Think back to high school with me here for a minute. For me, that was ten years ago. For some of you reading this, it may have been longer — or shorter. But one thing is for sure, almost all of us can at least remember how we were in high school. The type of person we were, and how regardless of all that it was a balancing act. You had to balance social relationships such as friendships and relationships with schoolworks, perhaps sports, and perhaps even a job for some of us.

In some ways, high school was a simpler time. In other ways, it was more chaotic. Think about all of the aforementioned and what a day could look like? Say your school hours were 7:30am-3pm. Then you throw in maybe after school practice for your sport, or having to go to work. But on top of all that, you had homework. Sprinkle in time for friendships and relationships, and you’re suddenly crunching for time. Now, as adults, most of us find ourselves working 9am-5pm and maybe that’s our only job. No after work practice or homework, and suddenly you have a lot more free time — in theory — for your friends and loved ones.

Now, imagine if you were a budding pop star right in the middle of high school. How different would your day look like? All of the sudden, you have to balance the normal aspects of high school life with immense popularity and something you may not entirely know how to navigate. Well, dear reader, that’s precisely what happened to the woman you likely have heard of by now: GAYLE.

“‘abcdefu’ was a song I wrote when I was sixteen,” GAYLE tells me during our interview just a few weeks back. She reflects on where she was when her breakthrough song started coming together, “It was a song I wrote very light hearted with my best and another friend of ours. We were just joking around like, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we did this as a song?’ And I wrote it — when I wrote it, it took a year to put it out.”

“I was literally in quarantine at home, like [doing] zoom-writes, posting on TikTok, and just going to high school. And Atlantic Records found me,” she says.

For most of us on the outside, GAYLE shot to stardom overnight. After all, “abcdefu” was her debut single for the major label, and it’s not every day that your first single for a new label takes off the way that it did. However, she has been working on her career for many, many years.

GAYLE points me back to some of the unheralded and beginnings of her career that may not be known to everyone. “I started going back and forth to Nashville when I was ten and I moved there when I was twelve. I got signed in January of 2021, so I had been in Nashville for almost eight years,” she tells me. But, of course, she wasn’t there alone as she was still but a teenager at this time. She’s quick to point thanks and appreciation to her mother, who was there and has helped her every step of the way. “I feel very lucky,” she begins as she tells me how much of a help her mother was during these career beginnings. “There’s definitely a lot of like random writers rounds [in Nashville], I used to do rodeos and farmers markets, conventions, parking lots, and a lot of that fun stuff. My lovely mother would take me to every single gig.”

Things for GAYLE started to pick up in 2020, when she moved towards releasing music online — even if she didn’t really know what to do outside of that. There was no real strategy. Truthfully, as she confesses to me, she didn’t understand at first when the music would go live on Spotify. Much of it was releasing music online and, well, simply hoping for the best. She thinks back to January of 2020 when they put out their first single, “dumbass,” at fifteen years old (written when they were fourteen). The single itself got on New Music Friday — but it wasn’t something they noticed on their own.

“I was in L.A. and I didn’t realize the song didn’t come out on Friday,” she explains, “if you’re in L.A. it comes out at 9pm. So I was minding my own business, laying in bed with my mom watching TV. Someone texted my mom ‘Congrats on you all getting on [Spotify’s] New Music Friday.’ And we were like, ‘What?’,” she exclaims mimicking her excitement from that very moment.

After “dumbass” came her next single, “z” — which also made it’s appearance on New Music Friday, as well. However, with “z” came something new and unexpected for GAYLE. “I got on Youtube and the music video got translated into Korean, and there’s a specific Youtube video that ended up getting I believe around 300,000 views in two months,” she recalls. “It was the most exciting thing for fifteen year old me ever. I was looking at all the comments in Korean and I would translate them and then figure out how to reply to people and I was just so excited.”

Never one to slow down, and trying to stack up successful songs as an independent artist, GAYLE then released “happy for you” — with an accompanying music video with her best friend Sara Davis — who would later co-write “abcdefu.” This song was her first to not get on New Music Friday, and her follow-up single, “orange peel,” also failed to crack the playlist that many artists strive to appear on with newly-released tracks.

“I remember being very excited and I kind of had higher expectations. Like I remember kind of having unrealistic expectations,” GAYLE tells me. She mentions that she wanted all of these songs to not only debut on the Spotify playlist, but to hit a million streams and blow up. “But I remember not being disappointed by it, either. Because I was just putting out music, I had no idea what to do.”

She might not have had any strategy or much of an idea on what to do to maximize these songs’ potential, she still wound up on the radar of Atlantic Records — the label she has wanted to sign to since she was twelve years old. The first reason she says, “I absolutely love and adore Aretha Franklin and that’s her label.” The next reason is someone she also adores, even if musically you may not pick up on it immediately: Lizzo. “Lizzy was also getting really popular at that time and I loved her perspective. She was with Atlantic for like five years before that album with ‘Truth Hurt’s really became a hit,” which to GAYLE showed her that they were in for the long-haul and developing their artists.

So when they approached GAYLE right as they were beginning to start graduating high school, they were ecstatic, even if in some bit of disbelief. But after the dust settled on that initial excitement, then came some semblance of internal pressure and wondering “what now?”

“I was like what am I gonna do? What do I do now? That was the biggest thing,” she says about what was going through her mind when she signed to Atlantic. As much as she knew they were in for the development process, there was still some anxiety of feeling like her first single on the label needed to exceed so she didn’t get dropped. So when it came time for “abcefu” to drop, they tried to battle that anxiety with the ole razzle-dazzle: some reverse psychology. “My first instinct was to not believe it [would succeed], like to not get my hopes up, not get excited, be very nonchalant with it.”

Sounds like a great strategy — except the Internet, and more specifically TikTok, had other plans. “It was when the TikTok audio was starting to pop off a little bit,” GAYLE recalls as to when she started to realize what was going on with “abcedfu.” “I think within a day or two it got on like two or three thousand videos. I kept expecting it to just like stop, and be done. But it kept doing things and it was eventually scary. When it hit number one on the Spotify charts and lasted for as many days as it did, and then it went to the radio. Then it’s also like ‘Okay, this is another thing to get my hopes up’ because it could go number one. I don’t know. I don’t know anything,” she pauses to place emphasis on anything. “I just put out the song as a joke and, you know, you can’t really plan for a song to go viral. I wasn’t putting out the song knowing my life was going to change.”

Their initial goal was to put the song out, see what it does, and then try to maintain that level of success or even do better next time. Again, this is a great plan and mindset, but with the level of success the single had (it went on to peak at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and receive platinum and multi-platinum status in seven different countries), that caused for some re-framing of the mind. “I’m not really going to try and do better than that, I’m like very happy that it happened. But I’m also very aware of the fact that that doesn’t happen for every song. You get that [success], it’s not an easy thing to happen over again.”

The song blowing up the way it did, provided well-earned opportunities for GAYLE to play festivals, go on tour, perform on late-night television shows, and more. She understands whole-heartedly with appreciation that none of those things would have happened (“Nobody would have cared to ask me,” she says) without “abcdefu.”

“I think at some point, I was waiting like — what you feel success is going to feel like at ten [years old], versus what it feels like at seventeen. It’s very different,” GAYLE says. “It’s not a bad thing in any way, I think I expected to have this internal glow of happiness and never being sad, now my life is easy and great and nothing can ever go wrong, I can never feel anything bad or sad or anything. But that’s definitely not true. But it’s definitely fulfilling and exciting, you know?”

As GAYLE gears up to release her second EP, a study of the human experience volume two, next Friday (October 7th), she has previewed it with a handful of singles: “indieedgycool,” “god has a sense of humor,” and “fmk,” which features Blackbear. All three showcase different sides of the artist as she grows and expands her musical palette already, but the one that really jumps out is “god has a sense of humor.” It’s a stripped down song that relies on the piano and GAYLE’s powerful voice to carry, with a message unlike anything they’ve written so far.

Written in February of this year, “god has a sense of humor” touches on the story of one of her friends who, along with her mother, passed away when GAYLE was just thirteen years old. It’s a deeply personal song that she begins to explain came from a writing trip she was on, and was born from just a moment her on the piano. “I sat down on the piano and I was playing chords, and I only know four chords on the piano. So I was playing the four chords and I originally heard the chorus melody as the first melody. So I sang that and then Sully — who I adore — she was like ‘Stop!’ And pulled out a voice memo and was like ‘Okay, go!’ And then I kind of started going through it.”

It was a song that was born from an interesting idea, but she wasn’t content for quite a while. She tells me that she wanted to go deeper than the original message of life just being a joke. She quips, “I was being very like a Nashville songwriter, like ‘what’s the concept, we have to go further here.'”

They continued to go further and eventually GAYLE got to where she wanted to be, recalling this story of tragedy from years ago that has always stuck with her. She tells me she was never really religious, even though she grew up in Texas. Sort of a product of her surroundings, she explains, “I did technically have something, I just don’t think I ever actually believed in it. I just grew up from Texas so I heard the word god and was like ‘Yeah, god.’ Then it just hit me one day that I don’t actually believe in it.” This wasn’t necessarily a big monumental change for her, as she was never really invested too much in it, anyway.

But it was this moment at thirteen years old when her friend (who was younger than GAYLE) passed away that she points to as the moment she officially ditched any sort of attachment or belief in god or religion as a whole. “It was just like, a terrible, terrible situation and you know, the mom is a single mom and she has two sons. They lost their little sister and their mom in one night, and it’s just so heartbreaking,” she begins. “You cannot say anything to justify what just happened. Like you cannot make sense of any of that. And you know, some things also happened to me when I was younger, too, that I had to just emotionally process due to other people’s actions. I got to a point where I was like, I don’t know if there’s more good or bad in the world, but I want to believe that there’s more good, but I don’t know,” she finalizes on this thought.

So, is “god has a sense of humor” a song that’s dwelling or is it perhaps trying to look at things through a positive light that there is more good in the world. “I don’t know. It kind of teeters to wanting to have hope, but also god has a sense of humor but I’m just not in on the joke, I don’t get it.”

The aforementioned “fmk” is certainly in a lot of ways the polar opposite of “god has a sense of humor.” It’s upbeat, and maybe sounds happier, but it doesn’t mean that it came from any less of a personal space for GAYLE. “When I was younger, I loved fighting,” she says to me with sort of a joking undertone, almost as a way to try to ease into what she was about to explain.

She continues, “My parents got divorced and they absolutely loved to fight, and I didn’t know — I thought you resolved issues with fighting! Like I literally thought when you were mad at someone, you started saying crazy shit like, I thought that’s how you solved problems.” She then says with a laugh, “Been to therapy, and we now know, you know?”

The song itself is taken to another level by the appearance of Blackbear, who pairs well with GAYLE and is able to hit home the emotional flip-flop of the song and, specifically, the chorus. It’s a quick emotional roller coaster, going from feelings of love to loathing in one line, navigating between wanting to, well, fuck, marry, and kill someone. All in one. “I try my best obviously not to be that person now. But I think [the song] is me taking a more light-hearted take on who I was in relationships, and the type of relationships that I have just had,” she finalizes to me on the song.

If you’re listening to these songs from GAYLE I’ve included in the piece and thinking to yourself about seeing these songs live. Then, well, you’re in luck. Although she just postponed her previously announced tour that would have been taking place this fall, she fully believes in these songs ability to transform live. “For me, personally, my live performance is very important. How songs translate live is also very important. But also like, other things. I do think, for me, and the type of career that I want to have its very important,” she says.

While some artists may not prioritize this aspect of their music career, GAYLE plans on fully-leaning into it. In a world, and specifically in an industry like the music industry, things can change in blink of an eye. After all, GAYLE’s life changed with one singular song that shot her to stardom she may have never really known was possible. How you transcend that, sustain it, and breakthrough again and again varies from artist to artist. There’s no real textbook for this, otherwise the term “one hit wonder” wouldn’t exist because they would have been able to formulaically crank out hit after hit.

GAYLE, with an incredibly impressive head on her shoulders at the ripe age of eighteen years old, knows this is a career that will not be one that every single song is a hit. She speaks on this with an affirmative tone that tells you she not only understands, but believes that she can still do it again. Transcending viral success of the internet to sustained quote unquote real life success is not easy, and many artists have failed trying to do so. But through will, live performances, and sheer talent, she plans to be the next artist to successfully do so.

I’m not a betting man, but if you are reading this, I’d say you’d be a fool to bet against GAYLE.