How Sam Smith's made an Unholy mess of their new single release on TikTok

London, UK - A new Sam Smith single is usually a big deal for music fans, but reactions to the English singer's release of Unholy have been lukewarm at best – and a TikTok marketing strategy may be to blame.

Sam Smith and Kim Petras promote their song Unholy on TikTok.
Sam Smith and Kim Petras promote their song Unholy on TikTok.  © Collage: Screenshot/TikTok/samsmith

Smith finally released Unholy, a collaboration with Kim Petras, on Thursday. It was the endpoint of a long journey for the song, one which actually started online.

The chorus of Unholy was teased on TikTok last month, and it soon went viral as a trending sound.

You would think that this online success would translate to a massively successful streaming release, but fans quickly proved otherwise, with reactions over the past hours ranging from general apathy to genuine annoyance.

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As TikTok user @headonfirepod pointed out, the single has barely been out for a day and "the internet is already over it."

So where did Smith go so wrong in promoting Unholy?

TikTok users lost interest in the song

TikTok user @headonfirepod criticized Smith's marketing of "Unholy."
TikTok user @headonfirepod criticized Smith's marketing of "Unholy."  © Collage: Screenshot/TikTok/headonfirepod

Unholy had such a promising start. The first TikTok video featuring Smith and Petras teasing the track racked up over 20 million views. The portion of the song featured in the video has been used in over 340,000 videos on the platform.

The song's undeniably catchy chorus was perfectly suited to become a trending TikTok sound. But there's a flipside to that. The repetitive nature of the app means that users have been exposed to the 21-second snippet of the song on a near-constant basis for a month now.

Twitter user @yasminesummanx called the song "too overplayed" and urged musicians to release songs at the peak of their hype before listeners lose interest.

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The marketing plan behind Unholy illustrates a significant failure in understanding the trend cycle on TikTok, so much so that it may have doomed the song's chances of success.

Unholy finds the flaws in TikTok marketing

Songs that have been converted into viral sounds on TikTok are often given a significant bump on the streaming charts. These trends come in short yet incessant waves, often bombarding users with the same sound over and over on their feed for a week or two at a time.

With this in mind, musicians often attempt to capitalize on the cycle by developing a trend to go along with their songs on the platform. While the boost in recognition from a trending sound can draw social media users to seek out the full-length version of the song, this trend only works if there's actually a full-length version available. Having only the TikTok snippet out there for such a long time is a surefire way to create an irritating earworm rather than a hit song.

At just two minutes and 37 seconds, the official release of Unholy does not contain enough beyond its viral chorus to earn fan attention once again. The window of viral success is extremely short, and Sam Smith has missed it.

Cover photo: Collage: Screenshot/TikTok/samsmith

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