The musical performed 60 seconds at a time

Idle hands: many have turned to TikTok for an escape from lockdown pressures

Can a TikTok video be high art? A new musical produced entirely on TikTok has some wondering if the platform could revolutionise our culture – but others think it is just a passing craze.

Around the globe, theatres stand empty, victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. But musicians are finding new ways to showcase their work online, with no pricey tickets or social distancing. On TikTok, music can go from upload to viral in a matter of hours: as long as it is only 60 seconds long.

Singer Abigail Barlow and writing partner Emily Bear have found a way of using the format to their advantage, writing a full-length musical based on the wildly popular Netflix show, Bridgerton.

Some have dismissed their big hit, arguing that a platform like TikTok cannot be used to create real art. But others argue that new technologies have always been fertile ground for innovative art forms.

Once, all books were written by hand, mostly by monks in remote monasteries. They produced beautiful books, with elegant calligraphy and delicate illustrations.

Then, in 1440, the printing press revolutionised the world of print by allowing books to be mass-produced for the first time.

Traditionalists complained that it stripped books of their old beauty. Yet the printing press allowed ordinary people to start writing their own works for the first time. They wrote down ballads that had been told in their villages for generations, preserving them for posterity.

And mass printing meant that people could make a living from writing. This led to the development of the novel, now regarded as one of the finest art forms of the modern era.

The same happened with the invention of the camera. Previously, artists worked for years to make their paintings as realistic as possible. Then, their audiences could get a photograph for a fraction of the price.

Artists complained that photos were a lesser form of art that would undermine paintings and make them obsolete. When he saw some of the earliest photographs in 1839, painter Paul Delaroche is said to have cried out: “Painting is dead!”

But in reality, photography roused artists to produce new kinds of art. Since it was no longer worthwhile making paintings realistic, they experimented with more abstract forms, inventing new schools like Impressionism.

And photography soon became an art form in its own right. One early movement, Pictorialism, tried to make photographs resemble paintings, with the same visual effects and emotional weight.

Subsequent artists realised that they could create art from photographs by staging or finding particularly fascinating scenes. By the 1930s, photography was widely respected as art.

Then in the 20th Century, television emerged as a challenge to traditional films. Culture buffs complained that the mini-series was an inferior art form. Today, TV series can win high praise from film critics.

Some think that TikTok might go through the same process. Like the printing press, the camera and the TV, they claim, it will transform our understanding of art.

Can a TikTok video be high art?

Broken arted

Yes, say some. New technology always follows the same cycle. First, traditionalists complain that a new invention is destroying art. Then, art adapts to the new technology. Finally, the technology becomes an art form itself. TikTok is the most recent example of this: the app’s users are already proving that they can make truly impressive art forms out of it.

Not at all, say others. Real art requires time, effort and dedication to an original vision. TikTok favours the mass-production of short, snappy clips that copy viral trends. It is hostile territory for true creativity. Because its culture is ironic and self-aware, it produces variations on existing ideas, not original material. The TikTok musical is just another fad.

You Decide

  1. Would you still go to the cinema if you could watch a whole film on TikTok?
  2. Imagine you could transport Paul Delaroche into the present day. Do you think he would change his mind about photography?


  1. Think of your favourite TV show, and write a ballad about one of its key moments or characters.
  2. You have just one minute to summarise your favourite film. Plan what you are going to say and then capture it on video.

Some People Say...

“The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900 - 1944), French novelist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Most people agree that apps like TikTok can have negative effects on the brain. Because they offer so much speed, variety and instant gratification, cycling through as many as four videos a minute, some have suggested that spending too much time on TikTok can reduce a user’s attention span and discourage them from less varied and exciting forms of entertainment – like reading – which require more patience. As much as 10% of the global population is now addicted to social media.
What do we not know?
There is some debate over whether “high” and “low” culture are really separate things. Historian Peter Burke argues that in the 17th Century, cultural elites separated themselves from the masses, developing their own distinct art forms and dismissing the culture of the poor. But philosopher Muriel Barbery thinks that today, this process has reversed: cultural elites are expected to take an interest in both high and popular culture, and the distinction between them has collapsed.

Word Watch

An innovation is a new idea, method or device that provides a new approach to an old job or task.
In the Middle Ages, certain holy men would choose to live apart from society to honour God. The monasteries in which many settled became renowned centres of learning.
A kind of visual art created in writing. Every culture in the world has its own kind of calligraphy. It declined in Europe thanks to the rise of printing but was revived in the 19th Century.
Printing press
A mechanical printing device invented by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440. It used “movable type”, a technology invented in China based on the use of small, reusable, rearrangeable metal blocks, to print letters on a page.
A song or poem that tells a story. The first ballads were written to accompany a dance.
All future generations.
A kind of long-form prose story-writing. Although some have traced early novels to mediaeval China, Japan and Muslim Spain, the modern novel emerged in Europe in the 18th Century thanks to the mass production of books.
Paul Delaroche
A 19th-Century French realist painter of historical scenes.
An art movement of the late 19th Century that focused on capturing the impression that a scene made on its viewer, rather than its real detail.
An art movement of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries that favoured soft-focus photographs. The aim was to project the artist’s emotional intent onto the scenes they captured on camera.

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