What’s big, red, and if you’re old enough to drink you probably won’t have heard of it? The app musical.ly.

Following from the now-defunct video app Vine, musical.ly allows users to post 15 second videos set to music – takes can be edited together to form a better clip, filters added, stickers plastered, and sound effects used.

And when we say big, it’s BIG. The app has over 130 million registered users – known, somewhat cringingly, as musers – and around 60 million of those are active every month. 12 million videos are shared on the app every day. It rivals platforms like Snapchat and Instagram for user numbers. But adults, it seems, don’t know about it, as this video demonstrates (great how-to guide btw).

Age demographics about musical.ly users are virtually non-existent. The app doesn’t ask for a date of birth on sign-up, although terms of service say musers must be over 13. However, app developer Alex Zhu has admitted there is a large number of users under that age, and reports indicate children as young as seven or eight have accounts.

Launched in 2014 in China, Japan and the US, musical.ly grew slowly until a design change in 2015 meant the app’s logo wasn’t cut off when the videos were shared to Instagram and Facebook. That change launched downloads into the stratosphere and the app has been in the top 40 downloads on iOS every month since.

Developers Zhu and Luyu Yang created musical.ly after their first app, based around educational videos, tanked. With the money left from initial investors, they created musical.ly, targeting teenage girls who tend to be early adopters of social media. From the three countries it launched in, it’s now available for download in 19 countries, and major pop stars like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga are using it to promote their work.

musical.ly app

What makes musical.ly a success is partly down to the developers actively engaging with the recording industry. Instead of going around copyright laws, they found that most record labels were happy to exchange 15 seconds of their songs in exchange for greater exposure – and often a link to iTunes where musers can download the songs they lip-sync to. Indeed, musical.ly has not only become a platform for established artists to promote their work, but also for young stars like Baby Ariel and Jacob Sartorius to launch their careers.

The rise of these teen stars indicates that, much like the app’s invisibility to most adults, teen idols are no longer twenty-somethings who appear wholesome enough to appeal to tween girls, but are teens themselves who made it big on social media. Baby Ariel was 15 when she shot to fame, Sartorius is 14.

musical.ly is also something of a unicorn in that it’s an app built and based in China that has become successful in the US. Half of all musers are American, but the company has its main office in Shanghai, with a satellite team in San Francisco.

Along with musical.ly, the developers have launched live.ly – a Periscope-esque live video service where users can stream live to “BFF’s” over the app. Couched in the language of teenage-girlhood, the app knows its target audience and is obviously appealing to it.

Where tweens with access to (their parents’) disposable income go, brands will inevitably follow. musical.ly has recently had sponsorship from Coca-Cola, along with the music stars who use the app to run competitions and share videos to followers.

While musical.ly might have flown under the radar with the overage, it is becoming too big to ignore – as a recent article in Rolling Stone shows. And whether the early-adopting but notoriously fickle tween audience will stick with musical.ly is anybody’s guess.

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