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By now, it’s safe to assume that you’ve heard Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” at least one too many times. The celebrity-over-night rapper and his viral record have sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 for 6 weeks and he recently dropped his movie-quality music video for the song that has racked up 25 million views in 48 hours. Without a doubt, the social media meme and TikTok driven song has left a lot of us scratching our heads. From the outside, everything about Lil Nas X’s breakout single has seemed unique and beyond belief. Maybe the overexaggerated Southern twang and cowboy hat masked the mechanics behind this monster hit, but in reality, a similar phenomenon has happened and it’s happening right now.
Namely, and certainly a bit more quietly, Sub Urban, a rising dance artist, has thrust himself into the same airstream as Lil Nas X’s smash hit in a very similar way. Sub Urban, a 19-year-old New Jersey native, released his single “Cradles” in January of this year to a considerable, but not overwhelming response. The song captured its early audience with its sticky hook and signature dance drop characterized by an unmistakable flickering bell melody. The song itself was great, but its performance was nothing to write home about just yet.
It wasn’t until weeks later that Russian TikTok users began using the song in their 15-second posts to the app. Almost every single post featured a signature dance which, 700,000 user-generated videos later, has become synonymous with the song’s drop. The dance spread to the depths of the app and flowed right into similar social media platforms alike. The overwhelming international use of the song’s audio in the app’s content translated to streaming and translated well. At the moment, the song sits at number 5 on the US Viral 50 Spotify chart and has driven serious commercial interest to the track’s 19-year-old creator.
Music and social media have had a free-flowing intersection since the nascent days, and a song like “Cradles” is the living proof. However, it’d be remiss to say that “Cradles”, like “Old Town Road”, has followed previously set boundaries. Through memes and TikToks and whatever else the internet is able to stir up, we’re seeing today’s top songs come quickly and aggressively out of what seems like thin air. There’s no telling yet where such instant virality leads for a song and the brain behind it, but Sub Urban’s “Cradles” is certainly another step in a new direction for breaking through the glass ceiling.