Get Used To Seeing The Name Tai Verdes
The concept behind the MTV reality show Are You The One is as follows: Twenty-two young singles are matched into ideal couplings using dating software, then must work to identify their perfect matches while living together. If each algorithmically ordained couple successfully identifies each other, the whole group gets to split a million dollars — so, sort of a dystopian remix of familiar MTV concepts like The Real World and Next. In season six, filmed in New Orleans in 2017, the contestants were victorious, which left college dropout Tyler Colon with a $50,000 nest egg. He also walked away with a potential soulmate, but in hindsight it seems his dabblings in music with castmate Ethan Cohen, aka Emoney, left more of an impact than his pairing with Nicole Spiller, regrettable though “Happy Place” may be.
Three years later, Colon hit the jackpot again, this time via TikTok. He’d been living in Los Angeles working part-time jobs and focusing on his music as tylersemicolon at night, repeatedly auditioning for The Voice and American Idol and regularly getting rejected. Undaunted, like any self-promotional hustler in 2020, he started a TikTok account and committed to posting daily — honestly, a much more reliable path to a sustainable music career these days than TV singing competitions, especially for a charismatic former high school basketball star like Colon, or for anyone comfortable attempting to charm people on camera.
After six months, the newly rechristened Tai Verdes had built up enough of a following that when he previewed his new single “Stuck In The Middle” on the platform, promising to release it if the video got to 1,000 likes, the clip went viral. So did the video where Verdes celebrated 2 million streams from the Verizon store where he still worked, and the one where he quit the job on camera. By the end of last year he was signed to Arista Records and beginning to score more streaming hits. By the time he released his debut album TV last May, he’d launched the song that would bring him to the Hot 100 for the first time.
“A-O-K” has not just been a hit online but at Top 40 radio, where the track’s cheery demeanor and Verdes’ guitar-based pan-genre pop make perfect sense. Naturally, last week it reached a new peak of #39 on the Hot 100 and is still climbing Billboard‘s Radio Songs and Pop Airplay charts as well. “Stuck In The Middle” — a lament about mutliple relationships getting caught in limbo between “friends with benefits” status and monogamous commitment — could almost pass for a Strokes song, with Verdes’ vocals floating melodiously over a chunky bass-driven groove and jazzy guitar chords. Whereas “A-O-K” is more fearlessly corny, setting shout-along gang vocals a la Mr. Big’s “To Be With You” against Hendrix-y guitar trills and then throwing every possible hook at you, from whistling to the schoolyard cheer “Two, four, six, eight/ Who do we appreciate?”
The rest of TV is nearly as eager to please. Thanks to Verdes’ friendly disposition and relentlessly hooky craftsmanship, it often does, though not without crossing over into hokey territory sometimes. Though only 25, Verdes’ music reminds me of a lot of the guys with acoustic guitars on my college campus in the early aughts. There are notes of frat-friendly singer-songwriters like Jack Johnson, but also of André 3000’s go-for-broke populist genre meld “Hey Ya!” He is not primarily a rapper, but hip-hop is infused into Verdes’ music in a way that calls back to Gym Class Heroes and Twenty One Pilots and Mike Posner, a longtime client of TV producer Adam Friedman. There’s also a bit of Bruno Mars in the way he prioritizes having a blast over scoring cool points. Verdes is the kind of playful entertainer for whom even bad vibes become a catalyst for looking on the bright side.
On TV, this approach manifests in lots of potential hits, songs with concepts that feel screamingly obvious in hindsight but would not have emerged without a savvy creative perspective. “DRUGS,” ostensibly a sheepish admission to his parents that he enjoys recreational substances from time to time, plays more like a celebration of those substances. “BAD BAD News” and “FEELING THIS BAD NEVER FELT SO GREAT” similarly find some kind of joy within breakup angst. Singing about loneliness and paranoia on “Solamente,” he sounds like could be sipping a cocktail while floating on an inflatable raft. (“Google me, bitch, my name’s so searchable,” he flexes. “Go ask Jeeves.”) And on “we would have some cute kids.” Verdes breathily flirts with a lady by declaring that their offspring would “make varsity teams, be prom king and queen/ We talking about the American Dream.”
If this vision for his imaginary children seems a bit basic, well, Verdes’ music reminds me of that world of jocks and cheerleaders, of an American mainstream ideal that more often than not proves to be hollow. It’s a realm Verdes has navigated as a scholarship athlete, a reality TV contestant, and now a social media sensation, but he more often frames himself as an underdog and an outsider, like the protagonist in a teen movie. (There’s a lot crammed into the album’s first lyric, “I haven’t been the same since graduation/ All my friends went but I didn’t make it.”) It would be understandable if “A-O-K” does not strike you as a beacon of sophisticated taste. That one certainly isn’t my favorite Tai Verdes song. But if Verdes is shooting down the middle, he’s doing it with enough personality and talent to sell me on songs I would normally wince at. Anybody having this much fun with their music is A-O-K with me.
Weirdly, neither the Billboard 200 nor the Hot 100 have been released at press time; normally the former drops on Sunday and the latter comes out on Monday afternoon. We’ll update this section when this week’s charts are revealed.
UPDATE: OK, here we go! Let’s start with the Hot 100, where a new song has crash landed at #1. Here’s what I just wrote about that:
Coldplay have a funny relationship with the American pop charts. Ever since they hit #1 with the title track from 2008’s Viva La Vida, they’ve been doing their damndest to get back. They’ve had a lot of songs crack the top 20 or even eke their way into the top 10 since then, and with the Chainsmokers collab “Something More Like This” they made it all the way to #3. But it took a team-up with BTS to push them all the way back to the top.
“My Universe,” the BTS collab from Coldplay’s suddenly imminent new album Music Of The Spheres, has debuted atop the Billboard‘s Hot 100. It’s Coldplay’s second US #1 hit and the sixth for the Seoul septet, all of them logged in the past 13 months. According to Billboard, it marks the first time a song by two co-billed groups has hit #1. Coldplay ends a 13-year gap between #1s, the longest since Cher went almost 25 years between 1974’s “Dark Lady” and 1999’s “Believe.” On the other extreme, BTS have tallied six #1s faster than any group since the Beatles racked up six within a year and two weeks from late 1964 to early 1966. BTS also tie Drake and Ariana Grande’s record of five #1 debuts.
“My Universe” also marks Max Martin’s record-tying 23rd #1 hit as a producer — he pulls even with George Martin — and his 26th as a writer, putting him one shy of John Lennon and six behind Paul McCartney. Everybody involved is creeping up on the Beatles! Except Coldplay, I guess. Coldplay are just happy to be here.
The rest of the Hot 100 top 10: The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “Stay” at #2; Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow’s “Industry Baby” at #3; Drake, Future, and Young Thug’s “Way 2 Sexy” at #4; Walker Hayes’ “Fancy Like” at #5, Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits” at #6; Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u” at #7; Doja Cat and SZA’s “Kiss Me More” at #8; Drake, 21 Savage, and Project Pat’s “Knife Talk” at #9; and Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” at #10.
Over on the Billboard 200, YoungBoy Never Broke Again scores his fourth #1 album with 137,000 equivalent album units (and 10,000 in actual sales) for Sincerely, Kentrell. According to Billboard, he joins Taylor Swift as the only artists with #1 albums in 2019, 2020, and 2021. His arrival bumps Drake down to #2 and Lil Nas X to #3. The rest of the top 10: Kanye West at #4, Olivia Rodrigo at #5, Doja Cat at #6, Morgan Wallen at #7, the Kid Laroi at #8, Billie Eilish at #9, and Rod Wave at #10.
Remi Wolf – “Anthony Kiedis”
“I fit my family dynamics/ Like a Red Hot Chili Pepper/ I love my family intrinsically/ Like Anthony Kiedis.” I mean… what?! This song is insanely fun.
Gracie Abrams – “Feels Like”
This is what it feels like when Phoebe Bridgers is exerting influence on aspiring pop stars. It feels… not bad!
Kane Brown & H.E.R. – “Blessed & Free”
At this point Kane Brown might be better at being Khalid than Khalid is. His dusty twang sounds fantastic over this lightly banjo-infused minimalist R&B. H.E.R.’s brightly beaming voice sounds even better. Both of these two can be bland at times, but I am all-in on this track.
Years & Years – “Crave”
About as suave and sleek and understated as a song can be while retaining its status as a maximalist dancefloor banger.
TWICE – “The Feels”
The mildly overwhelming cheeriness of “The Feels” slightly outweighs its funky appeal, but I would definitely dance to it at a wedding.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Taylor Swift was a bridesmaid at Lena Dunham’s wedding. [Vogue]
- Justin Bieber is launching his own strain of weed called Peaches, which is confusing because I’ve heard he gets his peaches out in Georgia and his weed from California. [Rolling Stone]
- Miley Cyrus will reportedly host a Lorne Michaels-produced New Year’s Eve special. [Vulture]
- Miley also crashed Megan Thee Stallion’s set at ACL Fest. [Instagram]
- TikTok is entering the NFT game with Lil Nas X, Grimes, and Bella Poarch. [Coindesk]
- BTS announced four fall shows at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, their first concerts in over two years. [KIIS]
- Elton John and Charlie Puth did their new song “After All” at Global Citizen Live in Paris. [YouTube]
- SZA joins Kali Uchis on a new version of “fue mejor.” [YouTube]
- Harry Styles paused a concert to accept a fan’s request to reveal the gender of her baby. [TikTok]
- Camilo and Juan Luis Guerra lead the Latin Grammys nominations. [Grammys]
- Ozuna teased a collab with Blackpink, Megan Thee Stallion, and DJ Snake. [Twitter]
- Lorde reviewed Funyuns on her onion rings finsta. [Instagram]