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: Terence Rushin/Getty Images for the Recording Academy
Armani White Details How To Use Social Media To Shape Your Career In GRAMMY U Masterclass
Rising rapper Armani White rocketed to fame via TikTok. During a GRAMMY U Masterclass Presented by Mastercard, White explained how to shape your career using social media: Know yourself, be yourself and stay hungry.
TikTok famous: A phrase that didn't exist a few years ago can now be a golden ticket into the music industry. Today, a 15-second clip has the power to alter someone’s career and life.
Sometimes, going viral on social media is purely luck of the draw. Other times, it’s a very calculated and tactful business strategy that can be used to help the masses realize your full potential and maximize your success. For Philadelphia-born rising rapper Armani White, the latter has never been more true.
A now-viral TikTok of White and friends vibing in the studio to his new song "BILLIE EILISH." changed the trajectory of his career. Within several hours of being uploaded, the video reached two million views and has since surpassed 80 billion views.
White says that while he posted that TikTok in February 2022 for fun, he had no doubt that it would be something special. With his favorite mantra, "losers get lucky, winners do it again," on a loop in his head, White was able to turn what could’ve been a fleeting viral hit into a pivotal career move.
At the HBCU Love Tour in Atlanta this October, White advised students on how to use social media to take their careers to new heights. The discussion is part of the GRAMMY U Masterclass, Presented by Mastercard, and was moderated by musician, actress, and Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter Board member Kat Graham. Read on for GRAMMY U's takeaways from Armani White's masterclass.
It’s Not About Making "TikTok Music," It’s About Making Music That Feels Genuine
Armani White compared the process of being an actor to what it is like to be a musical artist. Actors are constantly having to audition, and one role in a movie or TV show doesn’t necessarily lead to a lasting career. Similarly, one hit song doesn’t immediately make a substantial career for an artist.
The goal isn’t to make a song that will go viral, White continued, noting that he makes music that speaks to his character and experiences. The viral TikTok of White and crew blasting "BILLIE EILISH." over the studio's speakers and goofing off was raw, pure, and true to who he is. This genuine glance behind the curtain is what made his audience feel connected.
Pay Attention To Audience Reactions
Both White and Graham noted that social media can create an overwhelming feeling of comparison. White's advice? Rather than focusing on the number of views other videos are getting, focus on your own analytics.
The rapper said he will dissect a video that has been more successful than others and try to pinpoint what it is about that video that gained traction. Look to see what you did differently in each video and what the outcome was based on that tactic. Then, try to recreate it.
First, Know Who You Are
Even before the attention and opportunity that followed his TikTok, White knew who he was and wanted to be. He advised the audience to refrain from creating a persona that people want to see — that won’t get you far, and you’ll be chained to that version of you.
Instead, know who you are and stick with it. That certainty will allow others to understand your unique perspective and experiences, and will ultimately move you further along in your career. White decided who he was and implements that into every record he creates, whether by himself or in collaboration with others.
"Stay Down, Stay Hungry, Stay Determined"
Though White now has the career he always dreamed of, it wasn’t handed to him on a silver platter. He had to work hard, be patient and remain optimistic when things weren’t going as he had hoped. Even with the popularity of his original TikTok, he had more steps to climb to get the song to where it is now.
White’s first obstacle was finding a way to get the sample he used from N.O.R.E’s song "Nothin'" cleared for use. This is not a task that can be accomplished overnight, and the waiting process can be brutal. He decided the best way to go about this was to get his fans involved.
White encouraged his fans to use "Nothin'" as much as they could in their videos. As trends surrounding the song started rising up, it became clear that people weren’t losing interest in it. The TikTok sound of his song even made its way onto the “for you” page of Billie Eilish, who reposted a video using the sound. This solidified that everyone, including Eilish herself, were supporting not only the song itself, but Armani White as an artist.
White also spoke about life before "BILLIE EILISH." went viral and the struggles he went through. White says that through it all, he kept reminding himself, If I can get there, it’ll be worth it. He is now proud to have an encouraging story for artists to look at and remember that if you stay motivated, your wildest dreams are possible.
Graham echoed these sentiments, adding "Everyone has a unique journey…You gotta really look at yourself and know you have your own journey. Stay humble, hardworking, do the work, and you might just end up on this stage."
The full GRAMMY U Masterclass with Armani White, Presented by Mastercard, is available to stream now. Click the video below to hear more on the advice White and Graham share and the full story behind White's success.
Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
2023 GRAMMYs: Tobias Jesso Jr. Wins First-Ever GRAMMY For Songwriter Of The Year, Non-Classical
Tobias Jesso Jr. took home the first-ever GRAMMY for Songwriter Of The Year, Non-Classical at the 2023 GRAMMYs Premiere Ceremony.
Tobias Jesso Jr. won the first-ever GRAMMY for Songwriter Of The Year, Non-Classical at the 2023 GRAMMYs at said show’s Premiere Ceremony.
Listen to music from all of the 2023 GRAMMYs nominees on our official Amazon Music playlist.
Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Atlantis The Royal
Beyoncé Wins Best R&B Song For "Cuff It" | 2023 GRAMMYs Acceptance Speech
Beyoncé Wins Best R&B Song For "Cuff It" from her much-nominated 'Renaissance'
Beyoncé’s "Cuff It" won the GRAMMY for Best R&B Song at the 2023 GRAMMYs, officially tying the record for most awarded singer. Mary J. Blige, Muni Long, Jazmine Sullivan, and PJ Morton were the other nominees in the prestigious category.
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Brandi Carlile Performs An Electrifying Version Of "Broken Horses" At The 2023 GRAMMYs
Brandi Carlile is up for seven golden gramophones at the 2023 GRAMMYs, including Album Of The Year and Best Americana Album for 'In These Silent Days.'
Adorably introduced by her wife Catherine Shepherd and their two daughters Evangeline and Elijah, Carlile proved that wild horses know not only how to run, but how to rock out as well as she wailed, “Tethered in wide open spaces/ And fields that lead for miles/ Right into the barrel of a gun” with support from a high-octane band and pair of backing vocalists.
"Broken Horses" was originally released as the second single off Carlile’s 2021 album In These Silent Days — and even before the telecast had begun, had earned the golden gramophones for both Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance. Carlile took home the award for Best Americana Album as well.
The troubadour was also up for four other awards during the show, including Album Of The Year for In These Silent Days, and Record Of The Year, Best Americana Performance and Best American Roots Song for "You And Me On The Rock" featuring Lucius. With seven total GRAMMY nominations, the singer-songwriter tied Adele for the third-most number of nominations this year, only behind Beyoncé’s nine and Kendrick Lamar’s eight.
Since dropping In These Silent Days (Carlile's seventh studio album) in October 2021, she has re-issued the record with a bonus disc titled In the Canyon Haze. The album features acoustic recordings of the LP’s 10 tracks as well as a cover of David Bowie’s classic "Space Oddity."