The future of TOMORROW X TOGETHER after the “Anti-Romantic” challenge
More than 100,000 videos on social media platform TikTok had used TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s “Anti-Romantic” as their background music just one month after the song’s release, and the number exceeded 300,000 a month later on July 24. This makes it the most used TOMORROW X TOGETHER song for videos on the service.
The track’s TikTok popularity began with the “Anti-Romantic” dance challenge. After seeing the positive comments left on a video of her playfully dancing to the song, American TikToker Zuki from New Jersey developed it into choreography and posted a tutorial video where she explained the moves slowly so others could easily follow along. “I [took] inspiration from the simplicity of popular TikTok dances,” Zuki elaborated, saying she shared the tutorial because her “main goal is to entertain and have fun.” Her choreography for the dance challenge involves undulating along to the melody of “Anti-Romantic” with handclaps and hip pops in time to the drop of the beat, and it quickly spread through other TikTokers across the platform. That’s why so many “Anti-Romantic” dance challenge videos have “dc: @yutasbestie”—dance credit to Zuki by username—in their descriptions.
One of Zuki’s close TikToker friends, Irene, is also MOA (the TOMORROW X TOGETHER fandom) and covered Zuki’s choreography. With more than 45 million views, Irene’s dance challenge is the most viewed TikTok video related to “Anti-Romantic,” and as she took center stage in the trend, her follower count surpassed one million. “I woke up one day bombarded with comments of different languages,” like Portuguese and Spanish, she said, and was glad to find people “viewing my video and connecting with it despite the language differences.” Her experience hints at how the “Anti-Romantic” dance challenge spread so rapidly across the world. On June 27, when the number of videos for the challenge had exceeded 100,000, TOMORROW X TOGETHER joined in with a different kind of challenge: an “Anti-Romantic” lip sync. Their video was viewed 4.5 million times in the first day alone.
TikTok’s unique personalized recommendations works such that “related content is suggested not only to users who like K-pop, but also to users who could potentially like K-pop, depending on their preferences,” said Jay Bae, head of global business development at TikTok Korea. Even if you’re not following any K-pop artists, there’s a good chance that, if many of the videos that fall within your areas of interest use their music, content related to their songs will be recommended to you. This leads to people discovering new artists and hearing music that they didn’t even realize they would like. This is one of the reasons that TikTok has had such a notable influence on the music industry within the past several years. It’s equally likely that, once the dance challenge kicked off, these personalized recommendations pushed “Anti-Romantic” to make its way into the feeds of TikTok users who could potentially be interested in TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s music. “Anti-Romantic” maintained a steady amount of streams in the US after its first week and actually saw increases in Mexico and Brazil. It can be assumed that it was the foothold that TOMORROW X TOGETHER has on TikTok as well as in countries like the US that drove TikTokers to quickly make a lot of dance challenge videos and that those videos spread far and wide through recommendations.
On top of that, “Anti-Romantic” is in the most unique situation among all the tracks off the same album, The Chaos Chapter: FREEZE. “Anti-Romantic” placed 158th on the Spotify US 200 chart on the day of its release, placing higher than the lead single, “0X1-LOVESONG (I know I love you) feat. Seori” (173rd). According to Google Trends, in the time between May 31—when the album was released—until the announcement of The Chaos Chapter: FIGHT OR ESCAPE, the top three global search terms related to TOMORROW X TOGETHER were all in reference to “Anti-Romantic” (“anti romantic,” “txt anti romantic” and “anti romantic lyrics”). During the same timeframe, interest in the group was also highest in the Philippines, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Japan, respectively, while the countries showing the most interest in “Anti-Romantic,” in order, were Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Paraguay, Brazil, South Africa, Colombia and the US. It seems “Anti-Romantic” had a far-reaching appeal beyond simply the fanbase. For example, TOMORROW X TOGETHER released a TikTok video on July 2 using the Duet function, which allows users to split the screen and place their video beside an existing one. In this case, the group sang along with an earlier video from salem ilese, who is among the writers on “Anti-Romantic.” While the TOMORROW X TOGETHER account had seen an average of around 20,000 new followers per day, that figure shot up to 50,000, and while there had been many Google searches for the song coming from countries like Brunei, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, Switzerland, Chile and South Africa, this shifted afterward to Armenia, Morocco, Colombia, Venezuela, Denmark, Belarus, Egypt and Korea. Apparently, some of the group’s new followers had fallen in love with “Anti-Romantic” after seeing the dance challenge. The challenge also found new fans in a more diverse set of countries.
Zuki said she chose to dance to the song because the “voice was so soothing and the instrumental was so minimalistic it gave the song more sincerity.” Not only was the music itself good, but it sparked her interest in TOMORROW X TOGETHER so that she looked up more of their material afterward and kept making videos related to them. “I didn’t expect it to have much success on TikTok specifically,” Nicole Kim, leader of BIGHIT MUSIC’s A&R Team, said, diving into what led teenage TikTokers like Zuki to respond to “Anti-Romantic.” “But I was sure the music was perfectly suited for Gen Z around the world from the moment I got the demo made by Alex Hope and salem ilese.” Kim Bo Ram, also from the A&R Team, revealed how “We Lost the Summer,” which had done well in North America, became a reference point when finding TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s pop sound: “We saw how this song that trendy singer-songwriter Charli XCX worked on to simultaneously capture trends in both K-pop and contemporary pop had a good response,” she said. “Rather than something overly sad, we wrote bitter, self-deprecating lyrics because we were trying to escape being too typical and represent Generation Z,” suggesting the style of the lyrics also played a part in the song’s popularity. In fact, “TXT [has] their unique style and concept,” according to Irene. “They have a fresh and lighter sound,” she said, “yet when interpreting their lyrics, they tend to be deep and dark,” and the group’s songs reflect “many of the feelings and experiences teenagers encounter. It is not a surprise that so many people across the globe find comfort and a connection with them.” Mariah, a TikToker, performed the “Anti-Romantic” dance at the ceremony where she accepted first place for a tumbling competition and uploaded the video, which has been viewed more than five million times. “I love the way that [TOMORROW X TOGETHER] create a safe space” for others their age to feel comfort, she said, as well as how “they know how to lead with confidence … through their music.”
So, while the “Anti-Romantic” dance challenge demonstrates how a K-pop song can spread across the world through social media, it also shows why TOMORROW X TOGETHER is particularly influential on TikTok. The first thing TOMORROW X TOGETHER released for “Anti-Romantic” was a short film on their official TikTok account on May 27, four days before their comeback. The group was collaborating with Korean TikTok creator Sihyun Rania to produce videos for all eight songs off The Chaos Chapter: FREEZE, with the video for “Anti-Romantic,” the album’s first track, naturally kicking off the project. The videos took advantage of TikTok’s short format and platform-specific techniques through quick transitions, slick editing and videos that were tailored to the mood of each individual song. The “Anti-Romantic” video garnered over nine million views, more than 30,000 comments in languages ranging from English to Indonesian, Spanish and Korean, and some 1.9 million likes. Users expressed appreciation for how passionately TOMORROW X TOGETHER was using TikTok and excitedly commented about the group’s grasp of the ins and outs of the service. Comments calling the boys musical.ly kings and raving how they’re even good at musical.ly (referencing the short-form social media service that was popular with teens in the US, Canada and other English-speaking countries and merged with TikTok in 2018) collectively were liked by over 5,000 people, and one commenting about how good the group’s transition game is had over 12,000 likes. In another video, whose title translates to “#JustinSOOBIN” and used a slowed down version of Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” SOOBIN covered an existing dance challenge by filming himself lip-syncing in the mirror with a lovelorn look on his face. The video received so much reception on the day it was posted that the TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s TikTok account picked up 80,000 more followers compared to the previous day.
The TOMORROW X TOGETHER members “create videos that exceed expectations by interjecting with clever comments or discovering points that are crucial,” Yu Ji Yeon, also with HYBE 360 Artist Content Studio, said. “They turn out well because they watch a lot of videos posted on TikTok and share them with their friends.” YEONJUN personally suggested he do a dance cover of the popular “Nowhere to Go (Quarantine Love)” that he “saw all over TikTok and wanted to try” and specifically uploaded the video on a Monday with a hashtag translating to “#MTWTFSSKeepItUpEverybody.” BEOMGYU lip-syncing to multiple characters from Black Rubber Shoes, TAEHYUN comparing one month of exercise to one year and HUENINGKAI’s cover of “good 4 u” were all made based on things the members were interested in or that were trending at the time. Lee Da Min, another employee from the Artist Content Studio, said that “the members use TikTok like it’s a game. Everyone agreed that creators should enjoy playing with TikTok so that the viewers can also enjoy themselves and the service can become a playground where everyone can express themselves.”
Whether they’re making music or TikTok videos, TOMORROW X TOGETHER has been in step with their Generation Z peers, and as their output accumulates, more and more Gen Z followers come to experience what the group is all about. In that respect, there could be more opportunities to let the wider world know about them the way the “Anti-Romantic” dance challenge did. Bae, the TikTok executive, felt that the challenge “expresses the international creators’ own creativity through their choreography inspired by the artist’s music, and the chemistry from that combination of music and choreography really resonated with a lot of people and led them to feel similarly and have fun, which is a very TikTok-esque and ideal outcome.” That’s also the reason why TOMORROW X TOGETHER, when they showed a trailer for their LO$ER OR LO♡ER would-you-rather game via TikTok on August 17, could write, “Let’s find out together tomorrow with the one and only TikTok Kings!”—because they have the confidence to accept whatever phenomena arise from the chemistry between K-pop, TikTok and Generation Z as if they were playing a game.
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