The Viciously Fun Breakup Song That Put Gayle On The Teen Pop-Rock Radar

The Viciously Fun Breakup Song That Put Gayle On The Teen Pop-Rock Radar

A lifetime ago, before he was a culture war figurehead posing for photos with Elon Musk and Joe Rogan, before he asked Michel Gondry to film his all-star block party, before he helmed his short-lived but generation-defining Comedy Central series, Dave Chappelle and his creative partner Neal Brennan wrote a stoner comedy called Half Baked. Chappelle and SNL actor Jim Breuer were billed as the two leads of Half Baked, but for my money the movie’s most iconic moment belongs to Guillermo Diaz, whose character Scarface memorably quits his fast food job by announcing over the restaurant P.A., “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! You’re cool. And fuck you, I’m out!” I thought of this scene upon hearing “abcdefu.”

“abcdefu” is a rapidly rising single from Gayle, a 17-year-old singer from Nashville who has spent her adolescence in the major-label trenches — as in, she’s signed to Atlantic Records, counts music industry veteran and former American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi as a mentor, and is working with fame-adjacent figures like “abcdefu” producer Pete Nappi, best known as the drummer for Samantha Ronson’s band Ocean Park Standoff. Although it remains on Billboard‘s “bubbling under” chart just below the Hot 100, the song is a smash hit on Spotify (#29 this week in the US) and YouTube (nearly 10 million views) and has already climbed to the upper reaches of the pop charts in several European countries. It’s only a matter of time before it makes its American chart surge too. And given that it channels an ultra-relatable premise into a huge anthemic chorus, how could it not catch on?

Gayle (no last name provided as of yet) cowrote “abcdefu” with fellow Nashville up-and-comers Sara Davis and Dave Pettinger, and they ought to be proud of their work. The song cuts straight to its refrain, with Gayle’s voice floating over churning guitar chords, reducing her former lover to dust: “Fuck you and your mom and your sister and your job/ And your broke-ass car and that shit you call art/ Fuck you and your friends that I’ll never see again/ Everybody but your dog, you can all fuck off.” Later recurrences are preceded by a promise to “spell it out” in case the clueless rube isn’t picking up what she’s putting down in the more delicately worded verses, so that each return to the chorus ramps up with a shout-along “A, B, C, D, E, F you!” As if this takedown was not already brutal enough, at one point she switches things up by dissing “your Craigslist couch and the way your voice sounds.”

Sonically the track exists in that extremely trendy space where alternative rock signifiers crossbreed with mainstream pop sparkle. Although guitar is the primary instrument, the steady strums end up submerged in a slow-creeping programmed beat and a dense swell of blown-out synth sounds designed to translate to the radio. It reminds me a bit of Kesha, who Nappi has worked with, and of the vast ecosystem of sorta-rap-adjacent blackbear types who have carved out a new lane in mainstream pop. And it’s no coincidence that it has emerged in the wake of Olivia Rodrigo, whose work with producer Dan Nigro nabbed a shout-out in a recent Gayle interview. This won’t be the last rock-infused breakup song to ride the Sour wave to popularity.

It’s too early to discern whether Gayle will endure beyond this one hit, but at this point her career is summed up so completely by “abcdefu” that the “Gayle (singer)” entry on Wikipedia redirects to the article about the song. She is going all-out to capitalize on the track’s popularity, too, flooding the market with a slew of alternate versions — “angrier,” “nicer,” “chill,” a remix with Royal & The Serpent — so that most of her top songs on Apple Music are variations on the same track. But as you might expect from any teenage musician, and any aspiring pop star toying with current trends in search of a hit, it’s not necessarily representative of her body of work so far. A series of singles last year presented Gayle as more of a bedroom-pop type with an R&B streak, fond of matching low-key production with expressive soulful vocals, prone to memorable turns of phrase about the trials and tribulations of young love.

On the jazzy, deconstructed “orange peel” she rhymes, perhaps egregiously, “I can make a man go/ Like a motherfucking mango/ Talk your ear off like Van Gogh.” The somewhat folksy ballad “happy for you” begins, “Baby, I almost threw up/ When I found out that you hooked up/ With a girl you met last week.” These are lyrics too committed to catching your ear to worry about whether they’re corny — usually a plus in the field of pop songwriting. Not everything Gayle has released is quite so winsome; her voice quivers with too much showbiz melodrama on the self-esteem mantra “dumbass,” while “z,” the most rock-oriented of her early tracks, rivals Halsey’s “New Americana” in its thirst to become a generational anthem. But her breakthrough breakup banger suggests pop fans ought to start a relationship with Gayle’s music and see where things go.

Simon Emmett

CHART WATCH

Adele’s 30 unsurprisingly had the biggest debut week of any album in 2021, entering the Billboard 200 at #1 with 839,000 equivalent album units and 692,000 in sales. Per Billboard, both Adele’s overall units and her pure sales figures are the largest of the year by more than 200,000 over Drake’s Certified Lover Boy and Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version) respectively. 30 also posted the largest one-week sales total since Swift’s Reputation in 2017. Adele’s opening bow of 108,000 in vinyl sales falls just 6,000 short of the one-week vinyl sales record set by Red (Taylor’s Version) last week. Remarkably, Adele also sold 2,000 copies of 30 on cassette. 30 is Adele’s third #1 album.

The aforementioned Swift and Drake albums are at #2 and #3 this week, followed by Silk Sonic at #4, Morgan Wallen at #5, and Summer Walker at #6. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss debut at #7 with Raise The Roof, their first album together in 14 years, which enters with 40,000 units, 38,000 of them via sales. It’s Plant’s ninth top-10 album as a solo artist and the fifth for Krauss, including her releases with Union Station. After Olivia Rodrigo at #8 comes the return of Michael Bublé’s Christmas at #9. The Weeknd’s greatest hits album The Highlights returns to #10.

The release of 30 also sends Adele’s “Easy On Me” back to #1 on the Hot 100 for a fifth nonconsecutive week. Billboard says it’s the first song since “Despacito” in 2017 to lead simultaneously in airplay, streaming, and sales, the three components that factor into the Hot 100. After former chart-toppers “Stay” (by the Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber), “Industry Baby” (by Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow), and “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)” (by Taylor Swift) comes a #5 debut for another Adele track, “Oh My God,” which becomes her eighth top-10 hit. The rest of the top 10: Ed Sheeran’s “Shivers” at #6 Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves” at a new #7 peak, Sheeran’s “Bad Habits” at #8, Doja Cat’s “Need To Know” at #9, and Silk Sonic’s “Smokin Out The Window” at #10.

POP FIVE

Kali Uchis & Ozuna – “Another Day In America”
I don’t know much about West Side Story, but I do know Kali Uchis is a superstar.

MØ – “Brad Pitt”
MØ’s Brad Pitt costume in the video is not very impressive. Her “Brad Pitt” song, on the other hand, is one of the best ’80s synth-pop updates I’ve heard in a minute.

Montell Fish – “Destroy Myself For You”
Blonde really created a whole genre, huh?

Jack Kays & Travis Barker – “Outrun Myself”
I see the Travis Barker pop-punk factory is now issuing power ballads!

Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick, Anderson .Paak, Anthony Ramos, & Ester Dean – “Together Now”
It’s not exactly “Can’t Stop The Feeling” — which is to say you’re not going to actively choose to listen to it if your children aren’t watching the latest Trolls special — but this medley is a lot more listenable than most of Man Of The Woods.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Hayley Williams seemed to tease the return of Paramore in an email to fans. [Reddit]
  • Ed Sheeran and Elton John’s Christmas song is out Friday. [Twitter]
  • Dua Lipa announced Service95, a new “global style, culture, and society concierge service created to help the reader make sense of the world.” [Service95]
  • Summer Walker got “Larry” tattooed on her face. [Daily Mail]
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda, Sara Bareilles, and Josh Groban were among those paying tribute to Stephen Sondheim with a performance of “Sunday” in Times Square. [YouTube]
  • James Corden apologized to the BTS Army for a joke about the boy band he made a few months ago. [USA Today]
  • Meanwhile Megan Thee Stallion made a surprise appearance at BTS’ concert in LA. [Twitter]
  • Doja Cat is not having fun making music these days: “I’m doing all this shit that I don’t fuckin’ wanna do.” [Instagram]
  • Kaytranada remixed Normani’s “Wild Side.” [YouTube]
  • Avril Lavigne and Travis Barker did “Bite Me” on Fallon. [YouTube]
  • For the fifth anniversary of Starboy, the Weeknd released a new video for “Die For You.” [YouTube]
  • The Kid LAROI performed “Stay” at the ARIA Awards, where he also won Best Artist. [YouTube]
  • Silk Sonic performed at the Soul Train Awards. [YouTube]
  • MTV Unplugged: Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga will premiere 12/16. [YouTube]
  • Rihanna unveiled Savage x Fenty pajamas that show off your butt crack. [Metro]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME

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