Em Beihold’s “Numb Little Bug” was a viral sensation well before it was finished. First teased on TikTok in late 2021, the contemplative pop anthem exploded on the app and then got even bigger upon its full release in January — cracking the top 10 on U.S. iTunes and amassing more than a million Spotify streams in less than 24 hours. It’s the kind of splashy debut usually reserved for superstars, but the landscape is changing and Beihold is very much part of the new guard.

“I released a snippet of the chorus in August, and that video got 6.8 million views,” Beihold says of the song’s journey. “I was nervous because it wasn’t ready to come out yet.” The 23-year-old spent the next five months perfecting it and was worried she had missed her moment. “I thought it would do semi-decently because of the TikTok buzz,” the breakout artist says, “but these numbers are entirely unexpected.”

The success of “Numb Little Bug” can partly be attributed to the subject matter. Beihold penned the song after her 2021 single “Groundhog Day” gained momentum on TikTok. “I had started taking antidepressants,” the Los Angeles native explains. “And I didn’t realize that they take the highs out of your life as well as the lows. I wasn’t necessarily feeling what I expected to feel during the time of all my dreams coming true.”

While managing the pressures of newfound fame is specific, chemically induced numbness is not. “People are relating to the bluntness of it,” Beihold says. “I get a lot of DMs from people saying they feel seen by the song and didn’t know other people felt like this too.” “Numb Little Bug” is also a product of the pandemic. “We’re often in isolation and life isn’t operating the way it normally does,” she says. “I think a lot of people right now are feeling a little bit tired of life.”

The pandemic also influenced the way the song reached people. Namely, via TikTok. “I don’t really see any other way to get millions of streams if you’re not already a top artist,” Beihold says bluntly. Luckily for her, she had a TikTok expert in her corner. The singer-songwriter was discovered by Mary Rahmani, former director of music content & artist partnerships at TikTok, and now founder of Moon Projects, a new label affiliated with Republic.

“I was scrolling through my FYP on TikTok, and one of her videos came up,” Rahmani says. “I stopped instantly and did a deep dive.” The exec was particularly impressed that Beihold had taken charge of her own career. “Em had released music independently, had originals she was working on, and was active in creating content.” And then there was Beihold’s “gorgeous and harmonious” voice and knack for penning insightful lyrics.

From the beginning, Rahmani knew that TikTok was key to Beihold’s rollout. “We maintained a long-term approach on consistency with posting, with a balance of personality and promotional posts, leading to her pre-save and throughout her song release,” she says. It turns out, Beihold was a quick study. “Mary really pushed me to post more,” the artist says. “There was a lot of strategy that I didn’t realize was important until I did it and saw the results.”

Rahmani sees social media as not only an incubator for talent, but also a means of speeding up an artist’s journey. Utilizing social platforms well can take you months and years ahead of discovery and growth,” she says. “It brings you global presence, connection and monetization that you’re able to drive in your voice and brand.” That was certainly the case for Beihold, who leaned into TikTok tools such as open verses, stitches and duets. “It’s such a collaborative platform, so I try to use that to my advantage,” the budding hitmaker says.

What happens when TikTok virality peters out? “It’s about looking further than a viral moment,” Rahmani says. “It’s about finding an artist whose music will connect not just on social platforms but in the traditional ecosystem as well.” And, so far, Beihold is connecting. “Part of the reason I signed with Republic Records/Moon Projects is because I knew, with TikTok alone, I could get a few million streams. But to get 100 million, you need a label and radio support.”

Part of functioning in the traditional ecosystem is filming a music video; hers was released Thursday. “It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Beihold says. “The team was really creative and collaborative and able to think outside the box. The director totally got me and my aesthetic.” She is now looking ahead to her next release: “I have a couple singles coming out in a few months and then an EP following that, hopefully this year.”

The journey of “Numb Little Bug” is a modern-day success story that shows how artists are now being discovered and broken. While it’s easy to be cynical about the TikTok bubble, the app is making pop stardom more attainable than ever. “I thought being an artist was not a very unfeasible goal,” Beihold admits. “Being a pop star was off the table. But with TikTok, I can be myself and that resonated with people. I really never expected it to.”