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How Gen Z Is Embracing The Smiths On TikTok
In Depth

How Gen Z Is Embracing The Smiths On TikTok

From 80s indie misfits to viral golden boys, The Smiths are reaching a new generation and inspiring an army of fans in the TikTok era.

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Ever since they first emerged on the indie music scene in the 80s, The Smiths have inspired unfailing devotion in music fans, and they remain one of the most influential bands in history. Beloved for their unique blend of maudlin balladry and jangle-pop, with guitarist Johnny Marr’s crystalline guitar tones making for the perfect framework for Morrissey’s poignant and often anxiety-ridden lyrics, the Manchester group have never failed to comfort millions of lonely hearts across the globe.

Listen to the best of The Smiths here.

In fact, over the past few years, The Smiths have seen huge surge in popularity on TikTok, thanks largely to the platform’s role as a hub for music discovery. Most notably, Gen Z – the cohort of young listeners born between 1997 and 2013 – have been showing their love for The Smiths on TikTok, lip-syncing to homemade dance videos and nostalgic throwback clips. Not only are these expressions of creativity and individuality a testament to the band’s enduring relevance, but they also highlight the power of social media for introducing new generations to music created long before they were even born.

Here’s how The Smiths are making a comeback on TikTok, and why it matters for Gen Z…

A light that never goes out: Behind Gen Z’s love of The Smiths

The birth pangs of The Smiths’ resurgence on TikTok can be traced to 2009, when the song There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, from the group’s landmark 1986 album, The Queen Is Dead, was featured in the popular indie romcom 500 Days Of Summer, starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The famous scene, in which Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt bond over the song in a lift after she hears it emanating from his headphones, instantly pierced the hearts of many viewers (“I love The Smiths,” Deschanel says, striking Gordon-Levitt with Cupid’s arrow).

@violetharmonscardigan maturing is realising summer was in the right #foryou #500daysofsummer #thesmiths #zoedeschanel #500daysofsummeredit ♬ there is a light the never goes out – neve ୨୧

This cultural moment has inevitably become a TikTok meme, enabling The Smiths to be rediscovered by a whole new generation of fans. With many taking to TikTok to showcase their love for the band, lip-syncing Deschanel’s dialogue from the film over The Smiths’ original song, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out has inspired a viral challenge which has spawned over 250,000 videos resulting in over 1.5 views. Even Zooey Deschanel herself has jumped on board.

@zooeydeschanelI said what I said.♬ there is a light the never goes out – neve ୨୧

The reason this iconic scene in 500 Days Of Summer resonates so strongly is that The Smiths’ music has traditionally spoken to those misfits who identify with Morrissey’s outsider world view and feel like they don’t fit in. As a result, this TikTok challenge is significant, with many female content creators echoing Summer’s sentiments to prove that women do appreciate the same music as men, something which ultimately helps Gen Zers form online connections with like-minded people.

@ezrawr_rawr Anyone that called me b4 knows #relatable #fypp #fypシ #foryoupage ♬ there is a light the never goes out – neve ୨୧

The trend is representative of the seismic impact The Smiths have had on music history, and is an endearing confirmation of the group’s continued relevance in contemporary culture. Inspired by social-media influencers who have shared their own personal connections to The Smiths’ music, many TikTok users have become dedicated fans of the band, going on to explore their music beyond the song they first head in a meme.

Heaven knows I’m miserable now: The Smiths’ music and Gen Z’s emotions

The Smiths’ music is characterised by its melancholic and introspective tone, which appears to resonate with the inner emotional lives of many Gen Zers. Known for using humour as a coping mechanism to deal with their own feelings of despair and anxiety about the modern world, TikTok creators have found that The Smiths’ music provides the perfect soundtrack for their content.

A highlight from The Smiths’ self-titled debut album, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Know has inspired numerous TikTok trends, with young jobseekers identifying with Morrissey’s employment-related woes as they enter the workplace themselves. Again, users lip-sync along to the song’s lyrics (“I was looking for a job, and then I found a job/And heaven knows I’m miserable now”), whose sentiments are instantly relatable to those stuck in a nine-to-five rut and perhaps feeling down or struggling with mental-health issues.

@serendipityrow just kidding michael’s job is not that bad &lt3 the people who come in are so cool #michaels #michaelscraftstore #michaelscrafts #thesmiths #morrissey ♬ Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now (2011 Remaster) – The Smiths

The appeal of The Smiths’ authentic and vulnerable music reflects a larger trend among Gen Z towards more introspective and emotionally honest content. As part of a wider conversation about the importance of mental health and self-care, young content creators are using Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now to express their feelings and to connect with others who are going through similar experiences.

With lyrics that speak to the struggles of everyday life and the complexities of human relationships, the song also helps make Gen Zers feel seen, heard and, as a result, less alone. Beyond soundtracking videos expressing work-life angst, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now has even been used as part of a couples’ trend, with users adding a “kiss here” filter to express affection for one another (“Two lovers entwine, pass me by/And heaven knows I’m miserable now”).

@jjacksearer rawr #fyp #gay #yasmama ♬ original sound – sophi

Best seen as a way for young people to express physical intimacy in a playful and creative way, videos such as these prove just how much Gen Z values the emotional support that The Smiths’ music offers. Given a powerful springboard for expressing their emotions, singletons also seem to enjoy the “kiss here” trend, even if they don’t have anyone to take them up on the offer.

@nottrebeca♬ original sound – sophi

Whether it’s helping users to express their love for each other, or make fun of their own lack of romantic success, The Smiths’ songs offer sources of comfort to TikTok users. Providing a space for Gen Z to connect with their own emotions and experiences, Morrissey’s lyrics feel just as at home on TikTok than they did on the charts during the band’s era-defining time together in the 80s.

This night has opened my eyes: Gen Z’s romantic lives

As Gen Z embark on romantic relationships and (inevitably) court failure, Morrissey’s take on love and heartbreak cuts deeper than ever, particularly on songs such as This Night Has Opened My Eyes – recorded during one of The Smiths’ legendary Peel Sessions, and included in definitive form on the Hatful Of Hollow compilation. Many female TikTok users have taken to the platform to express their disappointment with the men in their life, often using the song’s lyrics as a way to vent their frustration and sadness (“But he didn’t and he never will”).

@efmmma.♬ This Night Has Opened My Eyes (2011 Remaster) – The Smiths

Responding to lyrics that reflect feelings about toxic relationships and the difficulties of navigating the dating world in the modern age, many users find kinship in memes of girls sipping wine while deriding the unreliability of their partners. Fitting in perfectly with The Smiths’ honest depictions of loneliness and disappointment, videos such as these help Gen Zers connect with others who are going through similar setbacks.

The best Smiths songs have never shied away from exploring the complex emotions that come with love and relationships, and this TikTok trend is a reflection of that. But while The Smiths’ music has enabled young people to express their vulnerability, it also offers a reminder that, even in the middle of heartbreak and disappointment, there is still beauty to be found in the world.

These things take time: TikTok’s role in The Smiths’ legacy

Despite the fact that the band broke up in 1987 and have not been an active creative unit in over 30 years, The Smiths’ legacy continues to grow, and the band have made a significant impact on TikTok. With their songs racking up over 274 million Spotify plays to date, the band have seen a massive increase in their streaming numbers as a result of their popularity on the platform, demonstrating the power of TikTok to drive music discovery and engagement.

This surge in popularity is likely to continue, as more and more TikTok users discover The Smiths and embrace the band’s timeless appeal. As TikTok grow in popularity, it’s likely that more and more artists from the past will be rediscovered and celebrated by the creatives of the present. It’s an exciting time for music lovers, and a testament to the power of social media in connecting people with new and old sounds alike. For artists such as The Smiths, it proves that great music will always bubble to the surface, no matter how much technology evolves.

Buy Smiths vinyl at the Dig! store.

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