By the time 17-year-old songwriter GAYLE drove halfway across the country overnight to see her name lit up on billboards in Times Square, she had only released a few songs. Her debut single “Abcdefu” has been nearing the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart thanks to it absolutely dominating on TikTok. While the fast-growing app helped put her name on the map, GAYLE’s success comes from her ability to create unapologetically angry songs, giving a voice to a generation of pissed-off young women who look up to the singer’s candor and genuine nature.
The music industry may be saturated with breakup music, but GAYLE’s kiss-off track “Abcdefu” isn’t your average heartbroken ballad. “Abcdefu” shares an anecdote many women can relate to: Repeatedly cursing out the person who caused them pain. It opens with the singer firing off a “f*ck you” to an ex, setting the tone for a vexed GAYLE to list all the people she holds animosity towards post-breakup; including his mom, sister, friends, and pretty much everyone else (except, of course, his dog). Generally in media, women are shown either wallowing in self-pity after a breakup (see: Bridget Jones’ Diary and Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2U“), or plotting some sort of revenge (see: John Tucker Must Die and Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats“). But with her debut major-label single, the singer works through an emotion that women aren’t always allowed to feel — pure and unadulterated anger.
GAYLE’s breakup story is familiar to many women, and it’s one she never minces words about in interviews. “It started from a place of wanted to tell my ex to f*ck off. I was pissed to the core,” she told radio station 96.3 Easy Rock Manila. GAYLE was at first angry with herself for her perceived shortcomings in the relationship. But upon reflection, she realized all her ex’s red flags had been there from the beginning. “All of the sudden it hit me: He’s an *sshole,” she said. In that moment, she transformed from being angry with herself to being pissed-off with all the people who validated his behavior in their relationship. After appropriately blocking him on all social media apps, GAYLE focused that outrage into her music.
GAYLE recognizes how few mainstream women revel in their anger in music, but it became even more apparent when she played “Abcdefu” for her grandmother. GAYLE was worried her grandma would be disappointed with how vulgar the song was, but her reaction was quite the opposite. “She was like, ‘You know, you get to say all the things that I never got to at 17,'” GAYLE told The Tennessean. “And that put the song in a completely new perspective for me.”
The explicit nature of “Abcdefu” seemed to really resonate with people on TikTok, seeing as it’s been used in over 2.5 million videos and counting. The song exemplifies how TikTok can be really great at drumming up excitement about a single, but it also proves that TikTok users can’t be fooled. Yes, record labels and marketing agencies promote certain songs on the app, but most of the time when a song goes viral, it happens naturally, according to Atlantic’s Head Of Marketing Nina Webb: “I mean, there’s a million examples of a lot of very expensive campaigns that had no return. Like, we can’t do it. It has to come from fans or the artist because you’re talking to Gen Z. They smell everything out.”
Despite label support, GAYLE’s viral moment did happen naturally. Like much of the rest of her generation, GAYLE started using TikTok to share funny videos and post her songs. At first, the singer was able to capture an audience with her genuine humor and impressive covers. GAYLE began sharing snippets of “Abcedfu” before its official release for months, but it didn’t gain any traction — that is, until the song became a trend among members of the sign language community on TikTok. From there, “Abcdefu” became an instant hit and jump-started GAYLE’s breakout success.
While “Abcdefu” credits its breakout to TikTok, GAYLE’s music career is the result of years of hard work. The singer performed every opportunity she could as a pre-teen, from bars and restaurants to farmer’s markets, and even sheep industry conventions. Armed with a naturally incredible vocal range and unwavering perseverance, she eventually convinced her parents to move their family to Nashville to pursue her music full-time. There, she was discovered by happenstance at an artist workshop by former American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi, who eventually offered her a publishing deal where she spent years independently releasing a handful of singles. “I loved her intensity, the tone of her voice, and her emotion when she sang,” DioGuardi told Uproxx. “It was unlike anything I’d seen from a 14-year-old artist.” DioGuardi says fans resonate with GAYLE’s music because of her conviction. “What makes her standout is that she’s a great performer and knows exactly what she wants to say,” she said. “She has the ability to communicate her feelings and life in a unique way and I do think her fans will fall even more in love with her as she releases more music.”
Now that she’s examined her anger and become known as the “emo alphabet girl,” GAYLE is gearing up to drop the EP A Study Of The Human Experience, Volume One. Per the project’s title, the songs detail other teenage woes like pushing away love, being scared to catch feelings, and crossing a line in platonic friendships. GAYLE’s TikTok success is more than just a lesson on the importance of young artists promoting their music online. GAYLE proves that there’s a class of pissed-off young women who aren’t afraid to say how they really feel.
A Study Of The Human Experience, Volume One is out 3/18 via Atlantic. Pre-order it here.
GAYLE is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.