By Madeline Keane | 12 September, 2022
If you walked up to me today and told me that you’d never heard of “abcdefu” or GAYLE, the teenage sensation behind the song, I’d ask you what rock you’ve been living under for the last six months. This catchy, “play-on-words” (or better yet, “letters”) style of tunes has absolutely DOMINATED the airwaves throughout 2022, and blew up on TikTok not long before. But how did GAYLE, as young and unknown as she was, gain so much attention seemingly overnight?
Originally from Plano, Texas, 18-year old singer GAYLE has been working hard at music for a long time. At a very young age, she started home-schooling to focus more on her music, traveling back and forth from Nashville, often for networking opportunities. According to Billboard, GAYLE was discovered in 2018 at a songwriting pop-up event in Nashville when former American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi pulled her name out of a hat to sing at the workshop. Later that same year, DioGuardi offered GAYLE a record and publishing deal with her company, Arthouse. Two years later, in December 2020, the singer signed to Atlantic Records and released several singles with them before the new year.
GAYLE’s “abcdefu” made its debut on TikTok a lot earlier than you might have realized: the first time that she posted a video with the song was in August of 2020, almost a year before the song was put out on August 13, 2021. Many people recognize the song from a much more recent TikTok, posted a few weeks before “abcdefu”s release, in which GAYLE responds to a commenter asking her to “write a breakup song using the alphabet” and proceeds to sing and play the first pre-chorus and chorus of the song acoustically. This video went viral, amassing almost 6 million views to date, helping the song achieve hundreds of thousands of streams, and prompting several TikTok trends using the “abcdefu” sound.
I know what you’re thinking: “It’s an awfully big coincidence that a random viewer asked GAYLE to write a song that she had already created, right?” Right. As it turns out, this “offhand request” came from the account of Nancy Berman, one of the marketing managers at Atlantic Records. As NewsWeek reported earlier this year, this tidbit of information was pointed out by another TikToker, Daniel Wall, who is known for his analysis of a variety of music industry news. While Wall only meant to applaud the marketing strategy behind this decision, others were more angry about being deceived, labeling GAYLE an “industry plant” who only found success because of her record deal.
Despite the backlash from some disgruntled listeners, “abcdefu” continues to be successful, and GAYLE has even brushed off the hate received- making a TikTok joking about finding the “industry plant headquarters” in the middle of a greenhouse. Her story, as well as the journeys of other “TikTok musicians” have prompted a dialogue about what it means to have access to resources and support that other independent artists might not be able to take advantage of, and whether being an “industry plant” is a bad thing, or if it’s even real in the first place! Ultimately, no one can deny the impact of “abdcdefu” as a conversation-starter, the beginnings of a new subgenre coined on TikTok as “nursery rhyme pop”,, and the potential kickstart to a long, rewarding music career for young GAYLE.