“I wanna be doing interviews about myself,” Tai Verdes prophetically sang on the bouncy, bucket list-referencing ‘Fake Prophet’, which featured on his May debut album ‘TV’. Six months on, the 24-year-old is fulfilling that dream: when we meet in north London, Verdes explains to NME how he has been visualising his music career for years. “I’ve always trusted my vision, despite all the struggles I’ve been through in life,” he says. “I knew that I was going to make it.”
His confidence is well-placed. Verdes’ single ‘A-O-K’ — a charming, clever and carefree number that mixes honeyed rap lines with buoyant hooks about finding positivity in the everyday — became an instant TikTok smash when it entered the world earlier this year, before it then climbed the UK Singles Chart and was remixed by San Francisco rapper 24kGoldn. Following on from the equally catchy ‘Drugs’ and ‘Stuck In The Middle’, the breakthrough success of ‘A-O-K’ has now surely kick-started Verdes’ long-awaited journey towards pop stardom.
The songwriter, born Tyler Colon, previously spent half a decade auditioning for TV singing shows, including The Voice and American Idol, only to be repeatedly met with rejection. Meanwhile, his self-released bedroom-pop ditties under the moniker Tylersemicolon were also failing to take off. He finally had a surprising change of fortune, however, after winning the MTV dating show Are You The One? in 2017. But it soon became apparent to Verdes that, in his willingness to appear on reality TV, he had somehow neglected his own creative needs. Therefore, he chose to invest his winnings in funding a move to LA where he could work on his music late at night while juggling a retail job by day.
This hustle mentality has finally paid off for Verdes in 2021, with the artist now growing a loyal fanbase after racking up millions of music streams. Verdes caught his breath to chat to NME about navigating his sudden viral success, his ‘TV’ album and teaming up with 24kGoldn.
NME: Your music success has been a long time coming – how are you coping with this?
Tai Verdes: “I feel like it has all been some sort of beautiful accident. But coping with fame is all about perspective, because there are artists that are far more successful than me. I’m learning to not care about the success as much as the messages that I am telling. I’m keeping things real and honest – I just want to sing the songs, as that’s all I’ve got to do.”
Were you prepared for ‘A-O-K’ to blow up in the way that it did this year?
“If I’m making something and I feel good about it, I’m just going to put it out there and see what happens – and that was the case with ‘A-O-K’. It’s hard to judge whether a song is going to become popular, but I always had a special feeling about this one.”
When did you first realise the song’s reach?
“When it started blowing up, I remember looking at my phone and it had like five million views on TikTok. When I woke up the next morning it had hit 10 million, then 40 million the following week. It was just something I created in a few hours, and because it found its audience on social media it was accessible for everybody. There’s no excuses for artists that are not willing to give TikTok a go.”
Do you worry about being seen as a ‘one-hit wonder’?
“I want to take my fans on a journey, even if all of my songs don’t become big. From my experiences of living in LA – I spent four years sleeping in a living room – it means that I won’t give up, and I’ll push harder [for musical success] than the next person. I listen to myself and I trust my own instincts because I’ve been through a lot of rejection. If my next song doesn’t blow up, it doesn’t matter. I don’t need anyone else to start up that wave of hype again, because I have already done it a bunch of times before. My label isn’t doing anything to manufacture my success – you’ve got to build it yourself.”
Why did you want to work with 24kGoldn for the recent remix of ‘A-O-K’?
“I’m not really a big remix guy, and, at first, I thought the song had already been spoken for. But I’m not afraid to try new things, and I want to connect with a bigger audience and open new doors for my music. It was a super-awesome experience. [24kGoldn] is so talented, and he laid down his verse really quickly. I find it inspiring how he is also so heavily involved in the promotion of his music: he told me about the Chinese version of TikTok, which is called Douyin. He has hired someone to translate his videos into Mandarin and share them on that app, which brings me to the question: what if every artist knew about these promotion tools? The industry would become an inclusive market.”
What’s the secret to viral success? Do you have a formula when it comes to songwriting?
“I really think that things are working out for me because I’m one of the only artists out here that’s realised that all of this is probably 50 per cent music-making and 50 per cent promotion. With all the tools that we have out there across social media, including TikTok, Instagram Reels and YouTube, is the only thing that’s holding every other artist back is the ability to market themselves? That’s the question that I feel like I’m going to answer in the next two years if I can keep this level of hype up.
“Some other people have already answered it, though. Lil Nas X, for example, built his following by promoting his music across social media at a higher level than any other artist in the world. He’s so deep into the internet culture that he can make a trend happen instantly, and then can expose any new song to millions of people. I’m not saying that everyone has to be like him, but if you sprinkle a little Lil Nas X’s energy in your shit, more people will listen to your music.”
Do you want to get to Lil Nas X’s level of fame, then?
“Yeah, it’s inspiring. I want to put out the best songs that I can, and inspire people with the music. I want it to happen; when I hear a really good song on the radio, that makes me more competitive and makes me want to become a real superstar.”
How have you found the response to ‘TV’?
“How I feel about my debut album is changing every single day. I hated it when I only had a few songs out: I was worried that people would find a song, but then move on to something else. I couldn’t even give people the opportunity to become a fan because I didn’t have a ‘product’ out there. That’s the reality of the industry: like, what is the length of Katy Perry‘s discography? Fucking 10 hours? Yeah, and I only have 37 minutes of my own music out there in the ecosystem right now – I sometimes worry that it’s not enough [music] to make a real fan. But there’s so much more to come from me.”
You’ve previously talked about wanting to make your “own world” with your future albums. What does that look like?
“I know the names, colours and cover art for the next three albums. Imagining what my future projects will look like gives me direction. I couldn’t imagine being an artist and not knowing what I want to do within the next five years, because when you write the songs, where do you put them? They would just pile up. But I can see my future in HD – full-fucking-4K vision – and I’m always constantly organising the music that I make. Knowing I have it all ready to go excites me.”
What drives you to keep creating?
“I don’t know if anybody will listen to them all, but I’m going to make 10 albums. If I’m not inspired enough by my own music to make 10 albums, then I probably shouldn’t be doing this in the first place.”
Tai Verdes’ latest single ‘Let’s Go To Hell’ is out now