How TikTok turned Tai Verdes into a chart-busting music sensation
Tai Verdes used to play varsity basketball before dropping out of college six years ago to pursue music. With no connections in the industry, he auditioned multiple times for talent searches like “American Idol” and “The “Voice.” That didn’t work out. And so, Tai dabbled in other things. He got into acting and modeling. He even joined—and won—an MTV reality dating series called “Are You the One?” Anything but a nine-to-five job, he said.
Ironically, that’s exactly what he ended up doing. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Tai found himself working at a phone service store in Los Angeles and sleeping on a friend’s couch. But he didn’t give up on music. After his shifts, he would practice his singing and write songs.
One song that came out of those sessions was “Stuck in the Middle,” a peppy indie-pop tune about being in a romantic limbo. He posted it on TikTok. Little did he know that it would pave the way toward his biggest career break. “Stuck in the Middle” reached the top spot on Spotify’s US viral chart.
Not an overnight success
It has since logged more than 120 million streams and over 3.5 million TikTok creations, which have been collectively viewed over 3 billion times since the song’s release in May 2020. It was also named by the New York Times as one of the best songs of 2020.
“It was crazy. The biggest part was just seeing it slowly, incrementally get bigger and bigger. It wasn’t an overnight success, and it wasn’t part of any trend. I was like, there’s no way it’s getting 40,000 streams each day. And then, it reached 50,000, then 100, 000. At one point, it was getting 300,000 streams a day. I was like, this is a song people want. It was such a cool feeling,” he said in a recent virtual interview arranged by Sony Music Philippines.
The American singer-songwriter then sustained the momentum with his follow-up release, “A-O-K,” which has now amassed 200 million streams and 1.3 million TikTok creations. These figures helped earn him the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Emerging Artist chart. His first album, “TV,” meanwhile, made it to third spot of the Billboard Heatseekers chart and the fifth spot of Spotify Top Debut Album chart.
Now, the 26-year-old musician is back, promoting his latest singles “Last Day on Earth” and “3 Outfits,” which will be part of his upcoming second album, “HDTV.”
“Last Day” was written with “self-reflection” in mind, and talks about the importance of taking risks.
“I want everyone to listen to this song, you know … I want everyone to stop, breathe in the air, feel, think about where they are, and realize that this isn’t gonna last forever. And by ‘this,’ I mean life,” he said. “Sometimes, life’s journey can feel long or it feels short, but we all know it’s going to end. It’s like jumping out of a plane. We’re all in free fall, and sometimes, we just get so caught up with it, but we don’t realize it.”
“3 Outfits,” on the other hand, reflects upon a romantic relationship. “It was the most transparent way to express how I was feeling throughout different times in my relationship. This song is my reflection of that, building to the grander theme of the album, which is about the good and the bad parts of connecting with someone,” he said.
Excerpts from the interview:
How does it feel transitioning from your nine-to-five job to now having an album on the Billboard charts?
I was just trying to make something, and I still am right now. I don’t think about the results. I’m thinking about the album and what I’m going to make. But the best thing about it is that people are connecting to the music … It’s always good to have success. But I also think I’m definitely in it for more of the art. And that’s success to me.
What’s the next album like?
The next album is called “HDTV” and it’s about two relationships: One that’s more fleeting and more physical; the second one is about new love and new experiences.
Was the pandemic a challenge or a breakthrough for you?
It was honestly a break for me because, like, everybody stopped doing music—the bigger artists, especially—because it seemed kind of insensitive at the time with the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement happening. But for smaller artists, it was like, “Yo, this is still a small business … we have to get things going.” I’m never going to stop putting out stuff.
Your mom got you into music lessons. What was her impact on you as an artist?
I was privileged to have parents who wanted to enroll me in music lessons, because I didn’t have the capability. I had piano lessons for years. It’s an advantage. I also took music theory in high school, because it was offered.
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
I just didn’t want to do a nine-to-five job. We try to look for reasons why people do things. But for me, it was about testing all sorts of things. I never knew I wanted to be a full-time music artist. I knew I loved music…I imagined myself being onstage. But I wasn’t like the others who have been singing since they were 6.
I tried different stuff because I thought it would help me find out what I really want to do. If something doesn’t work out, I do something else. I think there’s bravery in realizing that maybe something isn’t for me.
How does it feel that your music has now become soundtracks of people’s lives?
I used to do that a lot, and I still do it now. I like having songs as a soundtrack to my life. I was just on a plane looking back at an old playlist and I was like, “Wow, I can go back to exactly how I felt when I was listening to these songs.”
Do you think social media or TikTok has made putting out music easier or harder?
I didn’t have any access to anyone. But TikTok allowed me to put out a song people like. I think that ability is being overlooked now… Some people are skeptical and that’s OK. But that’s where people are right now. And this is how it’s going to be in the foreseeable future.
What are you most excited about now that the world is opening up?
Playing shows! I just played my first festival recently, and it was amazing… I’m like, ‘Wow, this is going to keep growing if I keep putting my time and energy into this. It’s really cool to see. INQ
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