When a 17-year-old accidentally winds up making the biggest song on the planet, where does she go next? Just like Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo who came before her, it’s something that Taylor Rutherford, known to the world as GAYLE, has had to contend with over the past few weeks. ‘abcdefu’ – a no-nonsense breakup anthem built on crushing beats and a rumbling bassline – has gone from a slow-burning TikTok hit to a bonafide smash, recently topping the UK Singles Chart. It’s a brutal takedown of an ex-lover, one that brims with revenge, but simultaneously with the joy that comes with having the upper hand. “Fuck you and your mom / And your sister and your job / And your broke-ass car and that shit you call art”, she sings on the irrepressibly catchy chorus. Eesh!
She needn’t worry about not being two-for-two, though. Its cheekily-titled follow-up, ‘Ur Just Horny’, shares the boisterous guitars and expressive vocals of its predecessor, but here, the Dallas-born artist’s sharp, eminently quotable putdowns (“The more I get to know you / The more I wish I never did”) are a masterclass in real wit and attitude. Over a pop punk-leaning melody, GAYLE’s feelings are rendered so simply and matter-of-factly that you can practically hear her eyes rolling.
“I have so much more music beyond ‘abcdefu’ to share with the world, and I can’t wait to continue to show different sides of myself,” says GAYLE. As she wraps up work on her debut EP (due this spring), the fast-rising star chats to NME about navigating viral success, Olivia Rodrigo comparisons, and personal growth through her music.
NME: When you were writing ‘abcdefu’, when did you know you’d hit the jackpot?
“This whole experience has genuinely been mind-blowing, and it doesn’t feel real because I’ve been fantasising about it for so long. But it also feels like a long time coming; at one point, I was planning on releasing an entirely different song instead of ‘abcdefu’, as I was convinced that people wouldn’t like it, so I played mind games with myself over it for ages. But I’m glad I stuck with it as when I wrote the chorus with my best friend, we knew it was special.”
How are you coping with the attention the song has brought you?
“I can’t even say the song is successful because I feel like I sound egotistical. I’m still getting comfortable with its success. It’s interesting because if a song gets overplayed on the radio, people can get sick of hearing it. People can literally become mad at you for being successful.
“Also, people are saying things that aren’t true. I saw this rumour on Instagram that said that I’ll be featuring on the next Olivia Rodrigo album – I love her, but that’s not a thing that’s happening. I haven’t even hinted towards a collaboration with her, but hey, I’m down for it!”
Have any artists reached out to offer support?
“Olivia [Rodrigo] DM’d me, which is crazy – I thought it was a fan account at first! She sent a super sweet message, where she was like, ‘Congrats on your success, girl. You’re killing it.’
“It meant a lot to me because we are both young women making pop music, so we are going to get compared a lot. On social media, people like to pit artists against each other, so it is really great to share these moments with other artists. It’s almost like saying, ‘Hey, I’m successful, and I’m acknowledging the fact that you’re successful too’. We can both be in this space without having to compete against each other or bring each other down.”
Does songwriting offer you space to express feelings that you might not necessarily be able to show in real life?
“100%. It also allows me to play out scenarios in my head that might not actually happen in real life. I didn’t necessarily call my ex boyfriend and say, ‘Fuck you and your mom!’. It definitely gives me an outlet to express my anger and let me process my own feelings to stop them having a negative effect on me, and writing ‘abcdefu’ allowed me to let go of it all.”
Why do you think that teenage angst is so prevalent in music at the moment?
“Like other young artists, I’m just drawing from my own personal experience and other people are seeing that, too. I talk about what I’m passionate about, and if that pisses people off, then OK! Being comfortable with pissing people off is one thing that I think young artists have started to accept and utilise. Art is uncomfortable at times; you want to make somebody feel something, even if they hate your song. It is clearly sparking an emotion within them, which means you’re doing something correctly.”
‘abcdefu’ blew up on TikTok, but you’ve been called an “industry plant” by some users on the app. How would you respond to those accusations?
“For some people, it’s hard to comprehend how an artist can find success naturally without having an underlying force that pushed it. At the end of the day, it’s literally just people liking the song, and it grows from there. There is no big secret or no special formula to having a huge song – success is something that not even artists understand. I know that I can’t have a moment like ‘abcdefu’ again, and that’s fine.
“The thing is, I know the time I spent working on my craft, my songwriting, and my voice. I also know exactly what part my label had in releasing ‘abcdefu’, but none of this would be happening if people didn’t like the song. You can’t put all the money and resources behind a song if nobody likes it. When people say that I’m an industry plant, it’s like, ‘You think you’re right, but you’re not – and that’s funny!’
“But it’s really hard sometimes. You want to go to every person and be like, ‘No, I was doing music for years before this happened’, but I can’t let other people’s opinions of me affect what I want to do. There’s people who want to think that ‘abcdefu’ was the first song that I ever released, as though I was sitting there with a huge mastermind plan. I just have to appreciate what’s happening and just keep doing what I’m doing. I’m learning that I don’t have to prove anything to anybody.”
In a previous interview, you described how you played 90 gigs in six months at the age of 10 – that sounds wild! Did that experience give you the work ethic you have today?
“For sure. I played at random bars, malls, rodeos, markets, and basketball games, and I also once sang at a sheep sellers’ convention! It taught me how to make people pay attention to my performance and keep them engaged.
“I started out in country music. I would sing in opera houses where they would only allow country songs, then I started going to Nashville, and that’s where I started doing pop music. But up until that point, I had this stupid and ridiculous mindset where I didn’t want to do pop music because I wanted to keep my clothes on. I was around conservative people at a young age, so I absorbed their ideas, and thought you had to be provocative to do pop music; but now I know that even if you aren’t wearing any clothes on stage, that is your choice.
“I think that’s why I now talk so openly about sex in my music because I’ve had to acknowledge the thoughts that I had when I was younger and understand that they came from the environment I found myself in. Growing up, I’ve realised that what I once believed isn’t actually the truth, and that’s also why I feel so passionate about sharing my views now.”
You’ve also spoken openly about your love for Aretha Franklin. How does it feel to be labelmates with your hero?
“It’s such an honour for me to be at Atlantic, the same label as Aretha, as it solidifies my connection to her – I literally worship the ground she walks on! Growing up, her voice really spoke to me, and she made me realise that I literally cannot do anything else in this world but make music. I could do something else in life and find happiness in it, but I would always wish for this.”
‘Ur Just Horny’ will be part of a new EP that’s on the way. What can we expect from it?
“For ‘abcdefu’ to have happened, I had to love the person the song is about so much to get that mad at them. So with this new project, I want to explore other romantic feelings of mine and try out different sounds along the way. I’m so excited to tour, release new music, and to continue this crazy journey I’ve found myself on.”
GAYLE’S new single, ‘Ur Just Horny’ is out now. She’ll headline London’s Omeara on May 30