If the trinity of Vine, Snapchat and Dubsmash had a baby, its name would be musical.ly, the hottest new social media app among kids, tweens and teens. The app—which has attracted 70 million registered users in less than two years—allows wannabe stars the opportunity to record themselves on video while a 15-second song, or TV or movie clip, plays in the background. Users (referred to as “musers”) can also create clips without embedded music, which simply makes musical.ly like Vine plus nine seconds. But most musers go the lip-sync route, giving them the creative freedom to reimagine music videos by the likes of Ariana Grande or Fetty Wap—complete with dance moves, hand gestures that resemble sign language, and an occasional parent or pet.
Once musers have finished making their videos, they can post the fruits of their labor, opening the door for others to react to their creations. Without a Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat account, kids and tweens can share, follow, amass likes, make comments and aspire to be featured. And that’s a really big deal if you’re 10 years old.
No doubt the musical.ly trend is well underway. Even Good Morning America recently hosted a “Musical.ly Challenge Contest.” All of the quarter-finalists were teens, but tweens and kids are right on their heels.
Five key reasons why musical.ly is pulling in the under-13 set:
1. It’s like starter social media. For many kids and tweens, musical.ly is their first foray into social media. While musers are supposed to be at least 13 years old, there’s no musical.ly police monitoring age, which means a super-talented toddler can participate with a legit email or functioning social media account without fear of citation. The app is an opportunity for kids to gain exposure to social media without all of the drama that comes with, say, a Facebook or Instagram account. Kids can follow anyone, including users who live in their city, and search by hashtags or muser leaderboards.
2. It’s great for music (and artist) discovery. In essence, 15-second musical.ly snippets are the equivalent of song trailers, or just enough song to get users intrigued about the next two to three minutes. The app introduces kids and tweens to new songs and new artists (yes, many pop and hip hop singers are musers themselves) and keeps them in-the-know about what others are buzzing about. Kids can choose songs from their own library to finesse, but part of musical.ly’s appeal is that they can see how their vision of a popular song compares with others. Newer, youth-centric music dominates and helps posts go viral. Needless to say, it’s easier to find a Disney song than a rock song in the app’s catalog.
3. It’s a fun-filled way to express creativity. According to data from Smarty Pants’ 2015 Young Love study, 15% of kids six to 12 make videos with a digital device at least once a week, and 45% pretend or imagine with the same frequency. If those aren’t keys to victory, we don’t know what is. Simply put, musical.ly provides a canvas for boys’ and girls’ creativity and imagination,
a G-rated way to express themselves. And thanks to some of musical.ly’s optional video trickery—like changing video speeds and adding filters—they look good doing it.
4. It helps boost confidence. There is no easy panacea for pulling a child out of his or her shell, but garnering mostly positive affirmation from potentially thousands of peers is a good start. Musical.ly isn’t like Instagram where posters are being judged on the mostly superficial—they’re being asked to do something that’s deserving of merit. Musers get notifications when others click that they were inspired by their submission, which encourages positive vibes. And musical.ly urges observers to “say something nice” with their comments.
5. It incubates stars. The list of former no-names who became names thanks to social media is long. Justin Bieber and Psy can thank YouTube, while comedians KingBach and Brittany Furlan owe a debt of gratitude to Vine. There’s awareness among youth that the right recipe of ingenuity, social media shares and dumb luck can propel 15 seconds of work into 15 minutes of fame. Already, musical.ly has users with literally millions of followers (teen girl Baby Ariel has 10 million—three million more than when she appeared on GMA a few months ago), and there are tons more with follower counts into the six figures.
If you haven’t created a musical.ly account yet, give it a whirl. It will help you to understand why and how kids are spending their screen time—think YouTube meets America’s Got Talent. It’s the new blueprint for entertainment and fame among digital natives. All it takes is a mobile phone or tablet, a premise, some “talent,” et voilà!
Blair Fischer is Syndicated Sage at Smarty Pants, a youth and family research and consulting firm. Heads Up! is derived from the company’s daily in-person and digital immersion into kids’ and families’ lives, as well as proprietary quantitative research.