Six months ago, Jax — like most artists — was stuck at home in quarantine, unable to gig or meet with others.
One November night she decided to have a little fun like other young people on the now thriving platform, TikTok. Just for kicks, the singer put on a bathrobe, sat at her keyboard, and recorded a little ditty set to the Fountains of Wayne song, “Stacey’s Mom,” but sung from the perspective of the mom being pursued by a teenage boy. Without a thought, she uploaded the song and went to sleep.
At 4 a.m. that morning, the 25-year old woke up to a shocker–her little 40-second video spread like wildfire, surpassing the magic number of one million views in less than 24 hours. She was so surprised and started screaming so loud that her boyfriend thought something was wrong.
“I saw some random notifications on my phone and I just opened it up and it was like over a million views — like crazy chaos,” she tells Variety of the video, which has now surpassed 9 million views. “I started screaming and he thought somebody broke into the apartment. It was literally overnight. It was just the craziest thing, but it was definitely the moment that I started not caring at all and just being myself and being stupid and goofy. It was definitely a crazy surprise and felt really good.”
Fast forward three months later, and Jax’s TikTok success continued to get views — from an “Update from Avril Lavigne & Sk8er Boi 18 years later,” which became her most successful parody with over 14.5 million views, to a Super Bowl-themed clip about Tom Brady’s quest for another win set to Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings.” Jax has also posted a parody of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License” restaged as a Long Islander battling commuter traffic, and sung Justin Bieber’s “Lonely” from wife Hailey Bieber’s point of view. Beliebers weren’t totally amused, defending the couple’s love, but Jax says it was all in jest.
“[With] Justin Bieber fans, I’ve learned where to cross the line there. They kind of scared me a little bit, it got a little intense,” she laughs. “Most people can recognize when a parody is a parody, but I think I offended some people on that one, but I didn’t take it down.”
Taking those kinds of risks led to millions more views and the attention of Atlantic Records, who inked the singer/songwriter to a deal in January, another moment Jax (born Jackie Miskanic) embraced on TikTok with a video signing the deal surrounded by her parents, John and Jill Miskanic.
“Jax’s TikTok popularity was more of a guide to show us that there was an audience engaging. Her clever songwriting, creative vision and star personality were what actually hooked us and made the most impact in our decision to sign her,” says Aton Ben-Horin, global vice president of A&R at Warner Music Group, of Jax and her following, which now tops 3.4 million.
“A social following and entertaining persona are obviously important tools to expose the song or artist to an audience. But for us the music always comes first,” he says. “At the end of the day, you can’t force a listener to stream a song or add it to their personal playlists. They have to love the actual song.”
Jax echoes Ben-Horin’s comments, saying: “I’ve always loved Atlantic Records because they’re pretty much known for artist development. They’re in it for the long haul and making sure that they nurture the creative vision.”
Her father, John — a NYPD firefighter injured on the day of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center — gets to star front and center in a new song premiering today on TikTok, “Like My Father,” dedicated to him just in time for Father’s Day. The sweet ballad centers around her parent’s love story, with Jax singing about having a husband who “gets out of the car and holds the door and rocks out to Billy Joel and flip our kids off when they call us old.” The song is destined to be played as a first dance at weddings and sweet 16 celebrations with the chorus: “I need a man who loves me like my father loves my mom.”
“I hope that people connect with it. I never really know because I’m always super close to the music. So it’s hard for me to look on the outside looking in, but I do know that for me they have set an example, and that is the ideal example of what a couple should be,” she says.
Through Atlantic Records, Jax has already released two videos, “Ring Pop,” chronicling a romantic relationship on a budget, and her ode to ’90s pop culture, “’90s Kids” featuring actor Patrick Renna from The Sandlot, known for portraying the character Hamilton “Ham” Porter. Written when she was just 19, the song — already in heavy rotation on SiriusXM Hits and racking up one million streams weekly since its release — has show-stopping lyrics with Renna uttering the famous line, “You’re killing me smalls” while also referencing Britney Spears, Ross and Rachel on “Friends,” and more.
Just how did Jax get Renna to appear in her video, which was shot in Georgia and recreates the famous vomit scene on a carnival ride? By sliding into his Instagram DMs, of course.
“He is such a normal guy. We met for coffee in L.A., and we started working on his TikToks and we started collaborating and then we became friends,” she says. “I didn’t expect him to say yes to the video, because it’s obviously a high maintenance video and especially to get out of L.A. right now. But he’s really cool.”
Jax’s musical journey began early, performing as a homeschooled teen with a dream growing up in East Brunswick, N.J. Her ambition led to a third place finish on “American Idol” in 2015, but shortly afterwards, she was sidelined battling cancer above her vocal cords at the age of 18, which returned following a couple months of remission. After recovering in New Jersey, she decided a trip out West was necessary. It was in California where she focused on her education, earning a degree in social media at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
From there, she continued to work on her craft, writing and releasing her own original material and penning songs for Paris Hilton, Weezer and Big Freedia, to name a few.
“I was out in L.A. for a bunch of years writing songs and doing studio sessions, writing for myself, but mostly writing for other people, six days a week,” Jax says. “And then when the pandemic and quarantine happened, I think I — along with everybody else — jumped on TikTok. I pretty much was posting serious covers and stuff like that, not really understanding the app and how organic and natural it is.”
The app — which already succeeded in launching the careers of artists like Lil Nas X with “Old Town Road” — is democratic in a way that gives artists a real shot at showcasing their talents and attracting label attention while still offering a platform to manage your brand, she says.
“You can get a chance to literally be from nowhere and get your start in a video on TikTok that can go from zero to a million and overnight,” she says. “Right now, we’re starting to slowly see touring open up again, but I think we all got kind of a wake up call on how important the internet is and how to manage it over the last year. How to use it to your advantage, but also not get sucked into the wormhole and put all your eggs in one basket. I’ve tried for so many years to create a brand, and then it would be like, ‘Okay, never mind, this is not working.’ Be sexier, be more mysterious, be grungy or whatever it is. TikTok was the first app that I, myself, was my brand.”
And that brand — just being herself — is what attracted Atlantic Records, home of Charlie Puth, Cardi B and others. Moving forward, Jax plans to slowly release more singles leading up to her debut album, which she says is a reflection of her personality — a little goofy with the occasional “dad joke.”
“I’m not afraid to be as cheesy as I am around my friends. I think that’s the other beauty of TikTok, it’s just so organic,” she says. “And when it doesn’t feel organic — I think since it’s mostly Gen Z — they could sniff it out in a second if you’re not being real, if you’re trying too hard.”
The significance of her rapid ascension to internet fame — and subsequent record deal — is not lost on Jax. She says it all still feels like a dream.
“This kind of thing is just, you only dream of it. And you watch other people go through it… You never really put yourself in those shoes, but you can dream of it like a major pipe dream,” she says. “And here you are. I don’t even have words. I’ve never seen these numbers in my life. I’m still freaking out.”