Gayle penned a career-launching pop phenomenon with “abcdefu” — she just didn’t know it at the time. The feisty kiss-off anthem, which has amassed more than 350 million streams and is rapidly closing in on the top 10, was recorded in 2020. It then sat on the 17-year-old’s phone for close to a year, before she shared a snippet on TikTok and was suddenly catapulted to fame. The reason for the delay? She wasn’t that into it.

“When I first wrote it, I hated it,” Gayle laughs over the phone. “I remember thinking, ‘This song is never going to see the light of day.’ Then I came to my senses.” The reason for her initial hesitation was its potential to polarize. “I knew right away that people would either love it or hate it,” she says. “They could think it’s quirky and smart, or the stupidest thing they ever heard. I had to be OK with that.”

Any concerns the Texas-born, Nashville-based artist had evaporated when she posted it on TikTok. “My brain was numb from a writing trip,” Gayle explains. “So I made a video asking followers for song ideas.” There was a catch, however. “When I started getting them, I was too lazy to write a new song,” she admits. “But then I saw an idea for a song that I already wrote.” The suggestion was for “a breakup song using the alphabet.”

She replied to the post with a snippet of “abcdefu” and went viral. “The production wasn’t even finished yet,” the teenager remembers. “I was actually thinking about releasing another song with a completely different vibe. That first version of ‘abcdefu’ was recorded in August 2020. It had been in my catalogue for a year at that point.”

Over the course of 2021, the song evolved. “Instead of being, ‘Fuck you and your friends that I’ll never see again,’ it was originally, ‘Fuck you and your father and your cousin and your brother,’” Gayle laughs. “We really went for it!” Toning down the lyrics was relatively straightforward, but perfecting the production would take months. Producer Pete Nappi came to the rescue, and she was able to rush-release “abcdefu” when it exploded on TikTok.

The platform’s ability to break a song isn’t lost on Gayle. “It’s absolutely everything,” she says, before noting the downside: “I didn’t do music to make TikToks, I did music because I love singing and writing songs, and playing instruments.” Social media has another pitfall: haters. “The assumptions people make are funny,” the newcomer muses. “They really have nothing better to do than shit on somebody trying their best to achieve their dreams.”

With “abcdefu” still climbing the Billboard Hot 100, Gayle is already moving on to her next single. “Ur Just Horny” drops this week and it, once again, finds her in an angsty mood. “It’s about growing up,” she says. “It can be hard to differentiate platonic and sexual feelings. You’ve always felt platonic things, but then, as you get older, you’re like, ‘They’re kind of attractive.’ And then it’s like, ‘Is this romantic?’” The answer, Gayle discovered, is hormones.

“The lines can get blurry sometimes,” the breakout star elaborates. “You can get hurt or hurt somebody else if you’re not careful.” The song is expected to form part of a longer-form release due in early 2022. “I’m focusing on singles and the songs that I’ve already finished,” she says, “but I’m definitely working on a body of work.” It will be her first since releasing a self-funded EP under the name Taylor Gayle at age 11.

“A lot has happened since then,” Gayle says. “My parents got divorced. That gave me a whole new perspective on love and relationships.” Quite simply, she grew up. “Back then I thought I needed to be this cookie-cutter person to be accepted by other people,” the viral artist reveals. “I didn’t want to be offensive. I didn’t want to shock people. I thought I needed to say what people wanted to hear.”

One person who didn’t see Gayle as the girl next door is Kara DioGuardi. The hit songwriter scouted the talented teenager, then 14, at a pop-up event for her non-profit Inspired Nation. “Kara sees you before you see yourself,” Gayle says of her mentor. “She saw this rock, alt-leaning chick when I was just a yes-ma’am, no-ma’am kind of girl. It just became something that I started doing naturally. I don’t know how she saw that I was going to do that before I did.”

DioGuardi, who signed Gayle to Arthouse Entertainment, recalls. “We picked her name out of a hat, she stood up and started singing a song she wrote. I loved her intensity, the tone of her voice and the emotion when she sang.” She encouraged Gayle to be more honest in her songwriting. “When developing an artist, I always encourage them to express their truth no matter what anyone says,” she says. “It’s their story and they should tell it boldly.”

It’s advice that Gayle took to heart. “I would not be the songwriter I am today without Kara. She completely changed my perspective on what I wanted to say as an artist. I always thought being an artist was saying what you thought people wanted to hear. In reality, it’s saying things they don’t want to hear. It’s saying the things that they don’t want to know about themselves or the emotion that they didn’t know that they had.”

DioGuardi sees Gayle as one of her generation’s most important voices. “She’s been performing more than half her life. She is a force on stage,” the exec/songwriter says. “Moreover, she deeply cares about inspiring important conversations about the subjects she believes are important. That’s what really makes her special.”