The internet has been shaping the way music success is measured for many years now. Making music is easier than ever, and putting it out in front of thousands of people is getting easier by the day. But turning your success online into “real world” success is sometimes a bit of a challenge.

How do you take a viral internet hit and transform it into something sustainable? How do you grab an audience’s attention again and again, especially if their first exposure to you was a 60 second or less clip on the internet? It’s a task that many artists have tried to conquer, most of which who have failed — aside from the most obvious exception: Lil Nas X.

Still, many artists continue to go viral and push through to the other side. Hell, in 2020 alone, over 70 artists got major label record deals after going viral in Tik Tok. One of those artists was Tai Verdes, who first blew up on Tik Tok with this smashing single, “Stuck In the Middle.” The video has since been streamed nearly 100 million times across all platforms and was used for over 2.6 million Tik Tok videos — so it went about as viral as viral can go.

When Verdes and I hop on the phone together earlier this month, he’s in great spirits. His debut record, TV, had just dropped back in May and critics and fans were loving every minute of it. And it all is thanks to “Stuck In the Middle,” which came together while Verdes was working full-time at Verizon as an essential worker during the pandemic.

“I worked on it for a really small amount of time, man,” Verdes tells me when I ask him how long he actually worked on “Stuck In the Middle” while still working a day job. As he puts it, it came together quickly and only in two sessions in the studio, in the midst of of working on two other songs: “Something to Cry About” and “rEaL WOrLD.”

“[Those]” were the first songs that I had made after working on my voice for 6 months for an hour and a half in my car each day.So that was like — that’s what I was doing every single day. Once I got into the studio and made those three songs, I was like ‘Okay, Stuck in the Middle, let’s try this one first.’ Then I sang it on Tik Tok and it just worked out,” he summarizes.

If you ask Verdes, he will tell you that what he has received since — praise from the New York Times, the Tik Tok success, appearing on Lollapalooza, collaborating with Kiana Leade — is something he knew was coming. “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 explains to me. But yet, not even he could have predicted just how soon this success would come to him. He specifically points to the fact that he sold out his first headlining tour in mere hours as the moment of realizing that he was going to be able to translate his success from the internet to real life. “It makes it like, if you just make a good product, people will want it. No matter where it is, no matter the medium.”

The aforementioned debut album from Verdes, TV, is one that is as deeply personal as it is catchy. Every song has an undeniable hook, and every song also follows a specific moment in his life. Verdes confirmed to me when I asked that it was essentially telling a linear story front-to-back, documenting the last few years of his life in the most personal way, yet release way he knows how: through music.

“The whole album is a story, man. It’s basically a diary of my last four years,” Verdes says. “I started with me dropping out of school in ‘rEaL WOrLD’ and then I feel alone and then I went to L.A. and started experimenting with some drugs. Then after being on drugs, that’s when you get the confidence to tell someone that you’d have some cute kids.”

The record of course hits that relationship moment, really kicking into high gear with “Bad Bad News” but by the time TV ends, so has that relationship, so what’s next? “Then you just try to be happy with yourself,” Verdes tells me. “That kind of happened with my mom telling me that I would always be okay, no matter what happens. That’s why it’s ‘momma told me imma be’ and ‘A-O-K’ that end the album.”

No matter what song you press play on, it’s got that personal connection to Verdes that is always authentically him, something that he wants listeners to know. He wants the audience to know that it’s him, and to make sure it always sounds like it and reflects it appropriately. There was never a moment of keeping a song off TV for it being too personal, although if he had to choose a song he struggled with, he would choose “i deserve to b alone” — but only from a production standpoint.

If he’s struggling with the lyrics of a song, he tells me it’s probably just a sign the song isn’t ready and doesn’t fight it too much. But, on the flip side, if the lyrics hit him exponentially hard, then he will fight until he gets that song to be where he wants it to be, which was the case with “i deserve 2 b alone” and how to get the production of the song to match the hook in the way he wanted.

“Once we got the production to match how crazy the hook is, the verses did their job, the bridge did it’s job, everything kind of meshed together perfectly,” Verdes explains. “It was just trying to figure out what kind of song it was going to be. Was it going to be more of a, chilled out song, or more of an uptempo song with hard-hitting kicks and all that. Where we settled at was just kind of am mixture of everything, and that’s amazing.”

Through all the ups and downs of the record, Verdes makes sure to end on a positive note with the last two racks being “momma told me i’mma be” and “A-O-K.” Despite being two separate tracks, those two go hand-in-hand more so than any other two songs on TV. Verdes previously explained these two songs as just being a statement that his mom told him, but he split them up to have song dedicated to his mother alone.

Verdes describes his mom to me as someone that’s always been supportive of him and the dreams he chases. Whether it be school or music, and everything in between — even if it took her a year to come around to the whole music thing. “You know, it can’t be that easy,” he says to me with a laugh. “It’s great that she came along and is always there to hear and always wants to talk, it’s awesome. Not a lot of people have that privilege, so I’m glad that I do.”

The advice she gives and support she has provided has certainly paid off for everyone involved, perhaps culminating in nothing more special than “A-O-K.” At face value, it’s a great single that is perfect for summer-time driving with the windows down. But digging deeper, it encapsulates the entirety of the record, putting a nice little bow on TV, and also represents everything that Verdes wants listeners to know: you will always end up okay.

“Everyone’s got problems, man. And all of them don’t matter because we’re all gonna die, right,” Verdes poses to me before explaining that he doesn’t mean to minimize real tragedy and pain that people go through. Rather, he specifically talks about the little inconveniences in life that have the ability to drag us down, “If someone’s mean to you at the coffee shop or someone cuts you off in traffic or you’re having a bad day because you didn’t get the job promotion you wanted or you’re working at place you don’t want to work.”

Verdes continues, “You always have the decision to do whatever you want, you can literally do whatever you want it’s your choice. It’s your life, take control of it. I wouldn’t be saying that unless I had experience doing it after being, you know, at a 9-5 and just doing what I want with my time and my passions. It just reinforces it for myself. I want everyone to know that even if you have a hobby, maybe it’s not your career, but you need to be doing those things just so you can be happy. Making sure everything in your life is curated around happiness rather than other people’s wants and needs.’

Lastly, as Verdes and I get off the phone and say our goodbyes for now, I ask what he will be doing between now and Lollapalooza and then his headlining tour afterwards. He doesn’t mince words or bother teasing, rather he says plainly, “I’m still working on music, man. To be honest I’ve basically got the second album done and I’m working on the third one.”

How soon we get more new music from Verdes is unclear, but if his goal is to show people as much music as possible, don’t expect to have to wait too long. And based off of TV, his success so far, and his attitude, Verdes has earned your trust that he will deliver again and again. The next big star to crossover from viral success on the internet is here, are you listening?