Chicago Native Brye Talks Viral Hit “LEMONS,” Anxiety, and TikTok

On September 18, 2020 (also when I started typing this story out), the US Department of Commerce announced that the wildly famous app TikTok as well as WeChat would no longer be available to download in the United States starting September 20. According to a news release by the department, “The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has demonstrated the means and motives to use these apps to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the U.S. Today’s announced prohibitions, when combined, protect users in the U.S. by eliminating access to these applications and significantly reducing their functionality.”

Just a few days later, it was announced that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, had “reached a deal with Walmart and Oracle that will allow the Chinese social media app to continue operating in the United States, and the deal has been approved by Donald Trump.” This deal is confusing to most people, including me, who has no true knowledge on how economics work. You can see more on this story from TechCrunch.

What does this mean for the app? I’m not really sure, but I am fairly sure that this is ongoing war on TikTok is going to affect the way that musicians capitalize on the app in the future, considering that the backlash the app has faced compared to social media platforms in the past has been unprecedented.

Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” is one of the most noteworthy examples of a song going viral on the platform (but where is he now?), and other artists have also had success in similar fashions (See songs by Princess Nokia, BENEE, Curtis Waters—to name a few. Claire Rosinkranz, a 16-year-old musician who writes and produces music with her dad, had a song of hers titled “Backyard Boy” go viral on the app without her realizing it. She eventually signed a deal with Republic Records.

Then we have Brye, the 17-year-old Chicago-based musician whose song “Lemons” went crazy viral on TikTok, with 1.7 million likes on the platform within its first six weeks and over 15 million streams on Spotify to date. The song has been used in over 40,000 videos on TikTok as well.

On September 9, Brye released a new version of “Lemons” featuring a new verse from Cavetown, aka the 21-year-old English musician named Robin Daniel Skinner.

Although Brye (pronounced like Bree) has only released a handful of singles thus far into her career (that have all been entirely self-written. recorded, and produced), she has used her platform to be very outspoken on body image and eating disorders. Earlier this year, Brye released a video on YouTube titled “My 2019 Journey” that explained her struggles into detail, hoping to inspire her fanbase. Brye talked about the decision to post the video in an interview with Grammy.com:

“It connected with a crap ton of people,” she says, “because my audience is generally teenage girls. And this is a really common problem, especially in high school when we’re struggling to find ourselves and questioning everything about ourselves. It was really cool to see people connect with it, and it was really difficult at the same time.”

Check out our Q&A with Brye:

Chicago Haze: Can you explain how you got involved in music and who inspired you to start and when? 

Brye: It wasn’t really a snap decision. I grew up in an incredibly musical family. My mom’s side is classically trained and my dad has an amazing ear for good pop music. I vividly remember wanting to be Taylor Swift in kindergarten. Music has always made sense.

Chicago Haze: What’s it been like releasing music at such a formative time in your life?

Brye: A bit overwhelming but SO rewarding. I have my dream job at 17 and while that comes with its own struggles, I couldn’t be happier with how things have turned out. I always assumed I would garner a small audience in my 20s, maybe work as an elementary music teacher. The last thing I expected was all of this happening in high school.

Chicago Haze: What about releasing it during a pandemic?

Brye: It’s a lot harder than usual. Everything is virtual. Most communication is done over email instead of in studio, and it definitely complicates things. 

Chicago Haze: I feel like today’s equivalent of finding success on the radio is having a song go viral on TikTok. What were you thinking when you first realized “Lemons” was getting amazing traction on the app? 

Brye: It blew my mind. I hadn’t had a video blow up before, let alone on of my songs. Watching people get creative and use my song in ways I never thought possible was so humbling and cool. 

Chicago Haze: What do you want your fans to know about you through your music?

Brye: I’m not a perfect person. I’m still a teenager and figuring myself out. One of the interesting things about lemons is that, it’s not a song about being the bigger person. I was 16 when I wrote it and it has all of the angst of a 16-year-old. It’s bitter (pun intended) and there’s resentment throughout the song because it’s human.

Chicago Haze: I too grew up in the Chicago suburbs (Naperville). Have you been able to attend any shows in Chicago? If so, any venues that stick out to you? Any that you’d like to play once we’re able to start attending live shows again?

Brye: I’ve seen Ben rector like 3 times live. My first concert of his was when I was very young at the Chicago Theatre and I’ve always wanted to perform in that venue.

While the future of TikTok is uncertain, I would bet money on the prediction that there will be new apps attempting to do what TikTok has done (RE: Instagram’s “Reels” feature), and artists will continue to find innovative ways to get their music out there, especially during a time when live music opportunities or incredibly limited.

Follow Brye on Spotify:

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