Ask anyone about life since the beginning of 2020, and you’ll probably see their eyes widen as they recall the world shutting down, and then gradually soften as they recount the many ways the pandemic reshaped and redirected the course of their lives. Ask Tai Verdes, and he’d narrate how three months into the pandemic, he was an essential worker working a nine-to-five job at a Verizon wireless store, but now has songs peaking the charts while being hailed by the likes of Rolling Stone and Time.
But there’s more to Verdes than meets the eye. To start, he was born and bred in California. He had been living there, for the most part, working part-time jobs and building his music career on the side under the moniker Tylersemicolon. He repeatedly auditioned for The Voice and American Idol and was regularly rejected, so he applied to go on an MTV dating show — and ended up winning the series. Unflinching, like any self-promotional hustler in 2020, he started a TikTok account and committed to posting daily. Just six months in, the newly relabeled Tai Verdes had built up enough of a following that when he shared a sneak-peak of his new single ‘Stuck In The Middle’, promising to release it if the video got to 1,000 likes, the clip went viral. After months of writing, sharing, and creating, his debut album TV was finished, and today, he’s a force who extends well beyond the app where he made his name.
Is there anything Verdes can’t do? It’s an inner thought that I try to keep at the back of my mind, but then I hear him laugh, knowingly, as my brazen observation spills out. The 26-year-old artist has worked hard and smart to get to where he is now, and it’s evident from the songs he churns out, to the many hours he spends promoting each track across his social media platforms.
At the time of our Zoom interview, Verdes, whose real name is Tyler Colon, has dialled in from the UK, wearing a mustard-coloured oversized t-shirt with a pair of dark sunglasses hanging from his collar. In the presence of his ultra-chilled demeanour, I forget that this is a man who is soaring towards global superstardom in real time. After one album and a string of refreshing singles, which have amassed over 1 billion streams and 20 million social views, and now a brand new sophomore album on the way, Verdes has had a year of recognition that’s extended beyond his incredible musical talent. His stance on things makes perfect sense when you take into account his free-spirited approach to his career. “No one is putting in the time to market what they do, especially artists,” he explains. “They are just putting a face on it and they say it’s a ‘new-era,’ but they sound the same, and they do the same things. Drake’s got a new hair cut today and I bet what’s coming next is a new album or some music videos.”
HDTV, Verdes’ sophomore album, is out now and showcases the evolution of his artistry with a genre-bending body of work featuring 20 tracks. Even with all the significant changes Verdes has experienced over the past two years, the album sounds like it comes from a place of security, and of knowing oneself. Ahead of the albums release, Verdes shared a new single dubbed ‘how deep?’ When I jokingly ask him “how deep?”, he responds with a big grin: “How deep is the Mariana Trench?”
Anyone who has been observing your career trajectory over the last two years can see that your popularity has skyrocketed. How are you finding the new visibility?
It’s nothing, to be honest. There’s definitely no one that cares [chuckles]. I guess you can put the perspective that some things are going well in certain cases, but it’s zoomed out a bit. I’m just doing what I like to do. There are so many people doing music, but it’s all about building a business for me. Every single step of the way has been cool and it’s always about making sure that I’m doing whatever I want to do.
Do you ever feel a sense of pressure?
I was on MTV’s Are You The One dating show and people didn’t know who I was. Back in 2017, people would meet me up in the street and be like, ‘oh, we love your TV Show’. Even before then, I was a college basketball player and people would meet me on campus and would be like, ‘you did this and you did that’. So it hasn’t really been a new thing for me. I think I was a bit privileged in that sense where I have had a different type of lifestyle.
Your debut single ‘Stuck In The Middle’ has no doubt reached so many households. I’m very curious to know what that feels like for you, and the motivation behind the song.
Honestly, it’s just all me going into it. There was no motivation. I’d stand outside my porch and write songs about my life. I do write songs based on my experiences and I believe that’s what a lot of people feel in my music. I don’t write songs about something I’m making up.
What do you think people like about your music?
To be honest, I don’t really care if people like my music [laughs]. This is the thing; I like my music and I market it to people. Every single video I have made has probably taken an hour and a half. The lyrics match my lips perfectly. So it’s not about who likes your music, but whether the artists market themselves in a way that would express longevity. It sounds like I’m being braggadocious about my art, but I believe that every single artist is Kanye West. I am Kanye West, and every single artist can be Kanye West. You have to look at the top hundred artists because they are the only ones that know how to do business. They are the people that are making it… The likes of Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Kendrick Lamar. They are business people. They bring the most creative people together and think of how they can make visuals that match the art. Most artists do not think about their art in a visual sense. I am not about the fact that we should be heralding these people at the top because they are so special. They are not special, they just know how to do business.
I know everyone thinks it is about the music, but it’s not about the music. It is about the way you are setting up your business and who you are hiring on your team. Things like, do you have a good manager? Do you have a creative director? Guess who doesn’t have a creative director… The four hundred artists who are under the top hundred artists. I know it’s kind of weird coming from me, but the thing is, I do not care about what you think of my music. I care about what you think of the albums I’m going to make. My family does business so I have been in a situation where I’m privileged. I’m honest right now because I just realised how deep this goes. For the past two years, I figured out that these artists don’t want to talk to each other. It is sad to see that young upcoming artists feel they can do things themselves. Everyone started taking me seriously when I took off my Afro. It was wild [Laughs].
Since ‘Stuck In The Middle’ blew up on Tik-Tok, has your relationship with social media changed?
The reason I am where I am today is because of my relationship with social media, which has only been a place of business. Look, some people get up to an average of ten thousand views on their videos and they still have a bad day. It doesn’t really matter. When I was listening to Chance the Rapper in high school every day during basketball practice, I didn’t know the number of listeners he had, I didn’t know how many followers he had. I only knew he made an album that I found cool. He had been making music for some time without getting mainstream. Every artist that is happy on TikTok are just in their first or second year of creation. After that, you just have to take it that you might not sell a single ticket because people might not really know what you are trying to say.
Interesting. Switching gears a little, what’s your songwriting process like?
With my songwriting, I try to be super specific about a very detailed lyrical phrase. I draw a lot of inspiration from Jim Gaffigan and Chris Rock, which are random places because they are comedians. I believe that a lot of reasons why artists have songs that do not make sense is because they do not have a singular premise for the song. The premise is the focus…
What did you learn when writing your debut album?
With my debut album, I learned how to relax and write as many songs as possible and then just move forward. I learned not to think too hard about the phrases I use. But then, I started working with my collaborative friend, Adam Friedman, who is one of the best in the music industry right now. He allows artists to do what they want and try every single idea. He really laid the groundwork for me. The first album was a really fun experience because I learned that my voice is just as important as any other artist’s voice. I just really got into the fact that it should be a competition with yourself. It helped that I got some mainstream and critical acclaim… But in regards to my biggest goal, I only want to get nominated for one thing and that is for the new artist Grammy. I don’t even want to win as it’s political and whatever, but I just want that.
Was the writing process for your new album HDTV different?
I’m co-producing all the songs and I am coming from a very specific mindset of building up myself. I write and produce the songs, I make the cover and also write a treatment for the music videos. When I put myself in that mindset, I have to look at other people that are doing stuff like that, like Tyler The Creator, Kanye West, Taylor Swift. With the second album, it is just about the product. You can’t really learn about someone if you only have thirteen songs. And how much of a fan can you be of someone if you can only dig into thirty-seven minutes of their project? Once you get around the two hours mark, that’s when you really build a die-hard fanbase. I know that Chance the Rapper had around an hour and a half of music and I listened to it all because I was a real fan. I really love his wordplay, his cover art, and what he was trying to do. I love that he was trying to experiment and talk about the black experience in a way that not a lot of people have heard in a long time. He is also of the culture, which is very important. With my second album, I think a lot of people would love to do this thing where they put somebody in a box. But, I wanted the second album to be something that is more expressive… I want to do this for as long as I can, because I feel in control, but I can also write some love songs like Bruno Mars.
Is there any deeper meaning behind the title of this album?
I mean there’s always a deeper meaning. So I would just say this: the first album is about me, and the second is about my relationship with love.
If you could attach just one feeling to each song on this project, what emotion would you choose to describe the sonic mood of the album from start to finish?
Technically, I would say it’s about a vulnerable love story. It is all about someone that is trying to express themselves.
In an interview you did with Hunger back in March, you said and I quote, “With the second album, it’s going to be talking about more high definition relationships in general.” My question really is what do you think love is, and what do you think it should be?
I don’t really know if I’m the best person to talk to about love and relationships. I wrote it as kind of an ode about the first relationship that I did feel love in. It was ‘Stuck In The Middle’ that I wrote that relationship about. I wanted to show people that even though it was a song, there were still so many things going into it. The song was about figuring out who you are after leaving the relationship and what dating is like.
HDTV feels like the start of a new adventure for you.
I think that if I’m not transporting people into a different world, at least I should be transporting myself. I want to stay in the music, because I know that if I’m out of it, people would hear and feel that.
HDTV is available to stream now.