually doing TikTok videos.”
You wouldn’t know it from their name, but New York trio Kid Sistr – comprising of Sara Keden, Becca Webster and Sabel – are actually not sisters. Instead, they were brought together by their shared experience of each having younger sisters themselves. In fact, their sisters help them film their one-take performance-style videos in Webster’s backyard, in which they cover songs from different artists who have influenced them. With 43,600 followers and 279,600 likes since January, they’ve used their TikTok covers to successfully promote several singles leading up to their first EP, coming July 17.
“We put out this TikTok that’s a trending song from this artist Girl in Red – ‘We Fell in Love in October’ – on June 5 when we had just released a single called ‘Dallas,’” Keden explains. “If you look at our listens on June 4 it’s like 400, and on June 5 it went up to 2,000 after the Girl in Red video hit.”
Avenue Beat, a country-pop trio consisting of Sami Bearden, Savana Santos and Sam Backoff, have gone viral on TikTok just by using it as a way to test new singles to an audience of 226,700. On May 15, they posted a video containing a sneak peek of an unreleased song “I Don’t Really Like Your Boyfriend” – and a week later, with over one million views on the video and overwhelmingly positive feedback, they released it as a single, which has already racked up over one million Spotify streams. Avenue Beat attributes their success on the app to its emphasis on original content as opposed to overall popularity.
“The importance is less placed on clout and the periphery and how many followers you have. It’s based purely on your content,” Bearden says. “Like there are people who just write these random songs that you come across. They’re literally just playing in their bedroom and it rocks and everybody loves it.”
Shelby of Crimson Apple echoed Bearden’s sentiment, adding that both the artist and fan communities on TikTok are extremely supportive.
“Honestly, there are a lot of really cool girl bands that we’re noticing on TikTok as well,” Shelby says. “The fact that TikTok is able to put these people out there that you normally wouldn’t find into your ‘For You’ page [means that] people are now seeing girl bands and thinking, ‘Hey, this is really cool, I’m going to follow that.’”
Another motivator for these bands’ presence on TikTok is inspiring their followers to form all-female bands themselves.
“The only way they’re gonna be inspired is if they see other women playing instruments,” Natalie says. “We want to do the same thing that inspired us to play.”
Adds Kid Sistr’s Sabel, “We’ve gotten so many comments saying, ‘This makes me want to pick up an instrument and learn how to play’ — or,” she concludes, “’this makes me want to be in an all-girl band.’”