What happens when a band breaks up and then becomes TikTok famous? In the case of the Walters, they reunite and sign a record deal, seven years after the release of their now-hit song.
Released in 2014, “I Love You So” helped boost the Walters to mild indie success. The Chicago bedroom pop darlings played 200-capacity rooms and released two projects — “Songs for Dads” and “Young Men” — without a record deal. Now, “I Love You So” boasts over 200 million Spotify streams and is featured in over half a million TikTok videos, outperforming some of this year’s biggest hits. (For reference, The Weeknd’s “Save Your Tears” soundtracks just over 130,000 TikToks, and Ariana Grande’s “34+35” is featured in 184,000 videos.) Since early October, “I Love You So” has spent nine weeks charting on Spotify’s Daily USA Top 50, peaking at No. 39 on the streamer’s Global Top 50.
According to the Walters frontman Luke Olson, the band had been flirting with the idea of reuniting before “I Love You So” blew up, but the song’s surprise success pushed them to act. With Warner Music — along with a handful of other labels — flooding the band’s inbox, the Walters launched a full-fledged return.
“It was a sign from the universe,” Olson tells Variety. “There’s a reason why this song keeps coming back into our lives, and the TikTok virality was definitely the extra kick we needed to be like, ‘Okay, let’s give this another shot and let’s try to make the most of it.’”
With four sold out dates this month in New York, L.A. and Chicago, the Walters are currently recording a new EP and planning an international tour. In November, the band released an updated music video for “I Love You So” and put out a brand new acoustic version.
Despite its 2014 release date, “I Love You So” sounds fresh as ever. With reverb-drenched guitar chords and dreamy vocal harmonies, the song precedes the bedroom pop craze that currently dominates Spotify’s indie playlists.
When the Walters split back in 2017, Olson released solo music as L. Martin and formed the twangy pop duo the Olson Brothers with sibling Anthony. Meanwhile, the rest of the band stuck together and put out three singles as Corduroy. The Walters’ breakup took an emotional toll on Olson, who said earlier this year, “The band broke up with me.” Now, Olson says the band’s reuniting has been seamless: “They’ve accepted me, and I’m accepting them.”
Adds Olson: “A lot of it is swallowing your ego and realizing that we were young. We had success at a young age, and it was overwhelming. None of us was perfect. After four years, if we were to be presented this opportunity and we couldn’t get past [the breakup], then we would be doing a disservice to ourselves, our fans and our family.”
The band’s decision to sign with a label after several years of independence stems from a desire for structure. Olson says the “safety blanket” Warner provides allows him to sit back and focus on the music and shows.
While the Walters’ hiatus only lasted four years, the music industry has since experienced a seismic shift in how people discover and consume music. Credit: TikTok, the app that popularized sea shanties, made Hoobastank cool again and shot Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” back up the Billboard charts four decades after its debut. While no one can predict which music trend TikTok will birth next, Olson says he credits the honest simplicity and universal lyrics of “I Love You So” with the song’s viral surge. He’s skeptical of the app’s apparent ability to influence artists’ creative process, but he also appreciates how TikTok has disrupted the music industry and allowed creators to earn fame in nontraditional ways.
“I don’t want to create music that I think will blow up on TikTok, which I think is seeping into the consciousness of artists,” Olson says. “Though I think TikTok is really good. There are so many talented musicians, artists, comedians… and it’s giving people a platform. Everyone deserves a shot, and if you use TikTok properly, it can really benefit you.”
From a label standpoint, Warner’s vice presidents of A&R Chris Morris and Jeff Sosnow view TikTok as an “incredibly helpful” tool for discovering new artists and expanding audiences.
“We’ve seen multiple times now that a viral moment on a given song can take an older record from obscurity or break a brand new artist,” Morris offers. “So it would be really foolish for us not to take TikTok seriously.”
After all, TikTok is giving a second life to not only “I Love You So” but to the Walters themselves, who have chosen to capitalize on a viral moment, reunite and make new music. Now, the only difference is a couple hundred million people are listening.