“Stuck In The Middle” used TikTok to pave the way for Tai Verdes’ debut album, “TV.” The single as well as the more recent track “A-O-K” have been hugely successful on the platform, with “Stuck In The Middle” trending for roughly a month and “A-O-K,” at the time of writing, the fourth most trending sound.
And the songs deserve the attention. In “TV,” Verdes’ kinetic combination of brutal self-assessment, assured optimism and pure catchy power makes the 24-year-old artist a joyful addition to the music industry. Like a just-ripe piece of fruit, “TV” brings a smile to sweet tooths and critical palettes alike.
The album’s short, chorus-heavy songs tackle blundering relationships of all kinds: with fame, parents, girlfriends and, most prominently, the self. Through each tune, Verdes pours out the honesty of a 13-year-old staring at the ceiling and pulling out the truth within himself: He’s an insecure mess. Like Olivia Rodrigo’s “Sour,” which also reigned on TikTok, “TV” tackles universal insecurity with the incisiveness of a young person.
The album also resembles the Rodrigo track because of its quick, bouncy rhythm. “TV” is simply groovy, groovy to its bones. Listeners will find themselves bobbing and swaying before the first words of the album even reach their ears. Later, when the choruses swing into motion, guitar, claps and piano implore listeners to get out of their seats and into the kind of dancing that raises the heart rate but doesn’t break a sweat.
Though the album’s sounds lift serotonin levels with simple bodily pleasure, Verdes’ lyrics invoke a more complicated response. They expose the selfish and petty motives of each listener — and, as a result, create a cathartic sense of freedom.
Verdes’ lyrics explore many themes: weakness, affection and a strong desire to do better, as well as an inborn sense that he will, somehow, turn out “A-O-K.” Insecurity, however, dominates the word count.
In opener “rEaL WOrLD,” for example, Verdes examines his battling emotions about dropping out of college to pursue a musical career. His speaker knows that he made the right choice but feels left behind nonetheless, an experience as “irrational” and persistent as feeling ghost limbs after amputation.
The rapid beat of “rEaL WOrLD” slows as Verdes drops words like descending steps on an escalator: “I’m only taking really, really positive, constructive comments, he says. “’Cause now, I’m sensitive as f—-.” The music pauses; then, as a kind of defensive afterthought, Verdes adds, “b—-.”
The artist’s first-person lyrics don’t sugarcoat reality, with enough specificity for listeners to wonder how Verdes managed to share his creation with the world, especially the parents and ex who figure in the narrative.
In other moments, Verdes’ honesty elicits laughter. “Something To Cry About,” for example, unapologetically asserts the artist’s codependency: “I’m loving you so unhealthily,” Verdes sings. “My therapist would be so proud of me/ Oh, I’m writing all of my feelings down.” In “DRUGS,” Verdes says of marijuana that he “only need it sorta kinda.”
One of the greatest strengths of “TV” is its lyrical tension. Verdes’ speaker knows that he should pursue a career in music instead of graduating college to work in corporate America, yet he still feels left out about it. He admires his girlfriend yet fears to commit to the future. Half of him enjoys drugs with abandon — while the other half looks on, askance, guilty, and scared to tell his parents. Simply put, “TV” relates contradictory feelings — and this resonates with his audience, who experience the same thoughts every day.
Clever lyrics augment Verdes’ complicated themes. In “Stuck In The Middle,” for example, the artist evocatively describes an undefined relationship, singing, “It’s dark in the middle between lovers and friends.” In “i deserve 2 b alone,” one of the album’s saddest songs, Verdes writes with heartrending specificity: “I never wanna be bad with you, fightin’ in the car so hard the alarm goes off.”
Easy-on-the-ears appeal coats such unpleasant thoughts and emotions, as sonically rich tunes and a few fun sound effects make “TV” a delightful pill to swallow. The album evokes the image of friends chilling by the pool, talking and laughing together, as well as the feeling of alone-in-the-bedroom catharsis.
From TikTok to Spotify: Commercial Strategy
The unadulterated delight “TV” ladles on listeners is the product of an individual going all in: to his sound, songwriting, and even marketing — and even when spreading the word means using TikTok in a manner previously untried.
Verdes has critically assessed TikTok, which he uses to draw listeners into the music-making experience and even acquaint them with Verdes as a persona. The artist’s new manager, Ryan Chisholm, highlights the rarity of the artist’s strategy: “I’ve never seen an artist use TikTok as a storytelling mechanism the way he does,” he said.
Verdes posted a teaser to “Stuck In The Middle” on TikTok. “If this gets 1,000 likes I’ll put it out,” he wrote in the post, which eventually amassed more than 90,000 likes — and inspired Verdes to convert his profile to a virtual diary of the song.
After “Stuck In The Middle” became more popular, Verdes learned from Spotify analytics that the vast majority of his listeners were men, and he once again reached out on TikTok. This time, he asked his male followers to share the record with their female friends — and Verdes’ female listeners rose from 13% to 33%, according to Rolling Stone.
The Deeper Source
Verde’s commercial clear thinking reflects the same trait that defines both his internal mindset and his overt lyrical proclamations: resilience. Throughout the album, Verdes repeatedly directs his attention from past mistakes to future well-being: “So yesterday/ Don’t dwell about It/ Just learn about it,” he sings in “A-O-K.” “I wanna be the best man I can be, yeah/ Surround my soul with only good energy.”
The artist’s confidence seems almost unwarranted, at least when observed in the songs he wrote before going viral on TikTok. In “rEaL WOrLD,” for example, Verdes sings, “Nobody sees my dreams but me/ But I’m cookin’ a fantasy/ All the ingredients are here / Just be a little patient with me.” At the end of the song, he speaks a few clear words: “I will never, ever, f—–g ever give up,” he says.
In an interview with Substream Magazine, Verdes expounded on his self-assurance: “I believe in myself, I knew all of this was going to happen and I was going to make it happen no matter what,” he said.
Though Verdes didn’t expound on the source of his confidence, listeners may glean a couple of reasons from his lyrics. The most obvious one is the song “momma told me imma be,” which quotes Verdes’ mother: “You’re gonna do something for the human race… Now go find some dream to chase.”
The other, less concrete explanation for Verdes’ confident resilience is his own sense of personal destiny. Though it took a year for Verdes’ mother to sanction his decision to drop out of college and pursue music, the artist kept writing and practicing his vocals.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why Verdes felt this way. Did a force outside him establish a sense of purpose in his mind?
Whatever the explanation, it is satisfying for listeners to sit back, relax and enjoy the result.