How Black Country Artists Are Finding Their Space On TikTok

Around this time ten years ago, Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” had already spent five weeks atop Billboard’s Hot Country Songs ranking. Thanks to a remix from Nelly — a preeminent artist at the intersection of hip-hop and country — “Cruise” highlighted the emergence of bro-country and a turning point in hip-hop-inspired country music production. It would go on to spend 24 cumulative weeks atop the chart — setting a new record Billboard‘s longest-running country number one at the time.

In the decade since the success of “Cruise,” the sounds of Black artists have been increasingly present on country radio and streaming playlists, while the faces of Black artists have struggled to break through and solidify a stronghold in the genre’s mainstream beyond a select few mainstays like Darius Rucker, Kane Brown, and, more recently, Jimmie Allen and Mickey Guyton. To put it into perspective, when Kane Brown topped Hot Country Songs in 2017 with “What Ifs,” he was the first Black artist to reach the pole position since Darius Rucker in 2008, who, in turn, was the first Black artist to reach No. 1 on that chart in 25 years. Rucker would reach No. 1 on the chart in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013. Nevertheless, in the time between Rucker and Brown’s chart-toppers, songs sung by white artists who borrowed liberally from hip-hop production motifs saw great success: “Meant to Be” (Florida George Line & Bebe Rexha), “Body Like a Back Road” (Sam Hunt), and, more recently, “Wasted on You” (Morgan Wallen).

In the latter half of the last decade, a shift started to occur. The dual inflection points of Beyoncé and The Chicks’ performance at the 50th Annual Country Music Association Awards and the removal of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” from Hot Country Songs for “not embracing enough elements of today’s country music” marked a new era for Black artists in country’s mainstream. Beyoncé’s performance highlighted the bluesy foundation of country music’s Black roots, and Lil Nas’s response to the “Old Town Road” controversy, and his subsequent remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, eloquently exposed the inconsistencies within the country music establishment in reference to who is allowed to mix trap and country and still be considered country. For RVSHVD, a rising country star that has gained ample traction on TikTok, those moments “meant more Black people in country music, more Black people showing that we can do this to.” At the turn of the decade, in tandem with the explosion of TikTok, a new generation of Black country artists have emerged as the genre’s next set of crossover stars, equally capable of crafting a knockout hook as they are at bending the notoriously finicky TikTok algorithm to their will.

Tanner Adell, whose sonic profile blends the vocal bombast of a young Carrie Underwood with the lyrical flourishes of early Taylor Swift, has quickly emerged as one of the leading Black country artists on TikTok. She currently boasts over 333,000 followers on the platform with 5.7 million likes across all of her videos — and that’s not counting the videos of hers that have gone viral on Twitter and Facebook by way of fans reposting her TikToks to those sites. Tanner’s two most-viewed TikToks find her promoting her songs by embracing elements of her artistry and personhood that are seemingly outside of the traditional boundaries of modern country music aesthetics.


Replying to @kayyleena all country needed was a lil bgm 🤎😚 #countrymusic #lylb #fypシ #justdrive #newmusic #nashville

♬ original sound – Tanner Adell

A snippet of a still-unreleased song titled “Buckle Bunny” garnered 2.8 million views and over half a million likes; the TikTok is a response to a user saying that “where I’m from, buckle bunny is a huge insult,” and Tanner replying “same” in the caption along with a slew of cheeky emojis. Two other TikToks, each of which earned over one million views, feature Tanner responding to a user eagerly inquiring if she is a “Black girl country singer.” The captions for both TikToks contain some variation on injecting country music with “bgm,” or “Black girl magic.” With content like this, Tanner effectively creates a bond between her and new listeners, which, in turn, folds them into a community that finds common ground in embracing elements of themselves that, in some circles, label them as outsiders. In addition to these kinds of videos, Tanner also utilizes TikTok like an everyday person. She posts videos documenting her wash days and hair care routines, playing around with trending filters, and dancing to popular songs and choreography like Lizzo’s “About Damn Time.” For Tanner, her smart, yet effortless, use of TikTok has translated into tangible success — which she has celebrated through, you guessed it, TikToks. She’s on Spotify billboards, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders have performed to her song “Honkytonk Heartbreak,” her debut single, and, as of a November 2022 TikTok, “Love You a Little Bit” has garnered over four million streams across platforms.

In both his approach to music-making and the way he tackles the TikTok algorithm, RVSHVD looks to hip-hop. After first gaining traction on the platform through country covers of popular rap songs, Roddy Ricch’s “Ballin” chief among them, RVSHVD figured out his own personal cheat code to the app. On his profile, RVSHVD lists four different playlists of TikToks: Originals, Covers, If I Was Featured On, and Country Versions.

“The country version sort of just happened,” RVSHVD said. “I hadn’t seen anybody covering rap songs in other genres. I seen it in rock, like ‘hip-hop goes rock,’ but I hadn’t seen it in country. So I did that and that just sort of took off.” As the TikTok algorithm would have it, RVSHVD had to switch up his content to stay ahead of the curve. “That’s when I came up with ‘If I Was Featured On,’” he remarked. “I got that from Lil Wayne, back on like Da Drought and Dedication. You remember he used to remix other people’s songs?” It is quite easy to get pigeonholed into a monotonous content loop on TikTok, but RVSHVD found a way to successfully transfer the engagement from his covers to his original music. “I’m constantly coming up with new ideas. As soon as I see something not getting some attention, that’s when I switch it up,” he said. “Like changing the kind of videos I do or changing the kind of sounds I’ve been posting… sometimes it’s just as simple as switching locations.”

Through a steady stream of TikToks chronicling the song’s journey from an unreleased demo to a TikTok sound snippet to an official single complete with a music video, “Hit Different” has put up strong numbers across streaming platforms and currently ranks as RVSHVD’s most popular solo song on Spotify. “Hit Different,” which RVSHVD describes as “a down home song, something about me,” wasn’t his first stab at twisting the TikTok algorithm to launch a single. The promotional cycle for “Dirt Road” was the moment the Willacoochee, Georgia singer realized that there was a community of people that were tuning into what he had to say and offer as an artist beyond covers. “I previewed ‘Dirt Road’ because I put ‘Ballin’ up and that one went viral… I was so scared of that virality leaving that I just kept pumping out stuff,” he said. “I was finding a beat, recording it, shooting a video, and posting it all on the same day.” Once he posted the snippet and saw people liking and commenting on the video, that “confirmed for [him] that they weren’t just here for the covers… they actually wanted to hear [his] music too.”

Just as Tanner displays on her TikTok, for RVSHVD, representation is a driving force behind the way he uses TikTok to advance his career and grow his fanbase. “I remember I was at FarmJam,” he reflected. “This lady came up with her son, and he was super shy and this was a little Black boy. She said that when I got on stage, her song was like ‘Oh, he looks like me!’ I was like, man, that’s dope.”

As it stands, 2023 is off to a relatively slow start for Black artists in country music’s mainstream, but the seeds are there. This month, Kane Brown scored his ninth Country Airplay chart-topper with “Thank God,” a duet with his wife, and a quick glance at the Spotify-curated Fresh Finds Country playlist reveals placements for Black artists such as Rodell Duff, Reyna Roberts, Shannon, and Mike Parker. Slowly but surely, young Black country artists are reclaiming the genre’s Black roots through a sharp understanding of how to use TikTok to grow loyal fan communities. This progress keeps RVSHVD hopeful about where the genre is headed, “Now that country music is including more influences and more sounds, it’s attracting more people and building a new generation,” he said.