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Viral for All the Wrong Reasons: How Absofacto Reclaimed His TikTok Hit in the Name of Sexual Assault Survivors

Absofacto
Allen Chiu/Atlantic Records

Absofacto never intended for his song, “Dissolve,” to go viral on TikTok. And he’s not just being humble — the indie singer-songwriter never even uploaded it to the video sharing app in the first place.

“I didn’t know what TikTok was when [‘Dissolve’] first went viral,” says Absofacto, whose real name is Jonathan Visger. “Someone sent me a message in February of last year that said, ‘Your song is viral on TikTok,’ and I had no idea what that meant at all.”

“Dissolve” was originally uploaded by the TikTok account @SunriseMusic, and so far over three million videos have been made to the tune. Although Absofacto did eventually upload the song himself as a verified TikTok creator, by that point it had already taken off and formed a life of its own.

“It took a second to even figure out how to feel about it because someone else had uploaded it,” Visger says. “I was like, ‘Is this really good or really bad?'”

Turns out, it was mostly good. “Dissolve” — the sort of ethereal indie-pop ballad that perfectly soundtracks a summer night drive with the windows down — exploded on all platforms, culminating in the song’s RIAA gold certification and reaching the No. 1 spot on Alternative radio at the top of the year along with other chart feats.

But things took a darker turn when the song began to be used as the background music for a dangerous POV trend on TikTok. POVs, short for point of view, allow TikTok users to flex their acting skills by pretending they’re in a certain emotion-invoking scenario. In the case of the happy melody and sparkly accents of “Dissolve,” POV TikTokers took to the sound in overwhelming numbers and used it to portray the havoc that ensues when a child walks in on their parents during a sexual act.

Visger was unaware that the trend had taken off until survivors of childhood sexual abuse began contacting him to describe having been triggered by the video, resurfacing traumatic memories and associating them with “Dissolve.”

“They were explaining to me that the song that used to be a safe place for them to go, that made them feel better when they were at lows in their life was becoming the opposite for them, it was becoming a song that took them back to the worst times of their life,” Visger tells Variety. “As an artist, and especially that song being the song that changed my life, it was really, really hard for me to see it hurting people, even unintentionally.”

In an effort to stop the trend, Visger reached out to TikTok moderation, but soon took matters into his own hands by contacting the creators of the videos themselves and asking them to remove their posts. Visger says most users were understanding of the trend’s harmful impacts and took their videos down immediately, but others were unwilling to give up their clout.

In Visger’s own TikToks, you can see the artist’s pain as he grappled with the situation and pleaded with his followers to take back the sound. And they did — by making POV videos that spread awareness about child sexual abuse and returning the song to its roots of positivity. Even Charli D’Amelio, the reigning queen of TikTok with over 85 million followers, used it in a video documenting her nose surgery.

@charlidamelio

surgery is done and i am so beyond excited that i was finally able to fix my breathing!!!!! and soon i will be able to be in dance classes again!!! 💕

♬ original sound – sunrisemusic

Now, Visger is in talks with both RAINN — the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network — and TikTok to spur dialogue about how the platform can do better to monitor trends that may be triggering to survivors.

“That was a very painful thing for me, because I try to make music that feels like life is a little more beautiful, it’s cooler, it’s more fun, it’s more meaningful,” Visger says. “All good things – that’s what I want my music to make people feel like.”

The song’s long strange road to popularity actually began in 2015 when Absofacto quietly self-released “Dissolve.” Eventually catching the eye of Atlantic Records, who signed him in 2017, he re-released the song on his EP, “Thousand Peaces.”

His newest single, “Someone Else’s Dream” (out today) was written as a sequel to “Dissolve,” which can be heard in its electro-pop instrumentals and soaring chorus. However, its mission is different: to empower people who don’t feel in control of their lives to find their own path.

Says Visger: “There’s a lot of power in that song. I think a lot of people can relate to it, be it that they’re working a job that they aren’t passionate about or maybe they’re in a relationship they shouldn’t be in. I hope that that song can inspire people to want to break out of living in someone else’s dream and to do their own thing, which I think is always the right answer.”

As for any expectations of how “Someone Else’s Dream” will perform in the wake of “Dissolve,” Visger is adamant that virality is not his goal. “I think it’s a trap to make music hoping that something happens with it in a promotional sense, like that’s not the reason that I make music,” Visger offers. “My nature is more to try to make things that I think are beautiful and have strength to them and try to let them speak for themselves. It probably works against me in terms of my music getting out there sometimes, but I think that the people that my music finds, it can resonate more deeply with because it’s not existing to necessarily capture attention. It’s more pushing the chaos away, rather than adding to the chaos.”

Listen to “Someone Else’s Dream” below.