25 March 2022

Tai Verdes: “I’m in it for a 20-year long career, not a song”

From reality television contestant to TikTok sensation, Tai Verdes always knew he was destined for greatness

Tai Verdes always knew that he was going to make it big, and with over 500M total global streams of his music, you could argue he’s achieved his goal — but he’s not stopping here, he’s in it for the long haul. Tai is wholly confident and assured; we meet as he’s getting ready to go out. Pacing around his home and then driving to an undisclosed location may be an unusual way to conduct an interview, but Verdes has big dreams, and he’s the first person to know that success doesn’t wait for anybody. 

Just two years ago, the 26-year-old was flogging mobile phones at Verizon and sleeping on a friends couch when several of his sleeper hits went seriously viral on TikTok. Prior to that, he’d spent nearly a decade auditioning for the likes of The Voice and American Idol only to be rejected seven times. Out of money and in need of a break, in 2017 he managed to snag a spot on the sixth season of MTV’s dating show Are You The One? which he went on to win. A bonafide hustler, Tai pocketed his $50,000 and relocated to LA, determined that all his hard work would soon pay off. 

As prophesied, things did indeed take off. The breezy, catchy pop hooks of tunes like ‘A-O-K’ and ‘Stuck in the Middle’ blew up on TikTok and started climbing the charts in earnest. He’s now played at the likes of Lollapalooza and is about to kick off a 22-city 2022 HDTV tour. It may sound like an intense whirlwind, but Verdes is unfazed by the success — he’s been prepping for it his whole life. “I just think that I’m fucking special because my mum told me I was,” he quips. “I always knew that if I made something good I would recognise it. I don’t think I have ever lost at anything really, I just think that I haven’t had enough time to win.”

To mark the release of his latest single, ‘3 Outfits’, we caught up with the singer about his unusual path to stardom, and where he goes from here. 

Did you always have a love of music? 

Yeah, I didn’t even realise it at the time but I liked it when a track did exactly what I wanted it to do. I loved that feeling. I was that annoying kid that was like “they should have done this instead” or “I like this song better than that song”. It’s really important to me.

Did your parents influence you at all — what did you grow up listening to? 

My parents showed me all different types of music and I appreciated all of it.  I couldn’t see myself being in the position I am now if they hadn’t given me that. I was probably listening to 50 Cent. I listened to all the hits, so like Gavin DeGraw and there was a compilation CD with Grammy-winning and Grammy-nominated songs.  Music has always been a huge part of my life. 

What were your biggest influences when you were younger that pushed you to become the artist you are today? 

I’d say my biggest influencer were Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, Childish Gambino… Those guys just really pushed the boundaries of what artists were able to do at the time, and they influenced what other people could do too. It’s crazy to think about because there’s not a lot of people in the world who can say they got to see the come up of Chance, Kanye, Childish, you know, before everything. I really cared about them and what they presented to the world.

At the start of 2020, you were selling mobile phones at Verizon and sleeping on a friend’s couch. At that point, were you discouraged or did you always know that you were gonna make it somehow?

I just think that I’m fucking special because my mum told me I was. I knew there was going to be hard times, but I always knew that if I made something good I would recognise it, or I would figure out how to get better at it. It’s not about being the best at it, it’s just about getting better at it. I don’t think I have ever lost at anything really, I just think that I haven’t had enough time to win. I’m only 25, just give me some time, and I will definitely win some shit. 

So what was your attitude towards rejection, I mean we all have to deal with it. You auditioned for American Idol and The Voice and were rejected seven times —what kept you going? 

Nah, I don’t think rejection is real. I think the biggest part of my development as an artist is not really caring about what other people think. I don’t make music for other people. I’ve never really thought of trying to make myself into the perfect image for anyone, I want to be the perfect version of myself for me. Well, not the perfect version because perfection is a stupid thing to chase but just like the best version of myself that I see in my head, and then putting that out to the public.

‘Stuck in the Middle’ obviously blew up. Can you remember the moment when it went so, so viral? 

‘Stuck in the Middle’ was crazy because it never felt so, so viral to me. I was very grateful for how high it went but I know that I’m in it for a 20-year career, I’m not in it for the song really. It was super exciting and while it was happening I was like ‘dang, how far is this thing going to go’ and to be honest, it’s still going now. All the success that’s happened so far is amazing, but I just know that the songs could have a billion streams right now but I got to put out another album because I like putting out music.

Did you do something to celebrate at the time?

No, I was working. Celebrate what? Celebrate a song doing well? No like I said 20 years! You know, I was working the whole entire time, I was touring stuff like that… But yeah we had get together’s where everyone told ‘good job, everything’s going great’, but you know, we’re all going to die eventually, so I want this to be the thing I’m going to put my all into. I really want to go for gold. 

You’re super ambitious. Did you ever worry about being a one-hit-wonder at all?

I’m not really denoting my success on hits or on popular consumption. A lot of young kids will come out and be like ‘I want to have one million subscribers’ or this many streams on a song. Even when I was making the album, I didn’t have a goal for the amount of streams, subscribers, or whatever. It was all about what I could control. Last year I put out six songs and this year I wanted to put out 10, and it ended up being 13 for my last album. I could not have another interview for five years, but I’m not gonna give up. I’ll see you when I’m 31. 

What does success look like to you? Can you quantify where you want to be in 10 years? 

I want to have at least five or six albums out in 10 years. I want to say I made a library of music. I want people to point at me and be like ‘yeah, this guy is making shit.’

Is there anyone’s career that you particularly admire and want to mimic? 

To be honest, I think my career and a lot of other new artists are doing something really new because of Web3 and the way people are connecting right now. The way we’ve connected with people has been brand new. There’s always a way and everyone’s story is different — whether it’s Justin Bieber coming off YouTube, Shawn Mendes coming off Vine or DJ Khalid coming off Snapchat. The one thing that’s stayed the same is that people who adapt stay around, so as long as I’m adapting I think I’m good.

What are your thoughts on TikTok? Like many new artists, you got a lot of success and support from there. 

Social media is just a revealer. I don’t think I would have gotten to the point I’ve gotten to so quickly without it. The promotional tool of TikTok is so great and heavy that it’s really like a fuel boost for your career. I think all the people who are having success right now are rightfully having it because there’s a reason why people are enjoying and sharing it. I think TikTok is just revealing what people like to connect to. People are making a big deal going ‘TikTok this TikTok that’ but Justin Bieber came from YouTube and we don’t call him Justin Bieber from YouTube. No, society moves on and in reality, there’s going to be another big thing in three or five years. TikTok is literally just like Soundcloud but it’s on your phone and there are videos attached.

If we go back to ‘Stuck in the Middle’, do you think there’s a reason why it resonated with so many people? It touches on unrequited love, which is quite a universal experience…

I just try to make songs that feel good. If it’s a sad song I want the song to feel good the entire time even though it’s melancholy. With ‘Stuck in the Middle’ maybe the reason why things worked out was because I believed in it so much and I also promoted it. I’m not scared of promotion, there are probably millions of people who are better at singing and producing than me, but who cares, promoting gets attention. I don’t think there are 100 people you can put in a room that know social media more than I do.

Where do you get your songwriting inspiration from — I know a lot of it does touch on your personal relationships and romantic life. 

I just like to write about stuff I know about. I love artists that told you bits of their life, I appreciate that because those moments attach to your memories. When I was younger, I used to play Modern Warfare 2 and listen to Kid Cudi’s ‘Up Up & Away’, it was the first time I had ever heard a song like that and it’s why I love him — he just tackles different types of topics that I haven’t heard before.

You were on season six of MTV’s Are You The One?, you ended up winning $50,000 and moving to LA. Was going on the show a strategic move to gain exposure or do did you actually want to meet someone? 

The reason why I went on that show was because I had dropped out of school and my parents weren’t supporting me anymore. I was 21 and I had no money. I saw the show and I was like I bet I can get on and win 50 grand and start doing shit I like. I knew I wanted to do music, acting, modelling, podcasting, stand up comedy… So I went to LA and did all that. I only tried out for the show to make money and if you watch my season you’ll see that. I was never really involved in anything besides what was necessary. It’s funny because if you talk to anyone that was on the show with me, they’d be like ‘Yeah Tai would just stand around the entire time and make jokes’. I never really wanted to be a reality television star because every night I would sit in that house and be like, ‘I’m gonna be bigger than all of you motherfuckers.”

How do you want to be seen as an artist? 

I’m not the one who decides how that goes down and I think that if I was I’d be making my art differently. All I’m trying to do is make some cool shit, and hopefully keep doing that for a long time. I’m not in this game for the money and I’m not gonna change for the money. I don’t need every fucking album to be the biggest album in the world, I just need to be able to put out songs and then have others decide.

Your next album is coming out soon, what can we expect from it? 

It’s just high definition. I’m working on four albums at the same time, I know the colours of the artwork already and the titles of them all. Every single one of my songs is an episode in my life. The first album is about dropping out of college, experimenting with drugs, feeling alone, meeting a girl, breaking up with the girl, and the fact that after all these tribulations you’re going to be A-O-K. With the second album, it’s going to be talking about more high definition relationships in general, so we’re going into a more clear version of the stuff I talked about in my first album. 

Any other personal plans for 2022? 

I want to be able to say that I’ve done two months straight of yoga because I haven’t done that yet. That would just be really nice for my body and it gives you some space to think.

So it’s all very exciting for you! 

Yes, I can’t wait to see what happens next just because I’m a fan of what’s happening already. We’re pushing forward. I will see you back in 20 years or whatever. 

Tai Verdes’ new summertime feel single ‘3 Outfits’ is available to stream now. 

  • Writer Nessa Humayun

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