Photo: (L-R, clockwise) Max Christiansen, Tyler Conrad, Ethan Phan, Courtesy of Columbia Records, Gus Black
TikTok's Musical Class Of 2022: 12 Singer/Songwriters Who Went From Viral Stars To Hit-Making Artists, From Jax To Nicky Youre
As TikTok continues to send songs and artists into the musical stratosphere, get to know 12 singer/songwriters who masterfully navigated the app and spawned some of the year's biggest hits.
Going into 2022, there was no denying that TikTok had changed the music scene irrevocably. It has arguably become the most prominent way for new artists to emerge — and this year proved to be the most fruitful one yet.
Several of the songs on Billboard's year-end charts started as viral sensations on TikTok, including Nicky Youre's "Sunroof" and Em Beihold's "Numb Little Bug." And as of press time, Jax's "Victoria's Secret" is at No. 2 on the Adult Pop Airplay chart, right under Taylor Swift's "Anti-Hero."
Youre, Beihold and Jax are just three of the many singer/songwriters who have turned TikTok virality into chart success and label deals, and three examples of how 2022 has unofficially become the year of the self-made superstar.
In country singer Alexandra Kay's case, Tim McGraw caught wind of her video covering his song "Don't Take The Girl" and invited her to be the opening act on his summer tour. As she argues, the biggest reason TikTok is a key tool for aspiring artists is simple: they hold the power.
"We now have the opportunity to bring our music directly to our audience, hear their thoughts, and then create a marketing plan tailored to those fans based on what they have shared with us," Alexandra Kay tells GRAMMY.com. "The time for independent artists is now."
Below, get to know 12 singer/songwriters who have successfully utilized TikTok as part of their marketing strategy to help kickstart their careers as artists — and solidified themselves as hit-making stars.
Em Beihold was working toward her big break long before social media existed. The 23-year-old has been playing piano since she was 6, and, despite being an All-American fencing champion, she ultimately pursued music.
Beihold's emotive piano-driven pop first caught attention during the pandemic with relatable tracks like "City of Angels" and "Groundhog Day." The TikTok traction set her up for a breakthrough hit with her major-label debut single "Numb Little Bug." The bouncy track — which has a juxtaposing narrative based on the singer's experience with antidepressants — was first teased in 2021, but became a radio smash in 2022 after its official release in January.
"Numb Little Bug" hit No. 1 on Billboard's Adult Top 40 chart in August, nearly a full year after it went viral on TikTok. The song took on a life of its own (also reaching the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100), helping Beihold achieve her goal of solidifying herself as an artist beyond an app.
"It's a double-edged sword," she told Variety of TikTok earlier this year. "There's definitely a pressure, but it also provides opportunities, so I don't know. I kind of see it as both ways, but I've also met like so many friends through literally just scrolling on my For You page."
One of those friends is Stephen Sanchez, who recruited her for a remix of "Until I Found You" in April (more on him later). Beihold released her second EP, Egg In the Backseat, that same month, and is currently gearing up for her North American tour starting in October.
A career in music is nothing new for Ethan Bornick, who has been playing piano since he was 3 and headlining his own tours since he was 9. He admits he "overlooked" TikTok and the power of social media until he noticed other musicians using the platform to share their music. Now, Bortnick feels he has an entirely different career.
"TikTok has pretty much given me the reset that I've always wanted," he says. "I was able to completely rebuild and find my audience, my people… TikTok has not only opened so many doors for me as an artist, but has been so fulfilling to see people resonate with the music so deeply. I've found my foundation for a career that'll hopefully be around for a long time."
Bortnick first made waves in October 2021 with his song "cut my fingers off," which led him to signing with Columbia Records and, as he quips, "finding people that actually wanted to see my crazy piano playing and depressing-a— lyrics." His impressive piano skills and unwavering lyrics are certainly part of his appeal, as further proven by his 2022 release "engravings" — especially the countless videos of fans reacting to his fast-paced piano abilities.
The rising star took his career to another new height on Oct. 15, when he played his first show as a singer/songwriter in his native Florida. He released two more singles before the end of the year, "arsonists" and "happy "f<em></em>*ing birthday" — both of which, of course, he teased plenty on TikTok. "I am constantly in front of new eyeballs," he adds. "It excites me and inspires me to make art that stands out and that showcases what I and only I can bring to the table."
Those who utilized TikTok for artist discovery during the pandemic likely came across one of Jax's many clever parody covers, from Avril Lavigne's "Sk8er Boi" to Olivia Rodrigo's "driver's license." But even those who have never used the app likely heard Jax's name — or at least her voice — this year, thanks to her original song "Victoria's Secret."
The track calls out the lingerie brand for creating body issues through their products and marketing, and hilariously uses their name against them: "I know Victoria's Secret/ She was made up by a dude." Its message has helped Jax achieve global acclaim and earned the singer/songwriter her first entry on the Billboard Hot 100 and Pop Airplay charts. But perhaps most notably, the song even caught the attention of Victoria's Secret CEO Amy Hauk, who sent Jax a letter praising her for addressing "important issues."
It's the kind of impact Jax (whose birth name is Jackie Miskanic) has been working toward for years, as she used to write songs for artists like Paris HIlton and co-wrote with Natasha Bedingfield before making waves as an artist in her own right. As she admitted to Variety, she didn't understand "how organic and natural" TikTok could be when she first started using it. Now, with nearly 13 million followers, more than 212 million likes and an Atlantic Records label deal, it seems she figured it out.
Similar to a few of the artists on this list, pop singer/songwriter Leah Kate first found viral TikTok fame during the pandemic, when her song "F— Up The Friendship" caught the attention of millions. However, her punk-leaning hit "10 Things I Hate About You" took her popularity to the mainstream, becoming her first song to chart globally.
The breakup song's relatability is certainly part of its appeal — especially because it's based on a true story. A self-proclaimed "big list maker," Kate used a real-life "10 things" to inspire the track. "It was like someone pushed a button and I immediately felt better," she recalled to Rolling Stone about the writing session. "I'm not saying this song is a self-help guide, but I know when I realized that my song made me feel better that it might help other people get over a relationship too."
Kate spent the summer touring with Chase Atlantic — which resulted in more virality for the singer thanks to her witty response to some haters — and recently wrapped a headlining UK/Europe trek. She is currently embarking on her first-ever Australian tour, including a performance at Tik Tok's "For You" festival. "10 Things I Hate About You" recently hit 1 million videos using the sound on Tik Tok, bolstering Kate to drop the deluxe version of her EP "Alive and Unwell" on Dec. 16.
Alexandra Kay first gained traction on TikTok with covers, which especially caught buzz because of her vocal likeness to Dolly Parton (her "Jolene" cover is one of her most popular videos to date). But 2022 proved to be Kay's year, particularly after Tim McGraw noticed her talent when she covered his '90s hit "Don't Take The Girl" — which earned Kay an invite to open on McGraw's summer tour from the country star himself.
Kay spent the remainder of the year headlining shows across the U.S. and released a single called "Skip This Part," which she said has "the most Taylor Swift inspired bridge of all time." After releasing her latest single, "Backroad Therapy," Kay made her debut at Nashville's famed Grand Ole Opry in November and headlined another stretch of shows.
Despite her global success, Kay is determined to stay an independent artist, and one who writes and produces her own music.
"I am so incredibly proud of the genuine connection I have built with my audience over the past six years of utilizing social media," she tells GRAMMY.com. "I have so much more confidence in my releases knowing I was able to take their thoughts into consideration as well as have the freedom as an indie artist to release when I feel the time is right."
Before Rosa Linn had her own TikTok hit with "Snap," the song was already wildly popular overseas thanks to Eurovision. The second-highest charting song from this year's competition, "Snap" became a Top 40 hit in the U.K. — and promptly made its way to TikTok.
"Snap" has since soundtracked more than 1 million clips, notably a Northern Ireland couple's engagement video that has amassed nearly 17 million views. The track also helped Linn land a record deal with Columbia in August, and topped Billboard's Adult Alternative Airplay chart in October.
"You never know what will go viral on TikTok," Linn told BBC News. "I'm checking my numbers on Spotify every day and I see them grow and I just can't believe it… As a child I'd dream about this."
She's not exaggerating: Growing up in Vanadzor, Armenia, Linn started playing piano at age 6, and began songwriting in her pre-teen years. Her career has even already come full circle, as she first competed in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2013.
Linn used her follow-up single to "Snap" to pay homage to her Eurovision roots by collaborating with fellow contestant Duncan Laurence on "WDIA (Would Do It Again)." As she preps her debut studio album, she told Wonderland that she's continually amazed by what "Snap" has done for her career. "I am a big dreamer and a good manifester," Linn said. "I always knew that one day the universe would reward all the hard work and dedication I put into my music."
J. Maya had just recently quit law school when she began posting on TikTok in 2020. Maya decided to opt out of Law school to follow a more untraditional path from her Indian American culture: music.
She saw success on the app after posting an acoustic version of her future single "Achilles Heel," which quickly gained over a million views on TikTok in 2020, going on to be released on New Years Day on Spotify as Maya's first official single of 2021. "The music community on TikTok is as smart as it is powerful," she asserts.
One of Maya's 2022 releases she initially teased on TikTok, "Golden Age," highlights "underrepresented women of history," which inspired many videos dedicated to underrated female figures. One line references a Hindu goddess named Sita, whose story resonated wider than Maya expected.
"As a South Asian American woman myself, it was uplifting to see people from that community celebrate that line in particular, especially given the underrepresentation of South Asians in American media," she says. "It truly boggles my mind that a line like that, written from my bedroom, could reach the ears of millions of people through an app like TikTok."
Maya released her debut EP, Poetic License, on Dec. 2. One of the standouts is "Prophecies," which addresses how her chosen path reflects her upbringing. "All the prophecies they came true/ I'm living in the world you wanted me to/ Even if it doesn't look that way to you."
Avid TikTokers may have known about Stephen Sanchez since 2020, thanks to his cover of Cage the Elephant's "Cigarette Daydreams" or his original track "Lady By The Sea" — the latter of which helped him earn a record deal with Republic Records. But in 2022, Sanchez took his career from social media to the mainstream, as his crooning love song "Until I Found You" has become an anthem for millions.
The '50s- and '60s-inspired sound of "Until I Found You" has plunged fans into a world of nostalgia, using the song to pay homage to their own loved ones — or simply, love in general. The song has resonated so widely that it has charted around the world and is still growing on the charts, sitting at No. 3 on Billboard's Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart as of press time.
"[TikTok] launched me into this crazy position that I had no place being in, and so it was amazing and it just set the stage," Sanchez told Affinity Magazine earlier this year. "It's a hard thing to try and navigate, especially when your career is almost reliant on the validation of other people and the engagement of other people through social media… [but] as difficult as TikTok can be, I'm extremely grateful for what it does for breaking out brand new art."
The latter half of the year proved just as fruitful for Sanchez: He released his latest EP, Easy On My Eyes (which features "Until I Found You") in August, released a new duet with Ashe ("Missing You") in November, and announced a headlining tour for 2023 on Dec. 8.
Lauren Spencer Smith
Lauren Spencer Smith went viral on TikTok by accident. The singer/songwriter, who hails from Vancouver Island, already had a following from participating in the 2020 season of American Idol — but when she teased just 15 seconds of her original single "Fingers Crossed," she shot to stardom.
Spencer Smith posted the snippet of the diaristic breakup song to simply share progress with her fans, but ended up releasing it independently in January of 2022 when, by that point, the original TikTok video had amassed over 23 million views. It shot to 19 on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching No. 1 in the charts in Ireland and Norway, and Spencer Smith had her pick of labels to work with.
"I definitely was in a panic, because everybody's attention spans are so short," Spencer Smith explained to Billboard earlier this year. "You have to pay attention to your audience and watch. If the comments are like, 'This is taking too long, I'm so annoyed,' you need to announce a release date. But if the comments are still excited, you can keep building on that.'"
Now, Lauren has more than 4 million TikTok followers and more than 7 million monthly Spotify listeners — with the single itself having passed over 277 million Spotify streams as of press time — and she's signed a partnership with major record labels Island Records and Republic Records. She closed out 2022 with a performance at the People's Choice Awards, a run of appearances at iHeartRadio's Jingle Ball tour, and a new holiday single called "Single on the 25th."
Five years into his career, rapper Armani White is now often associated with another big name in the music industry: Billie Eilish. Well, sort of. The pop superstar inspired White's breakout single, aptly titled "BIllie Eilish," specifically her signature big t-shirt style. "Billie Eilish's style is what the song's about, but it's also the character that Billie Eilish's music portrays," White told The Post. "I feel like it's kind of identical to what I like to portray in my own music."
The song started as a snippet of White messing around in the studio, but blew up overnight on Tik Tok. The rapper had to go through several hoops — including clearing Pharell's beat from N.O.R.E's "Nothin'" sampled in the track and getting permission from Eilish herself — and White was concerned that the hype would die down. However, the song kept viral momentum, inspiring it's own trend on Tik Tok of transitions from baggy "Billie Eilish" clothing to their "stylish" versions, inspired by lyrics of the song.
Now, "Billie Eilish" has over 180 million streams on Spotify, and White has signed a partnership with Def Jam Records, home to the likes of LL Cool J to Jay-Z. He shows no signs of slowing down, with rumors of the rapper gearing up to release his first EP abounding. Next up, White will release his latest single, "GOAT," featuring boxing legend Floyd Mayweather, in January.
As for praise from Eilish herself? White joked to Billboard, "I'm still waiting on the FaceTime or Duet video."
Nicky Youre is no stranger to TikTok. He's been on the app since it first arrived in 2017, but as he explains himself, "I never posted on it, I just used it for fun at the time." Five years later, he's one of TikTok's biggest 2022 musical sensations.
His hit song "Sunroof" was not just inescapable on the app, but pretty much anywhere — as proven by its multiple-week runs at No. 1 on Billboard's Pop Airplay and Adult Pop Airplay charts, and its No. 4 peak on the all-genre Hot 100. To date, the song has garnered more than 650 million global streams.
On TikTok alone, more than 9 million people have used his song as a Sound for their own videos, even including pop superstar Ed Sheeran. "Sunroof" and its irresistibly positive melody inspired countless "summer vibes" videos, from dogs enjoying a car ride to people with, yes, their head out the sunroof.
"I think it's great that each video you post gets shown to a brand new group of people," Youre says of TikTok. "This can help artists connect with new listeners and build their brand quicker than ever before."
Five remixes of Sunroof have since been released, featuring big names such as country hitmaker Thomas Rhett and Latin star Manuel Turizo. The artist is continuing on his high, releasing another infectious track called "Eyes On You" and performing at nine of the 11 iHeartRadio Jingle Ball tour dates.
Emerging artist Maddie Zahm released "Fat Funny Friend" in February of this year. Recounting her experience with weight, the song details Zahm's insecurities that have stemmed from her size. "I've done every diet to make me look thinner," she sings, "So why do I still feel so g— inferior?"
Her super-vulnerable lyrics quickly resonated with TikTokers, inspiring more than 15,000 users to share their own stories. Many include recounting years of not feeling good enough because of their weight, and their recent journey of learning to love themselves.
"Seeing the reaction to 'Fat Funny Friend' has helped me acknowledge how much of a need there is for these types of conversations," Zahm says. "I really wasn't going to be an artist until TikTok convinced me that I wasn't supposed to do anything else."
Zahm dropped her debut EP You Might Not Like Her in August. The five-song project furthers her emotive storytelling, particularly the title track, which touches on coming to terms with LGBTQ+ identity later in life.
The singer/songwriter closed out the year with the announcement of her first-ever headlining tour, which sold out several cities in the presale. Like many of her fellow TikTok artists, Zahm is most grateful for the community the app has created.
"I owe a lot to the platform," she adds. "[I'm] so glad it's given me a way to connect with so many through music and shared experiences."
Photo: Courtesy of Armani White
Hip-Hop Re:Defined: Armani White Gives Lil Wayne's "A Milli" A Fresh, Personal Twist
Philly-born newcomer Armani White personalizes Lil Wayne's GRAMMY-winning 2008 smash "A Milli" by shouting out his hometown in the lyrics.
Lil Wayne had already hit a new high point when he released "A Milli" in the winter of 2008. "Lollipop," the single that directly preceded "A Milli," had scored the rap legend his first hat trick by hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Rap Songs charts.
With "A Milli," the rapper born Dwayne Carter Jr. continued his chart-topping success by capturing yet another No. 1 on the latter two tallies and winning him the GRAMMY for Best Rap Solo Performance at the 2009 ceremony. The modern classic also heralded Wayne's blockbuster album Tha Carter III, which became the final album of the decade to sell more than a million copies in its opening week.
In this new episode of Hip-Hop Re:Defined, rising rap star Armani White tackles Wayne's noughties smash, with the Philadelphia-born newcomer building his flow over the same stuttering sample of A Tribe Called Quest's "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" as the original.
"A millionaire/ I'm a West Philly millionaire, tougher than Nigerian hair/ My criteria compared to your career just isn't fair," White raps, personalizing the lyrics with a shout-out to his hometown while still echoing Weezy's trademark cadence.
Press play on the video above to watch White rip through "A Milli," and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Hip-Hop Re:Defined.
Image courtesy of the Recording Academy
Introducing Hip-Hop Re:Defined, A Limited Online Series Paying Tribute To Hip-Hop's Greatest Hits
The new series Hip-Hop Re:Defined asks an artist to perform an original, live cover of a classic hip-hop song. The series launches Aug. 9.
The Recording Academy has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop year-round — now, it's joining in the celebration via its bounty of video content.
In honor of hip-hop's 50th Anniversary, GRAMMY.com has created a limited online series, Hip-Hop Re:Defined, a series paying tribute to some of hip-hop's greatest hits. In this new series, artists will perform an original, live cover of a classic hip-hop song.
This 10-episode series launches on Aug. 9. Armani White, Bizzy Banks and Asha Imuno are among the artists included in Hip-Hop Re:Defined.
Artists could pick a GRAMMY-winning or -nominated song, but hip-hop was around for 15 years before the Academy made a category for it, so artists were welcome to pick from the entire hip-hop catalog.
Hip-Hop Re:Defined will be posted weekly for six episodes and then begin posting every other week for the remainder of the series.
Performances will be published to GRAMMY.com, as well as the Recording Academy's YouTube channel, Facebook and Instagram, with additional support from Twitter. Watch this space as this limited series flourishes and develops in service of a quintessential American artform!
Photo: Braverijah Gregg
How Jax Became Pop's Funny Girl: Being A Theater Kid, Beating Cancer & Finally Expressing Herself
Whether she's poking fun at Victoria's Secret in a hit song or creating a hilarious TikTok bit with Paris Hilton, Jax isn't just making a career out of being funny — she's living her truth.
Viral TikTok stars are commonplace in pop culture today. But when Jax had a video go viral in 2020 amid the worldwide quarantine, it wasn't just another viral video — for the New Jersey-born singer, it was practically life-saving.
After years of being told she "wasn't mysterious enough" for the L.A. pop music scene, Jax decided to post a video parody of Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom." Channeling her mom's New York accent, she delivered "Stacy's Mom from Stacy's Mom's Perspective," and practically overnight, Jax realized she might actually have what it takes to make it.
"It was the dream. Finally people were like, 'Okay, you can do this for a living,'" Jax recalls. "And I'm like, 'That rocks, thank you, because I suck at everything else.'"
Comedy has been ingrained in Jax since childhood, when she first started going to theater camp. She knew at a young age that making others laugh was her calling, and as she puts it, "filling dead air with jokes" is her specialty. Now, her sense of humor is translating through her original music.
Jax's success extended beyond TikTok last year with "Victoria's Secret," a witty confrontation of the lingerie brand's glamorization of unrealistic body image. The song makes points that are hilarious ("I know Victoria's Secret/ She was made up by a dude," she sings in the song's hook) but also meaningful — so much so that it sparked a public statement from the brand's CEO acknowledging its past pitfalls.
While "Victoria's Secret" may be Jax's biggest hit to date, it's just one of hundreds of brilliantly funny tunes she's crafted, including her latest single, the twisted princess tale "Cinderella Snapped." But no matter where her career goes from here, Jax is just happy she's finally able to be herself.
Before Jax kicked off her summer tour with Big Time Rush on June 22, the singer took GRAMMY.com through six foundational pieces of her life that have led to her dream come true — and ultimately made her one of pop's funniest new stars.
Being A Theater Kid
I knew I wanted to be on stage from a very young age, so I grew up with theater. I got a sense very young [about] what an audience would respond to, what kind of comedic timing would work, or what kind of dramatic timing would work.
I can remember every single role, whether it be community theater, or something a little more pro, or at camp. I remember how hard I fell in love with almost every single role I played. I don't know if that makes me a sociopath.
A big one for me [was when] I earned playing Annie — after being in Annie as not Annie two times prior, I finally got Annie. I worked hard enough to prove myself, and then I had to take this on as myself. The next year I got the role of Lily, and I loved that role. I got a huge audience reaction. It was the comedic relief of the show.
I got pretty sick somewhere in between writing for myself and transitioning out to L.A. as a songwriter. I had to take a year off of singing, and I couldn't do anything other than write. They did a huge surgery where they removed my thyroid for thyroid cancer, and it was the coolest gift I could ever receive.
I mean, it didn't seem like that at the time, but now I know that I would not be a songwriter if it weren't for that year. [It was] almost like a full bootcamp on writing, [and it helped me] realize that I could actually make a living doing this. If I tried hard enough, I could not only write for me but write for anyone.
It was the most bizarre year ever, but it got me here. I love talking about it because it feels like a W, it doesn't feel like an L. [Laughs.]
Struggling To Make It In L.A.
L.A. gave me a really cool perspective. When I came out here to write for other people, there were songwriters that were lightyears ahead of me. I went my whole life writing songs for myself, in my own little world. I started in musical theater, I joined a bunch of bands, I tried to write my music, I've done shows. I've done a million different chapters in my life where I tried for me. When it came to L.A., I [got [time with] creatives that brought me to another level as a songwriter and taught me how to nurture my skill set.
At the same time, whenever it came back to my project, and when I was able to master the way I write, it was never enough. Every time I wrote what genuinely felt like the right thing to write in my heart, how I would write it — as cheesy or non cheesy, as dark or bright or funny or whatever it was — it's always extreme. It's pretty in your face, like, "Here's what I'm saying, and here is a joke and here is not a joke," you know? That is how I speak, that's who I am, my whole life, in every aspect.
I was told I needed more mystery. It was like, "You need to be cooler in this, you need to be sexier" — I've been told to cut weight my whole life. When I started doing pop music, especially, people were like, "You must look like your pop icons if you want to do these types of songs."
I started to lose [my] sense of self. That on top of having to pay rent in L.A., you just get really discouraged. You start to associate your skills and your talent and your self-worth with how much money you make, who you're around, what your cuts are, who you know. And I started to really get secluded. And thank God I did, because that's where my quarantine ended up — I ended up hitting rock bottom and then just saying "F— it" and putting out what I felt was good.
And with apps like TikTok, where it's a little more equal opportunity to anyone in the world, it was the dream. Finally people were like, "Okay, you can do this for a living," and I'm like, "That rocks, thank you, because I suck at everything else." [Laughs.]
@jaxwritessongs A Doctor and a Hypochondriac wrote a song together 💀👨⚕️🤒❤️🩹 @drjoe_md #doctor #hypochondriac #songs #sorrynotsorry ♬ original sound - Jax
Becoming TIkTok Famous
It's a hard struggle like bridging the gap between [funny and kitschy]. I kind of landed in that space on TikTok. I'm not a comedian by any means — I was in a huge panic [when my first video blew up], because I'm like, I can't maintain a funny thing. I have all these new people commenting on my original stuff, my music — what can I do to like, blend the worlds?
I definitely have a really easy time with perspective writing and creative writing. I love taking characters and shifting them into the wrong places and stories. I loved that in theater growing up. I loved that in writing classes growing up. So I spent a minute [thinking], Well, if people were into this, and that's why this first thing went [off], there's a million perspectives of songs that we can POV and parody. The wheels kind of started turning, and then in the bigger scheme of things, I was like, I wonder if they would actually like my music, because this isn't my music. This is just kind of fun.
I love Bo Burnham, I love Lil Dicky, I love punny rappers — I love Eminem. And then I also love a good wordsmith, like Julia Michaels, Sia, Joan Jett, Billy Joel. That's why I'm the writer I am today, but I always hid it.
"Ring Pop" was the first [original song I posted] of something I was going through during the quarantine with my fiancé. And for the first time, people who cared about the parodies sort of cared about this, and the common ground was that it is how I talk and it is my humor. That's the first time in my life I've been totally unapologetically writing the way I want to write.
I don't encourage kids to need the validation of everyone around them to feel good, but I definitely personally was in a place where I really needed it. I really, really needed just one little glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel to be like, You can make a living doing music, and you are good enough to do this. You can still write songs, you don't have to quit. That was the moment from the universe that was like, Hey, don't give up!
My therapist tells me it wouldn't have mattered if there were TikTok or not. But it was really important for my self-worth, and it did remind me that the second I just reverted back to what was natural was when things started moving in the right direction.
[TikTok has] gotten me confident enough to write what I want to write, sing what I want to sing, stick up to people I want to stick up to. I've never felt more empowered, especially as a woman in music, to just speak what I want to speak. It still gives me anxiety dreams, but I still wake up in the morning and want to do it. I get to speak cool truths, and that's the only reason I ever wanted to do music or perform.
I have had so much trauma with my body and how I see myself in the mirror, and every day it's still a learning process for me in how to get healthy up here. And the growth I have had since TikTok, and dressing how I want to dress, doing things like "Victoria's Secret" — completely ignoring how I was supposed to look and just looking the way I do at my grossest, in my teenage dirtbag era, right? I feel good, and they let me feel good.
Some kids dress like me at shows, which is crazy. That's just insane, because I just went the last 26 years thinking I was doing it all wrong. And that's the biggest blessing of the whole thing — it was free therapy.
@jaxwritessongs A song about @ParisHilton 🧠👸🏼🤯 #fypシ #icon #ceo #parishilton ♬ original sound - Jax
I only get my concepts from just talking to people. Never anywhere else. I don't come up with them in the studio — I'm writing [things] down all day.
It's kind of a defense mechanism — I can't go into the studio and just pull from the sky. So I quickly realized to document what [I've] felt in that moment — like, even if I'm totally drunk, or if I'm sleep talking, or I just woke up or I'm in the shower. I used to set a tape recorder by my bed, because a lot of my ideas would come in my sleep.
It's like I know that I need to prepare for work when I go and socialize. And I remember to document the moments that made me feel something. Or even just one word.
Somebody yesterday said the words to me, "Bend the universe." And I was like, "That's a great concept." That's why I think breakups were, like, the best times for writing because there's so much being said and so much going on — so much healing and crying and pain. The amount of times that I've written breakup songs because my best friend was in pain — I'm like, I hate to be that guy right now but…
Now that I'm doing all my songs and I'm putting out my own music, people — especially moms — take it very seriously. They don't realize that there are multiple writers in the room, and a really cool piece of work and art can come out of everybody's collective experience in the room.
Like, I have a song [with] the name Alyssa, but it was because the engineer's ex-girlfriend was named Melissa and then it somehow morphed into Alyssa to play into "Are you A-listening?" It's an evolution with people in the room, but when you're the face of it, then it gets tricky, because people are like, "Why are you endorsing this to my kids?"
It's a lot of pressure being the face of the final product, which is not the thing I'd been doing for the last few years at all. I had been the face behind the project trying to protect the artist, and make sure I don't say anything that could be taken the wrong way or that's not authentic to them, but still using my own experiences. They take it very seriously — even some of the skits where I thought for sure they'd think it was a joke.
Being Her Awkward Self
I grew up around a lot of cool people. I come from a really loud family. I have two very cool, smart parents that were always super down to Earth and real. I think in another life, my dad totally could've been a really cool actor or comedian. He's the funniest guy I know; he's real quick.
When it comes to comedic [instincts], I don't know, I think it's awkwardness at the end of the day. It's a problem I have — I have to stop filling dead air with jokes all the time. It's what I do, essentially, from the second I wake up to when I go to bed. It's gotten me into a lot of trouble.
For anybody that knows who I am personally, this is the closest I've ever been in my work to how I am with people — like, I'm Punmaster 5000, I make inappropriate jokes at the wrong times. I deal with things in satire and comedy. I'm taken off guard by how much people actually are down to listen to that. It's a cool spot in my life, because it's the first time I'm feeling authentic.
Photo: Karl Walter
10 Moments From SXSW 2023: Life Lessons With Killer Mike, Acoustic Sets & New Music From Kx5
From The Stage at SXSW to So Satisfying and the RnB Forever Showcase, the Recording Academy’s GRAMMY U team highlights the most exciting moments from SXSW Music Festival.
GRAMMY U Chicago Representative Kegan Grace contributed to this story.
Another iconic year of South by Southwest has come and gone. And while the dust has settled in Austin, there's still much to reminisce about — from unforgettable live shows, to panels and behind the scenes interviews.
The Recording Academy’s GRAMMY U team had their boots on the ground during the best events at SXSW Music Festival, held March 13-18. As the team hopped around town and watched a ton of showcases, they also went backstage to chat with artists about their time at SXSW.
Read on for GRAMMY U's 10 favorite moments from SXSW, and be sure to visit their Instagram for more content from the festival .
PinkPantheress, Rett Madison, Cafuné & Sueco Are So Satisfying
PinkPantheress performs at Mala Vida | Lorne Thomson/Redferns
The GRAMMY U team started the week of music discovery at the IMGN x WMG So Satisfying House on March 14. This multi-day activation at bar/venue Mala Vida showcased a ton of music, with experiential photo areas and loads of LEDs displayed throughout.
Different acts took the stage throughout the night, beginning with singer/songwriter Rett Madison, whose powerful voice filled the room. Indie pop duo Cafuné and rapper Sueco followed, switching up the vibe but keeping the energy high. Pink Pantheress closed out the set for the night. Despite singing to a track, the audience sang along with all her viral hits, while other fans peeked over from outside the venue to catch her set.
The So Satisfying House was also open on March 15 with performances by Tiago PZK, Pheelz, Rini and Elena Rose.
Life (And Career) Lessons From New Order, Killer Mike & More
Killer Mike | Rick Kern/FilmMagic
In the panel "A Songwriter’s Guide to Branding: The Power of No," moderator Evan Bogart, Seeker Music CEO and Recording Academy Songwriter and Composers Wing Chair, spoke with Bonnie McKee, Larry Waddell, and electropop artist/producer MNDR about the ways projects can affect your brand. A songwriter's brand can manifest in many ways, and the projects you take are a reflection of not only the tools you bring to the table, but the type of songwriter you are in a writing session.
The SXSW Keynote conversation with legendary new wave synth pop group New Order. The British band discussed their lengthy recording history, current tour and what has kept them inspired over 40 years. "There’s something in what you're doing that you enjoy very much, otherwise you wouldn’t enjoy doing it," the band said. "The sense of achievement when you play a really good gig, the audience having a good time is a real boost…. It’s like having a party together."
At "Introducing Michael: The Man Known as Killer Mike," the rapper discussed being a thriving Black artist in the industry and how he has embraced his culture. "I have not fully accepted the wealth of knowledge and inspiration from the people who raised me and my culture… I understand how fortunate I am. I move with that intent," he told the audience. "I'm a believer inBlack people. When you hear my music, I'm giving you the power black music gives you when it works. We are capable, we are able. I don't have to be mad at everything or seeking escapism."
Killer Mike also offered wise advice about navigating the industry. "You're going to have bad karma if you're bad to people," he said. "Leave your ego at the doors and enter a place with conversations that people would love."
Acoustic Sounds At Antone’s
Brian Sella performs an acoustic set | GRAMMY U
On Wednesday evening, C3 Management brought their talent to the stage at iconic blues venue Antone’s. The crowd clearly was ready to have a great time, as the line for the event was long and out the door. Once inside, the atmosphere was electric and everyone was hyped for the upcoming acoustic sets by their favorite artists.
GRAMMY U caught Brian Sella of the Front Bottoms strumming his indie rock hits as fans sang along word-for-word. Andrew McMahon showed off his expert musicianship and songwriting on the keyboard, inserting funny anecdotes about how some of those songs came to be throughout his set.
Tomorrow's Stars On The Rise At Bose x NME: C23
Renforshort | Lorne Thomson/Redferns
The Bose x NME: C23 launch party was truly the place to be to witness the future of music. The event featured an incredible outdoor stage and a 15-artist lineup, a fun walkway activation with a panel of all the artists as magazine covers, and swag bags of custom cassettes with all the artists featured that day.
The pop-rock sounds of Canadian artist renforshort resonated with the crowd, and the singer was feeling comfortable. "I’ve done so many shows, it’s second nature to me. I love [performing] so it masks any anxiety I would typically have," she told GRAMMY U.
Singer/songwriter and bassist Blu DeTiger conquered the stage with her funky grooves and spunky energy. Known for showing off her bass skills in her music, DeTiger notes in an offstage interview "Bass is the best instrument ever. My whole mission as an artist is just to bring the instrument more to the forefront and inspire people to pick it up."
Later that night, JVKE's piano stylings and steady, recognizable voice drew cheers as he played his hit "Golden Hour." In a backstage interview, JVKE told GRAMMY U that he "always want[s] to give people the 'feels,' whatever the feels are."
Eladio Carrión, Armani White & Deadmau5 Share The Stage
Eladio Carrión | Christopher Polk
This was the second year of Samsung X Billboard’s The Stage at SXSW, and the three-night concert series has become one of the most highly anticipated programs of the week. Rappers 03 Greedo, Lola Brooks, and Armani White kicked off the series at Moody Amphitheatre in Waterloo Park on Thursday. Lil Yachty was set to headline that night, but the event was cut short due to inclement weather.
The next day, DJ Gabby Got It opened for Latin superstars Eladio Carrión and Feid. Carrión showed his vast range, performing hits "Kemba Walker" and "Tata." Feid followed, keeping the energy of the roaring crowd going with his own hits, "Yandel 150" and "Hey Mar."
To wrap up The Stage for this year, Billboard brought in Kx5, a new project by electronic music veterans Kaskade and deadmau5 on Saturday night. They hyped up the crowd as they began their set with "Bright Lights" and dropped hit after hit through their hour-long set.
Chloe Bailey, Remi Wolf & More At The Future of Music
Sudan Archives | Amanda Stronza/Getty Images for SXSW
Rolling Stone hosted the Future of Music, a four-night series featuring more than 20 acts. With a versatile lineup that included Sudan Archives, Remi Wolf and Chloe Bailey, the crowd could not have been more invested in the lineup.
In a backstage interview with Sudan Archives, the self-taught violinist and artist told GRAMMY U that the stress she feels before arriving to SXSW disappears as she sees "how everyone is rushing and working hard to help and make everything be amazing."
SXSW Goes International: SIPHO., Haru Nemuri & LØREN
SIPHO. (center) | Diego Donamaria/Getty Images for SXSW
SXSW is so much bigger than Texas. Artists from around the globe are a part of the festival's programming.
UK singer/songwriter SIPHO. came across the pond for his first SXSW, showcasing his genre-bending music inspired from great modern R&B artists. Japan's Haru Nemuri attended SXSW for the second time, sharing her musical inspirations of J-pop, experimental pop, and art rock with the crowd.
LØREN, a pop-punk rocker, came from South Korea to attend SXSW for the first time. His past work includes collaborations with BLACKPINK, and singles that have collectively landed more than 14 million YouTube views.
The RnB Forever Showcase Highlights Emerging Acts
Hosted at The North Door in collaboration with the Recording Academy's Black Music Collective, the RnB Forever Showcase featured many rising stars. A live band backed all the artists, and the lineup was stacked with a spectrum of R&B sounds.
Los Angeles-based Kenyon Dixon discussed his new record with GRAMMY U before heading on stage, noting it’s "really classic R&B vibes for fans of the late ‘90s and early 2000s, but also with a more modern [sound]." V. Rose said her favorite part of SXSW is "seeing so many people show up and believing in themselves, it’s so inspiring."
R&B and pop artist Byron Juane, who is also a member of the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter, added that was thrilled to be "seeing so many talented people through every genre of music…it inspires me to keep living through my dream."
The Recording Academy Shows Out: A Mixer, A Masterclass & A Party
Andrew McMahon | GRAMMY U
The Recording Academy and its chapters hosted its own events throughout the week as well. The Texas Chapter hosted its annual block party in the outdoor garden at the Four Seasons, with hundreds of industry professionals and artists in attendance. Stellar musical acts like Superfonicos, Sugar Joiko and Lupita Infante kept everyone dancing throughout the night.
There was also a special performance by Dakota Cohen, New York Chapter GRAMMY U member and winner of the GRAMMY U Performer National Contest. Cohen and her five-piece band traveled all the way from Berklee College of Music and lit up the stage with her vibrant energy and a stylistic vocal range.
GRAMMY U's Masterclass Presented by Mastercard featured artist and songwriter Andrew McMahon of Something Corporate, Jack’s Mannequin and Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. Moderator Taylor Hanson, a GRAMMY-nominated artist and the Texas Chapter Board President, led a discussion about how to navigate a successful long-term career in the music industry.
The Recording Academy also collaborated with Tunecore to present an industry mixer for artists and industry professionals.
Women That Rock — Onstage And Behind The Scenes
Ava Maybee performs at the Women That Rock day party showcase | Daniel Boczarski/Redferns
Founded by former GRAMMY U New York Chapter Representative Andie Aronow, Women That Rock is a music curation and discovery company that supports up-and-coming women and non-binary musicians. Their Music and Movement Celebration at Cheer Up Charlies featured performances from Cafuné, country singer Katie Toupin, and many others, as well as a pop-up shop of women-owned businesses.
Women That Rock also held a music industry panel at Athleta, which featured artists and professionals from all backgrounds including Charlotte Rose Benjamin and GRAMMY U Director Jessie Allen. The panel dove deep into self-care for women in the music industry, and the best ways to maximize your impact while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.