Leah Kate Is The Algorithm’s Answer To Olivia Rodrigo
Whether we like it or not, popular music has a long, well-documented history of copycatting. I’m not referring to plagiarism or copyright lawsuits, but rather one-begets-the-other artistic inspiration. These patterns exist everywhere, from Elvis (however problematically) drawing influence from Black rock/blues greats B. B. King, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, Ivory Joe Hunter, and Fats Domino to the Beatles looking to Buddy Holly and Little Richard. When I was growing up, during the Y2K pop music explosion, superstars like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, and Mandy Moore sprang up one after the other like the cover of an Animorphs book, with each new act bringing something sliiiightly different to the mix while being marketed to audiences in one endless “RIYL” loop.
I probably don’t need to elaborate on the “RIYL” patterns in pop culture because they are everywhere you look, and the existence of algorithms on every streaming platform, plus TikTok, has only sped up its atom-splitting. For instance, I once heard someone say that first seasons of TV shows belong to the creators/producers/showrunners, and every subsequent season is just fan service. Again, the same “if you like this, then you’ll like that” sequence exists in every commercially successful music genre. How else do you explain punk and metal evolving into grunge, which in turn became post-grunge, and some years later… Nickelback?
This is a very long-winded way of observing that pop music loves a facsimile, preferably one that appears organic — especially in 2022, when young music listeners value authenticity above all else. If something is working, then give fans more of it. This was my first thought upon hearing Leah Kate, a 29-year-old pop singer a full decade older than Olivia Rodrigo, but undeniably riding the Rodrigo/GAYLE pop-punk/alternative wave right now with her punchy fuck-you anthem “10 Things I Hate About You.”
Referencing the classic Julia Stiles/Heath Ledger rom-com movie title, Kate offers her own take on the types of songs that directly inspired Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U” (Paramore’s “Misery Business,” Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”) by constructing a wildly chantable chorus that counts down a former love interest’s offenses:
Ten, you’re selfish
Nine, you’re jaded
Eight, the dumbest guy I dated
Seven, talk a big game ’til you’re naked
Only six seconds and I had to fake it
Five, you’re toxic
Four, can’t trust you
Three, you still got mommy issues
Two years of your bullshit I can’t undo
One, I hate the fact that you made me love you
Quite unlike the 1999 film, Kate does not arrive at Stiles’ closing sentiment of “but mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you, Not even close, Not even a little bit, Not even at all.” Instead, her “10 Things” does a numerical interpretation of GAYLE’s “abcdefu,” which Chris DeVille rightly predicted “[wouldn’t] be the last rock-infused breakup song to ride the Sour wave to popularity.”
The charts are reflecting as much: Last week, Kate got her first Billboard chart entry, coming in at #24 on the Emerging Artists chart. Elsewhere, “10 Things” earned 4.2 million US streams and sold 1,000 downloads in its first tracking week. The single also landed on the Billboard Global 200, at #192, which Billboard notes as her first appearance on a songs chart.
When I first started to research Kate, I mistakenly assumed she was around GAYLE or Rodrigo’s age, but in fact she is more on the Carly Rae Jepsen path (Jepsen famously had her first hit in 2012 with “Call Me Maybe” at 26 after being promoted by fellow Canadian Justin Bieber). At 29, Kate has been at this for a while — music is actually a career pivot for her. After getting fired from a job in New York, Kate started writing music with her brother in their home studio. As a 2020 Rolling Stone profile points out, she doggedly researched names of her favorite artists’ producers, emailed them voice memos, and then contacted music publishers. Years into the process, Kate, whose family owns radio stations, started releasing her own music in 2018 with producer Louis Schoori.
Ultimately, Kate was discovered when Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian — who also founded music start-up Seven Seven Six — came across her 2020 song “Fuck Up The Friendship” while looking around for new artists on Indify, a start-up that connects artists with potential managers or investors. Kate’s own scrappiness seems to have impressed Ohanian, who told Rolling Stone how “she’s practically running a full-service label for herself from her bedroom.”
As a song, “Fuck Up The Friendship” takes on a more funk/disco vibe, with a thrumming bassline and urgent-sounding synths. Lyrically, “Friendship” focuses on more mature subject matter, with Kate inviting a crush to put Nora Ephron’s theory about male-female platonic companionships to the test with a physical encounter. At the time, “Friendship” was helped along by TikTok, where Kate posted a video explaining its IRL origin story (“I started to have a crush on my good guy friend but didn’t wanna ruin our friendship”), which, turns out, was highly relatable content. As of now, the track has been used in nearly 30,000 videos. On Spotify, “Friendship” has more than 50,000,000 streams.
“Friendship,” appearing on Kate’s 2021 seven-song album What Just Happened?, was a strong start and a powerful success story for you-don’t-know-it’s-marketing viral marketing. (Also, it’s just a fun, catchy song.) Another album single, the grungy “F U Anthem,” adopts a more “abcdefu” tone with its destruction-minded lyrics (“I ripped your clothes/ I crashed your car/ I smashed all of your expensive art”). As her album transitions to the bouncy hot-mess banger “Shit Show,” you can really see Kate’s lane merging with Rodrigo’s.
Now signed to indie label 10K Projects, Kate is in full-on momentum-building mode, touring with Madison Beer and earning new streaming achievements right and left. It could be that Kate’s current upswing is due to a combination of factors: that she has hustled and dialed in a homegrown marketing strategy while keeping up organic appearances, and, well, “10 Things I Hate About You” is extremely Rodrigo-core. Just so we’re clear, I wouldn’t liken Kate to Nickelback in terms of a music trend’s evolution. But I think we could all see the Rodrigo algorithm-driven “RIYL” wave coming — it’ll be interesting to see if and when it crests (or crashes).
Chris DeVille here with some exciting chart news for you: Pusha T has landed his first career #1 album! Per
Billboard, It’s Almost Dry enters the Billboard 200 on top with 55,000 equivalent album units including 9,000 in sales. Those are numbers that would not traditionally send you to #1 — in fact, it’s the lowest total for a #1 debut since NF’s Perception five years ago, though not the lowest for a #1 album in general. Lil Durk’s 7220 returned to the top of the chart with just 47,000 units a few weeks ago.
After Morgan Wallen at #2, Lil Durk at #3, Olivia Rodrigo at #4, Encanto at #5, Doja Cat at #6, and Drake at #7, Jason Aldean debuts at #8 with 26,000 units (including 13,000 in sales) for Georgia. It’s the country star’s 10th top-10 album. Gunna and Lil Baby close out the top 10.
Harry Styles’ “As It Was” remains at #1 on the Hot 100 for a third nonconsecutive week, followed once again at #2 by Jack Harlow’s “First Class,” the song that briefly dethroned it two weeks ago. The next four spots are also static: Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves” at #3, Latto’s “Big Energy” at #4, Imagine Dragons and JID’s “Enemy” at #5, and the Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “Stay” at #6. Doja Cat’s “Woman” climbs to a new #7 peak, followed by Bieber’s “Ghost” at #8, Kodak Black’s “Super Gremlin” at #9, and Lil Nas X’s “That’s What I Want” at #10. And with that, here’s Rachel again.
Ava Max – “Maybe You’re The Problem”
The title track to Ava Max’s long-awaited second album is a sparkly dance-pop track that goes super hard and expertly calls out a gaslighting ex. Normalize “it’s not me, it’s you” thinking.
Sam Smith – “Love Me More”
Sam Smith is back! “Love Me More” is a grooving call for self-acceptance that takes a frankly worn-in pop song concept and gives it a fresh bounce.
Khalid – “Skyline”
Bolstered by a strong bass line and swirling synths, Khalid’s optimistic, hearts-in-eyes anthem “Skyline” makes a good case for replacing Pharrell’s “Happy” at weddings. As someone who has been forced onto the floor by one too many Pharrell / Justin Timberlake songs, please, please, let this happen.
Psy – “That That” (Prod. Suga)
A new Psy song? With a member of BTS? And a Wild West-themed video with fresh round of “Gangnam Style” horse-dancing? OK, TikTok, do your worst.
Justin Bieber – “Honest” (Feat. Don Toliver)
Don Toliver steals the show with his charismatic vocal here, but if I’m being honest? JB sounds bored.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- The Weeknd’s HBO series The Idol, currently in production, is undergoing cast and crew changes. [Hollywood Reporter]
- Halsey told fans she’s been in and out of the hospital for weeks to due struggles with endometriosis. [People]
- Megan Thee Stallion, Billie Eilish, and Questlove were announced as Webby Award winners. [Webby Awards]
- Lil Nas X announced the Long Live Montero world tour. [Instagram]
- The new Wicked movie with Ariana Grande will now be two movies. [Twitter]
- WILLOW teased a collab with YUNGBLUD. [Instagram]
- Machine Gun Kelly says he’s going back to rap on his next album. [Audacy]
- In other MGK news, Pete Davidson brought him out at Netflix Is A Joke: The Festival. [YouTube]
- “Hold My Hand,” a new Lady Gaga song from the Top Gun: Maverick soundtrack, is out tomorrow. [Yahoo Style]
- A new Beats By Dre ad starring Kayvon Thibodeaux features an unreleased collaboration between Diddy and the Weeknd. [YouTube]
- Em Beihold covered Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” for SiriusXM. [YouTube]
- Harry Styles shared the Harry’s House tracklist. [Twitter]
- Morgan Wallen will perform at the Billboard Music Awards. [TMZ]
- Here’s Shawn Mendes telling monologue jokes in his Tonight Show co-hosting gig. [YouTube]
- Anderson .Paak shared a new song in a Budweiser commercial. [YouTube]
- Pitbull released a new collaboration with Zac Brown called “Can’t Stop Us Now.” [YouTube]
- The Weeknd says Ariana Grande is a beast on Pro Tools. [Twitter]
- Taylor Swift will screen and discuss her All Too Well: The Short Film at Tribeca Film Festival. [Indie Wire]