In March, Emily Kelley posted a video on TikTok unveiling her then-newest creation: an illustration of the 10-minute version of Taylor Swift’s fan favorite, “All Too Well.” Featuring silhouettes dancing in the moonlight and a scarf hanging out of a drawer — two of the song’s more vivid lyrics that strike a chord with Swifties — her artwork immediately resonated with fans.
“That final detail of the silhouettes dancing really hit home for a specific memory of mine,” one commented on the video. Another comment signified the piece’s impact: “Why are there tears in my eyes watching this?”
Kelley, a graphic designer, is one of the many artists using TikTok as a platform to promote their work. With pieces ranging from customized clothing to lyric-inspired prints and jewelry collections, these creators take inspiration from artists like Swift, Harry Styles, Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish when designing their collections. Their art is taking TikTok from a platform of viral dance crazes to fan-driven artist merchandise stores — and creating a unique connection with fellow superfans along the way.
“Fans know what [other] fans want,” Kelley suggests. “I’m listening to every single song, watching every interview, and picking apart every social media post from my favorite artists. I think that reflects in the products I create. Official artist merch typically tends to be a bit pricier and mass produced … it loses that intimacy.”
Kelley’s artwork stems from her own love of Swift. She created a poster based on her listening experience of 2020’s folklore, and upon posting it to TikTok, the piece garnered almost 20,000 likes. Soon, fans were making requests for their own Swift-based artwork, and thus “The T.S. Project” was born. In the nearly two years since, Kelley has created a piece for nearly every song Swift has released.
In one of her “T.S. Project” videos, Kelley alluded to the project’s appeal — for both her and fans: “I just love this idea of seeing a piece of art that reminds you of your favorite songs and being able to hang that on your wall.”
Sam Buckley had that same thought when she realized her synesthesia — which means she sees color when she listens to music — could emote a special feeling for other fans. She has made a business out of her synesthetic artwork, as her TikTok feed is a variety of videos for requested songs, including Styles’ “As It Was” and Eilish’s “when the party’s over.”
Eilish is one of Buckley’s biggest inspirations, particularly because the singer (as well as her brother and main musical partner, FINNEAS) also has synesthesia. “[Billie] and Finneas’ work is really special aesthetically — I feel a lot of colors in their work and a deep emotion,” Buckley says. “It’s really easy for me to create with Billie’s work. And once I post one BIllie song, I have requests for 10 more songs after that.”
Along with connecting with fellow Eilish fans, Buckley’s work has allowed her to connect with those who also have synesthesia.
“I just burst into tears because this is exactly how I have always seen the song as well,” one commenter said. Another added, “I just want to say thank you. I thought I was alone in this and did not want to tell anyone. Now I feel like I have a superpower.”
For those who may not see the colors Buckley sees, it’s simply a way to see their favorite music and songs come to life. A request for the Band Camino’s “Daphne Blue” echoed Kelley’s sentiment about why these fan-made, superfan-driven pieces are special: “They make me so happy and I would love something to look at.”
The Band Camino recently offered a full-circle moment for Kelley, who felt her impact at one of the pop-rock group’s shows. “I grew my following because of Taylor Swift, but I was at a Band Camino concert, and a few people came up to me to say they loved my work — and, because I had frequently talked about [them], they started listening to them and decided to go to the show that night,” she recalls. “More than anything, TikTok has given me a really tight community to be a part of.”
Tik Tok’s algorithm is perfect for superfans of any musician. Once you like a Harry Styles-related post, chances are, you’ll stumble upon several more the next time you open the app. Naturally, you’ll probably land on one of these artists’ creations. And in Kelley’s eyes, super-passionate fans will likely want to buy unique artist merchandise — or at least give them a follow or like. “You don’t have to have a big following to successfully promote what you’re making,” she adds.
“Fandom love and community is so very strong on TikTok — doing #TaylorTikTok or #TaylorTok, #DriversLicenseTok, the power behind a hashtag is insane,” says [Sara Cohen](https://www.tiktok.com/@sjstudioshop, whose polymer earrings inspired by Swift and Olivia Rodrigo (among others) are a cross between a popular fashion trend and a new concept in fandom merchandising. In fact, Cohenwas inspired to open her own store after seeing the accessory’s growing popularity on Tik Tok.
Kicking off her shop with “Mamma Mia”-inspired sets in June 2020, Cohen launches a new collection every other month based on what is resonating in pop culture at the moment. So far, she has made collections for Swift, Styles and Rodrigo, even branching out to beloved franchises like Marvel and Disney.
Staying on top of what’s popular is a major reason all three women are seeing success with their own creations. Most recently, Styles’highly anticipated release of Harry’s House prompted Kelley to begin curating a full collection of prints based on the album’s track list; Buckley has already had a hoard of requests for its songs as well.
Kelley stays on top of official artist merchandise, too. She has a playlist of videos on her TikTok page dedicated to merch reviews, in which she analyzes the pieces from the perspective of both a graphic designer and a devoted fan. “These designs just feel like a cop out,” she noted in a review of Rodrigo’s Driving Home 2 U collection; “this is how you make a tracklist shirt,” she said, complimenting a top for Julien Baker’sLittle Oblivions album.
As Kelley highlights in several of her reviews, artist merchandise can be costly — like the $120 jacket in Rodrigo’s Driving Home 2 U collection and the $50 pool float in one of Swift’s recent merch drops. Fan-made merchandise is often less expensive while still feeding an increasing demand for cool products. Kelley has a Swift-inspired hoodie for $30, a sweatshirt in Swift’s recent collection is $65; she has a Band Camino T-shirt for $16, half the price of the tees on their merch site.
These creators have their finger on the pulse of personalized, unique merchandise that perhaps some artists aren’t considering — at least not yet. Buckley, Kelley and Cohen all agree that fan-created goods could be the future of artist merchandising and marketing.
“Before I started creating fan-made merch, I truly had no idea that there would be such a big market for it,” Kelley says. Cohen adds, “It’s giving so many creators a space to find their individuality in such a saturated market … As shows and fandoms continue to grow, so will the small businesses creating inspired merch.”
With how rapidly this unique creator community is growing on TikTok, it may be only a matter of time before the musicians that inspire these artists become the ones who are inspired.
From “Sounds” To Millions Of Streams: How TikTok Became A Major Player In The Musical Ecosystem