Accessing local arts scenes—TikTok style

Most Montrealers are familiar with the vibrant, animated entertainment cornucopia that is its arts scene. With safety restrictions suspending live performances, artists have had to adjust to the hindrance of lockdown life. Creatives, however, are by no means taking a break from showcasing their art; from comedy to dance to drag, artists have adapted to virtual performances. Yet, there is a digital sphere ripe for the taking—and one that a few Montreal performers have recently started onboarding: Everyone’s favorite procrastination guilty pleasure, TikTok.

What makes TikTok stand out amongst other social media apps is its notoriously addictive, algorithm recommendations. Unlike other competing platforms, the app does not prioritize showing users content from accounts that they already follow, but rather promotes new videos based on viewer preferences collected from user data. The subsequent result is an endless self-reinforcing stream of content that digitally bewitches any unsuspecting user.

But it is possible to use this algorithm to work for you, not at you. Recently, I embarked on a quest to discover the Montreal side of TikTok. Several “mtl” hashtag searches later, my feed figured out what I wanted.

Indeed, the Montrealers of TikTok have fostered a community on the app, sharing inside jokes about the city’s various neighbourhoods, its penchant for ongoing construction, and its pre-pandemic nightlife. Recently, one TikTok that features a comedic, faux-French-accent voiceover assigning various Montreal icicles ratings from one to 10 went viral, amassing 4.3 million views. The user who posted the video, Maryze, is a Montreal-based alt-pop artist, whose TikTok follower count grew by 20,000 within the first few days of posting the video. In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Maryze admitted that she did not anticipate going viral, but was particularly pleased with how many TikTok followers became listeners of her music.

“I received a lot of messages from people who [wrote], ‘We came for the icicles but we stayed for the music,’” Maryze said. “I was getting about 50 song plays a day, but when the icicle video came out, my music was up to [about] 500 plays a day.”

As Maryze noted that when she was inundated with icicle-related comments, fellow Montreal artist and TikToker Eve Parker Finley reached out to offer support and encouragement. 

Musician, singer, and sketch comedian Eve Parker Finley observed how, like many millennials, she downloaded TikTok at the start of the pandemic to pass the time. Eventually she ended up making short comedy videos in October 2020, inspired by the TikTok culture and the medium itself. 

“I was so enthralled by its intense energy,” Finley said. “[Making TikToks] turned into a way to connect with people and also grow an online community. People discover me through comedy, but then also come to see my music, and vice versa.”

As an entertainment platform, TikTok does not limit the scope of its creators’ videos. Finley’s content ranges from showing off her instrumental abilities—her repertoire includes violin, viola, piano, and saxophone—to reacting to viral videos, to lovingly poking fun at Montreal life. Yet, the platform appears to function beyond simply connecting artists to audiences. Finley recalled one of her videos, in which she films a mattress on the street, with “Je reste debout jusqu’à la fin” spray painted on it. 

“People are always like, ‘The Montreal art scene is dead,’” Finley says in the video. “And I’m like, ‘Oh really? Take that.’”

 It only took a few hours for this video to make its way over to Lorem Ipsum, the very art collective that spray-painted the mattress. Through the power of the algorithm alone, artists are able to connect on TikTok, signalling an evolution toward digital collaboration. 

Montreal drag queen Matante Alex also enjoys the sense of community she has found through TikTok. Her content largely consists of makeup and drag outfit videos, masterfully edited to emphasize transformations with sassy voiceovers peppered throughout. 

“I like replying to [commenters and] being sarcastic with them,” Alex says. “On Instagram, there is no interaction.”

TikTok’s sense of community permeates the platform from a local to a worldwide scale. Fans can gain an authentic, personality-driven perspective of an artist while also engaging in more personal interactions. 

“People don’t follow you for that one specific thing you do,” Alex says. “They follow you because of you.”

Much of Alex’s content is in French. She noted that while the TikTok Francophone community is smaller than the Anglophone one, local Francophones can still quickly build a following and community. 

Increased viewership can build a community, but it can also result in the need to remain consistent in maintaining one’s brand. Professional drummer and TikToker Domino Santantonio has gone viral from her drumming videos, which have garnered over 650,000 TikTok followers and even scored her an invite to TikTok’s “It Starts On TikTok” campaign. Santantonio, with her signature high-ponytail, has created a brand for herself covering well-known songs on her drum set out of her home studio. Now, collaborating with brands from all over the world, Santantonio felt the pressure to post everyday, a common sentiment among artists on TikTok. 

“I try to post every day, but sometimes it’s hard to be regular,” Santantonio said. “You have to be creative and sometimes you just don’t feel it.”

For Domino, however, this pressure acts as a compelling force to produce quality content and keep fans engaged. Consistently posting content is simply becoming an alternate career.

In the wake of the pandemic, Cirque du Soleil temporarily laid off the majority of its staff, leaving many performers stageless. No longer performing in Axel, Cirque’s ice show, Abadi Al-Obaidi, skater and artist, began performing on TikTok, posting ice skating and acrobatics trick videos daily. Al-Obaidi, however, is no stranger to performing digitally. He has garnered over 600,000 TikTok followers not only through sheer talent, but also from his pre-existing fan bases on Flipagram and Musical.ly, which later became TikTok. The content creator veteran has encouraged his performer friends to join the app, pointing to the potential it holds for the art community.

“I keep telling all my artist friends, ‘You need to get on TikTok,’” Al-Obaidi said. “There are no rules. You will find people who like what you’re doing and you can focus on your art.”

Slowly but surely, the app is proving to be a looking glass into the Montreal art community. Many Montreal artists have yet to join the platform, but the momentum is building: Noted singer and comedian Tranna Wintour recently joined, as well as band La Fièvre. Artists are beginning to realize that the platform stands out among other social media networks. Users can attempt to localize their For You page to their respective communities, and they may ultimately find that discovering new artists during a pandemic is not as impossible as it seems. 

Presave Maryze’s upcoming single here

Buy Eve Parker Finley’s latest album, Chrysalia, here.

Check out Matante Alex’s drag here, and music here.

Check out Domino Santantonio’s drumming here.

Check out Abadi al-Obaidi’s content here.

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