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Meet Tai Verdes, the Hitmaker Turning TikTok into Triumph

The social media all-star struck gold on the platform, and now he’s intent on proving his staying power one hit at a time.

by Daniel McIntosh

Photo by Austin Cieszko

There’s no single recipe for viral success, but sometimes algorithmic alchemy rewards its users and Tai Verdes knows that better than most.

Before his debut single, “Stuck in the Middle,” became a TikTok smash with its endlessly catchy bass riff, he posted nearly every career move on the platform. He trained his vocals in his car and tinkered in the studio, doing it all while working odd jobs as a model, a beach volleyball referee, a Verizon store employee and even appearing on MTV’s reality dating show Are You the One? While Verdes ultimately was not the one, he did walk away with $50,000. “The whole point of the show was getting to know people. I didn’t get to know shit! I got to know this money,” Verdes says through a laugh. “Who am I supposed to be with when I’m 21 with no money? That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Verdes put the money toward supporting himself while he focused on his craft, and it certainly paid off. Since then, his debut single has racked up over two million Spotify streams, and he’s released his first full album, TV. Other singles like “Last Day On Earth” and “A-O-K,” a charmingly optimistic mantra which became his first song to hit the Billboard charts and ascended to a top 40 peak, garnered additional attention and made him a mainstay in viral playlists.

RANGE caught up with Verdes at his apartment in LA, and even through a patchy phone connection, his energy is infectious. The 26-year-old singer-songwriter is just as bubbly as his laidback, breezy hits would suggest. Read on to learn about Verdes getting casted on dating shows, working odd jobs, and taking lessons from Rick Rubin.

Congratulations on all your recent success. Can you run us through what an average day in the life of Tai Verdes looks like right now?

Staying in the studio until I fall asleep, basically. I really just don’t believe in anything but time on task, and I really don’t think that people can be better or have more skill than you. I think it’s all about the amount of time you spend on something, you’re definitely just going to get better.

So we’re looking forward to a new album soon then?

Fuck yeah, bro. Last year was TV, this year is HDTV

What kind of music did you listen to growing up?

Basically everybody. I think the main thing was I didn’t get judged for what I listened to–or I didn’t really care about what other people thought of what I listened to. I feel like that’s a blessing that a lot of people don’t have. The biggest thing is that I was able to listen to 50 Cent and Flight of the Conchords. I was into classical music and jazz music and also getting into Brent Faiyaz and Dominic Fike while I was in high school. I got a big mix of everything that I needed to get, because the more taste you get to try, the more ways you can put it into your own music. I didn’t really have any judgmental things with music, if a song is written really well, I really appreciate it. So I listen to everything. 

While you were getting your first singles together, you were working at Verizon?

I had a couple songs. I didn’t know they were going to be singles, I looked at them as bettering myself. I had a project before that wasn’t as good. I put out maybe five or six songs, so I was like ‘this year I’ll put out 12 songs,’ just because I needed to best myself. It was just do more than you did last year and make it all about you, don’t make it all about people’s expectations. 

A lot of young people, especially in the social media space, will say ‘this year I want a million subscribers, this year I want to get a video with a million views.’ But in reality, that’s dictated by other people. When I had a YouTube channel, when I had a podcast, when I was doing standup comedy, when I was being an extra, it was always about ‘I need to put out this many videos this month.’ 

That’s dictated by me and nobody else. No matter how many views it gets, as long as I put out something that’s a quality product, then we’re on the right track. Same thing with music. So when those things come together for me, and I love the process and I set myself a goal, and just best myself, it just leads to improvement no matter what you do. That’s a big part of who I am. I can’t just be in the same place over and over again. Shouldn’t it get better?

I saw some of your videos from the MTV show “Are You the One?” Can you tell me about ending up on the show?

I think it’s all about finessing. You know what I’m saying? I was never going to be the guy who has sex on TV or acts a fool for anyone. I just needed money. That was the goal from the beginning, because I knew I was going to be doing this. It wasn’t like I had zero plans, I just knew I needed funds because I didn’t want to work a nine to five. That’s how much I hated it. I was willing to do whatever. I never really saw myself as a reality TV person, but then I was like ‘why not knock it until you try it’ because it’s easy! So I just live in a mansion and get free food? Because I didn’t have money so I needed free food and I needed a free place to stay, because my parents weren’t supporting me? So it was kind of a no-brainer for me. I didn’t really engage in the experience. If you talk to anybody else who was on the show they would be like ‘yeah, Tyler didn’t really do anything on the show’ because I was there for one reason. 

I also know that reality TV stars…unless you’re selling yourself, you’ve got to sell something. And I wanted to sell something, either my comedy or my acting. Like, what skill was I selling? 

I landed on music because I did it as a kid and because I didn’t realize how passionate about it I was, but when I look back on it now I was posting piano covers in my college of Chance the Rapper and I was learning songs at 2am that I heard on the radio just so I could get the feel right of the chords.

At a really young age, if someone was singing the lyrics wrong I would get mad at them like, ‘you can’t do that, they spent time on that, there’s a reason or a message they’re trying to tell you.’ Looking back it was kind of obvious, but I’m glad I got to taste test everything, so I know what I’m really good at doing and it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. 

But until then you hadn’t written a full song?

I wrote verses and choruses while I was in college that didn’t really make any sense, because I wasn’t really trying to write a song, I was just writing my feelings down. 

Self-expression has been the vision at the end of the tunnel. I have to make my own music but how can I do that? So I just took everything that I enjoyed, and figured out that I needed to find music that I wanted to make. I did that by scouring YouTube for beats. I found “Stuck in the Middle” on YouTube, kind of like how Lil Nas X found “Old Town Road” on YouTube. Then, I just wrote a song to it. 

For production, I kind of want to be like the Black Rick Rubin, because I co-produced [TV] myself with Adam Friedman, and my whole way I produce is on feel. Like, does it feel good in the room? When I heard the bassline for “Stuck In the Middle,” that was it. That was really the first time, going off of feel, and not off of what I should be making. Just doing what feels good.

I like that you reference Rick Rubin and his whole ethos.

I found out about Rick Rubin because that’s what I would do when I would go into these sessions with producers, I would connect more with the ones who were willing to talk to me and be vulnerable about their own experiences, and I just wanted to learn about the music industry because I know that knowledge and preparation is what cures you from the anxiety of losing. With Adam, we didn’t even really make a song for the first two hours, we were just talking to each other. Then I found out Rick Rubin does that, and I thought ‘this is the guy I want to be like.’

So are you still finding beats on YouTube or are those days done?

Less of finding beats on YouTube, more of creating relationships with producers. Like the guy who made the “Stuck in the Middle” beat, I hit him up all the time. I love his stuff. It’s not really about where it comes from, I don’t care if a song comes from YouTube, if it comes from a producer who has 10 platinum records. Does it feel good? 

I think that a lot of people right now are equating my “feel good” ethos to ‘the songs are happy.’ Because the song that’s the most popular right now is “A-O-K” but in reality if you listen to the album it’s not that happy. I think that the biggest thing for me is realizing that was filling a void that people needed at the time, and I’m really grateful that I was able to do that for people. But all my songs are based on feel, whether it’s sad, whether it’s melancholy, whether it’s a slow song, it doesn’t really matter. Does it feel good when you listen to it? Does it evoke any emotion? That’s really what I’m trying to go for. 

TikTok was instrumental in introducing your music to a wider audience. What do you think the platform has to offer emerging musicians? 

Their entire life. It’s not really about what it has to offer, it’s about what it can offer. The label of TikTok is in front of a lot of things, ‘oh this person is a TikTok artist.’ In reality, that’s just people trying to find words to explain what they’re connected to. It’s really just people converging on a platform. 

If you go back to 2000-whatever, is Justin Bieber from YouTube? No. Is Shawn Mendes from Vine? No. Is DJ Khaled from Snapchat? No. These people just use the platform and then at a certain point they move on and they’re just that. No matter what, we’re going to move on from TikTok because that’s how things work, and I’m just going to be Tai Verdes. It’s all a circle and people just forget. I think a lot of artists care about what people think about them, what platform they’re using. I see a lot of artists being like, ‘I don’t want to sell out, I don’t want to use this platform.’ When in reality, your favourite artist is making decisions in order for you to pay attention to them. 

What’s next for Tai Verdes right now? More days and nights in the studio?

Yeah man, days and nights are what’s happening right now so I can’t really stop it. To be honest, this is how I want to be doing it. What’s next for me is always going to be doing shit that I want to do. I will never do shit that I don’t want to do, whether it’s a brand deal that someone offers me, whether it’s a song that someone at a label is like, ‘this is the next hit, Tai!’ Or like ‘Tai, you should do this!’ None of that really gets through. I’m a little bit too old for that, man. I just have things I want to say and I put it out there.