Photo by Acacia Evans – GAYLE
performs at Exit/In in Nashville as part of “That Other Roo Show” Sept. 5, 2021.
Despite the undeniably catchy single “abcdefu” being just about everywhere, from topping weekly radio charts across the globe, providing the soundtrack to millions of TikTok and Instagram reels, and featured on late night television, rising pop star GAYLE doesn’t consider the tune a hit.
“I still refuse to call it a hit or say it’s gone viral or say it’s blown up because it’s just so hard to comprehend success (laughs), you know – especially when it’s something that you’ve been working at for so long,” says the 17-year-old, who has been writing songs since she was 10.
“I’m starting to get some recognition [but] there’s so many people in the world who have no clue who I am (laughs). That’s easy for me to comprehend, more than the possibility of somebody knowing my music or my name or my song without even ever meeting me.”
The pop-punk break-up anthem, with its alphabetical-inspired sing-along chorus, gleefully tells off a toxic ex-boyfriend, along with nearly everybody and everything in his life from his mom to his “broke-ass car and that shit you call art.” Everybody, but his dog, naturally.
“It took me a minute to get to the point of wanting to be honest and vulnerable in my songs,” GAYLE said. “I’ve also been consistently trying to get better at songwriting, and it’s still something I’m trying to get better at to this day. But I would say, when I was 14 is when I really wanted to start being vulnerable in my songs and take a look at myself and think about the things that I really feel passionately about.” Laughing, she adds, “For some reason telling my ex to fuck off was one of them.”
GAYLE, who was born in Dallas and now calls Nashville home, spent ages 9 through 14 “doing a lot of writers’ rounds” in Music City, three to five times a week. At age 14 she was discovered by songwriter, record producer and music publisher Kara DioGuardi and GAYLE’s now-manager Kristina Russo during an event they put on in partnership with Nashville Songwriters Association International [NSAI].
“The thing we noticed was her intensity. More so than the song, it was just her presence and her being on stage,” Russo said.
Soon after, GAYLE signed a publishing deal with DioGuardi’s music publishing and production company Arthouse Entertainment.
Russo explained that DioGuardi set GAYLE up in songwriting sessions “with some really seasoned people,” helped develop her songwriting and mentored her, while Russo helped teach GAYLE about the music business and focused on finding her voice and branding.
“We worked on photo, video, social media, all the things that are the building blocks, so that when the songs and the music clicked, there was a base to build off of,” Russo said. In early 2020, ahead of the start of the pandemic, GAYLE started working with agents Marissa Smith and Matthew Morgan, who are now with UTA.
GAYLE signed with Atlantic in 2021 and released “abcdefu” in August on Atlantic/Arthouse, with the song going on to hit No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. and the top of the charts in 11 countries including Sweden, Malaysia, Israel and the U.K. Nearly six months after its release, the song is currently No. 2 on Spotify’s Top 200 global chart.
Her accolades include being named a YouTube “Artist On The Rise,” an Amazon “2022 Artist To Watch,” and one of Billboard’s “21 Under 21: The Ones To Watch.”
But before “abcdefu” became a breakout hit, a community on TikTok discovered it and made it their own.
“It was 100% the deaf and hard of hearing side of TikTok or just the sign language side of TikTok,” GAYLE said. “That is completely what jump started people using the audio of ‘abc’ … When ‘abc’ was out for two or three months. I remember when it hit 15 million streams, before people really started using the audio. … That was so, so exciting. And then when people started using the TikTok audio literally a month later it had 115 million streams. So yeah, it completely just took everything to a different level.”
Russo adds, “Obviously social media is a huge part of the plan. All platforms but TikTok specifically is massive right now and we try to think of things to do and we did them. But they didn’t work, honestly. What worked was when the people on TikTok started making videos using sign language, and that was organic.”
GAYLE was on the road supporting indie band Winnetka Bowling League in early November when she and Russo discovered that “abcdefu” was quickly picking up momentum on TikTok.
“We got to some hotel in the middle of Oregon. And all of a sudden, the UGCs (user-generated content) were exponentially multiplying. And we were like, ‘What’s going on?’ And so we looked and it was the sign language videos and that wasn’t planned by anyone – that was TikTok doing exactly what it does,” Russo said.
“We have no budget, (laughs) as much as we wanted to strategize the content. Anything we tried really didn’t do it. TikTok did it. And it’s powerful. The kids and the people on there, they really control it. You know, they say what they like, they say what they don’t. There’s been a mix of positive and negative on there, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. We just got really lucky, honestly.”
January was a big month for GAYLE including making her late-night debut on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon,” with an interview and performance of the clean version of “abcdefu;” releasing her follow-up single “ur just horny” and announcing dates for her first headline tour.
The initial brief run of dates featured a handful of March gigs at iconic clubs across the U.S. including Nashville’s Exit/In; New York’s Mercury Lounge and The Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood, Calif., which is known for hosting up-and-coming acts like Adele’s 2008 debut tour.
“The first day [of the onsale], New York and L.A. sold out and we were like, ‘What!?’ I had made so many posts and pieces of content to roll [out] to sell tickets. I checked many times with Marissa and Matthew if that were true before I told [GAYLE]. I was like, this is insane,” Russo said.
Second nights were added at Exit/In and Mercury Lounge, along with the announcement of the “feeling it together tour” that kicks off April 3 at Drake Underground in Toronto.
The tour stops in seven cities in North America in April, including two nights at Chicago’s Subterranean, Denver’s Larimer Lounge and Seattle’s Barboza, along with a May 30 gig at London’s OMEARA.
Plus, GAYLE just confirmed she’ll be supporting AJR’s tour, from the band’s April 28 show at Dallas’ Toyota Music Factory to May 21 at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, N.Y.
Reflecting on the support slot with Winnetka Bowling League, GAYLE said, “It was just me and my guitar and my tracks. It was a bit of a writers’ round, it felt like, but I was just on stage by myself. I’m about to go on tour in March, and just jumped on a tour with AJR, and that’s going to be my first tour with a [backing] band. And that is super exciting.”
“Honestly, just performing live again,” GAYLE said when asked what she’s most looking forward to about the upcoming dates.
“I got to do it a little bit last year, but it’s something that I stopped doing for a year and a half. It’s something I really miss. Just to be able to connect with people through my music is such a fun experience, and I’m really excited to do that.”