American singer-songwriter Gayle is the latest artist accused of being an industry plant.
The 17-year-old, born Taylor Gayle Rutherford, found recent success with the release her hit single ‘abcdefu’— a song that was allegedly conceptualised by a fan on TikTok.
ICYMI, Gayle took to TikTok in July 2021 to ask users to help her with song ideas. “Hello, my name is Gayle, I’m 17 and I live in Nashville and I make pop music,” she said in the video. “And uh, I need your help because ya girl has no song ideas. Literally just go to the comments, put anything literally. Put anything you can, put anything you want and I will try and turn it into a song.”
After building a niche following from indie releases over the years, the call to action wasn’t totally out of the blue and the artist began receiving hundreds of comments with song ideas. One day later, Gayle filmed a reply to a comment by user @nancy_berman who wrote, “can you write a breakup song using the alphabet”.
“I got you,” Gayle said before launching into an acoustic version of ‘abcdefu’.
As the video gained traction, so did the song. Within a week, the teen shared that she was officially releasing ‘abcdefu’ under Atlantic Records and turned to her followers for help in getting the single off the ground.
When asked by a commenter why the song wasn’t on the radio yet just days after its release, Gayle said that she’d been trying to “figure out how to do that” and asked her followers to Shazam ‘abcdefu’ to boost its analytics on the app and hopefully “the radio” would notice.
In a few short weeks, the song went viral on TikTok and Spotify, raking in hundreds of millions of streams and topping charts across North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific.
The artist continued to share updates on the app, frequently attributing the song’s success to her followers. And while she initially refrained from addressing the song’s alleged origin story, Gayle’s content implied she was an indie artist that happened to get lucky on TikTok.
Though TikTok virality can be the marker of genuine overnight success for musicians, fans are now convinced Gayle had some help releasing her song to the world.
Last week, popular music commentator Daniel Wall blew the lid off Gayle’s “overnight success”, claiming her TikTok content was part of a larger marketing and PR strategy orchestrated by Atlantic Records.
In a TikTok video that’s amassed over 11 million views, Daniel says we were “lied to” about the origin story of ‘abcdefu.’ The creator reveals that @nancy_berman, the user who asked Gayle to write a “breakup song using the alphabet”, appears to be the TikTok account for Nancy Berman, Manager of Digital Marketing for Atlantic Records— suggesting that Gayle was signed prior to asking fans for song ideas and simply acted as if she was an indie artist to build her following.
“Even though this was planned, it worked,” Daniel says of Gayle being an industry plant. “And there’s so many other artists and labels that do this because people love to be a part of something and they love a story they can follow.”
While the concept of an industry plant dates back to the early days of hiphop when it was important for an artist to seem “homegrown”, the introduction of social media and streaming platforms have made it easier for record labels to capitalise on this marketing strategy.
In some instances, a record label may buy bot streams or video views to inflate a plant’s music and create a ‘FOMO’ effect. In other instances, the label may create a fake or exaggerated backstory about how the artist was discovered, which many believe is what Atlantic Records has done with Gayle.
Regardless, being an industry plant doesn’t diminish an artist’s talent or success— it’s simply a means to an end for record labels who are quite literally in the business of marketing and promotion.
Because at the end of the day, good artists will make good music whether they’re backed by a label or not. And if a good artist is making good music…does it really matter how we found them?