GAYLE, the 17-year-old singer-songwriter who’s hit song turned the ABCs into a redemptive anthem for telling her ex to f*ck off, asks if it’s OK to swear during our interview. After I emphatically gave her the OK, she describes the first time she wrote a curse into a song. “It was like, ‘Forgive and forget that I forgave you / Forgetting all the sh*t that you do,’” she says. It was one of the earlier songs she wrote with her best friend and collaborator Sara Davis. “We’re like, ‘Can we do that? Can we say that? I mean, why not?’” Her eyes, heavily lined with black eyeliner, go wide as she leans slightly into the Zoom camera, pushing back her orange and black Cruella de Vil hair.
Prior to “abcdefu” GAYLE had less than a handful of singles out. Now, she’s number one on the Billboard charts. The hit is subversive take on a song every English-speaking person knows by heart, centering around those hard first lessons post-heartache. The track zooms in and out between the universal and the personal — between her ex’s villainization of her and her disgust of his “Craigslist couch” and the sound of his voice. This single isn’t only a sardonic ABCs of heartache but a catchy allowance to dive into the richest of emotions. “It’s being unapologetically angry about something,” she says. Aretha Franklin might not only be her musical idol as a soulful powerhouse, but also for her notoriety to similarly spell things out. GAYLE, began taking singing lessons at age 7, got a guitar from Target at age 9, and then started writing her own songs at 10.
Her ambition was fostered by her incredibly supportive mom, who would drive them 10 hours from their Dallas, Texas, home so her daughter could experience Nashville’s Broadway Circuit. “I don’t want to half ass anything, and neither does she. That’s why she started taking me to Nashville. She’s like, ‘If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it,’” GAYLE says. While most bars in Nashville wouldn’t hire a 10-year-old to headline, she capitalized on precious bathroom break time for musicians. “Most of the time, there’s no room to eat a burger or go to the bathroom,” she says. “I would just go up to people and be like, ‘Yo, do you want to go to the bathroom? I’ll play a couple songs on your guitar, and then when you’re singing, I’ll take your tip bucket, walk around.’ I was getting to know the artists while also getting to know the people who are at the bar.”
GAYLE’s soulful voice is her music’s heart. Over finger-plucked guitars, electronic hip-hop beats, and tightly strummed electric guitars with faint distortion. Her songs range from an introspective monologue about not being good enough (“Dumbass”) to a recent single “Ur Just Horny” about a friend taking advantage of her emotions after lines blur. Some of her debut project’s singles deal with other people’s perceptions and how relationships can be tangled in dangerous power dynamics.
Initially influenced by Christian and country music, GAYLE’s style evolved to include pop music collaborations. Growing up in Dallas, where many opera houses had song selection criteria, and seeing country musicians pressured to lose weight or conform to a certain inoffensive femininity, pop music felt risky. “You couldn’t be rude or offending. Not that what I do is offensive. “People may be offended by what I say,” she says.
As far as her legacy is concerned? “If people can feel more confident or open with themselves with their emotions, or be more considerate of themselves, or understanding their mistakes, and pushing themselves in more of, like, a positive direction for them and their mental health — if I can help create that in somebody in any way, that is all I need.”
by MARGARET FARRELL
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