The First Artist in Years to Top Spotify Without Label Support

Lydia Kenney
Arizona Zervas

Arizona Zervas has a viral hit with "Roxanne," but he's been at it for years.

Maryland-born singer and songwriter Arizona Zervas just notched his first Hot 100 entry with the catchy, whistling hit “Roxanne,” which debuted at No. 34 for the week of Nov. 16. And while the song may seem to have materialized out of thin air, calling Zervas an overnight success would be a disservice to the years he has spent on the grind, steadily building a following.

Here’s a cheat sheet on everything you should know about the up-and-coming artist -- and how an aggressive touring schedule,a singles strategy and playlisting support helped him reach the Hot 100, three years after his first release. 

He writes and engineers all of his songs.

Zervas has the same bio on Instagram and Twitter accounts: “non-fiction.” The term sums up his approach to songwriting, as he’s focused on chronicling his real-life experiences through music. Now based in Los Angeles, he writes and engineers all of his songs himself, tapping a range of producers including RedLightMuzik, J-Glad and, for "Roxanne," 94skrt.

He’s been releasing music -- and building a cult following -- since 2016.

Zervas released his first song, the trap-flavored “Don’t Hit My Line,” in 2016 and since then has independently released a steady stream of more than 30 singles -- all with catchy, of-the-moment titles like “Uber,” "FML" and “Homies” -- including one three-song EP, Living Facts, in 2018. And the strategy of releasing another one-off every few months has seemingly worked to Zervas' benefit in today’s streaming-heavy music ecosystem. Nearly every song has topped 1 million streams on Spotify (with "Roxanne" raking in nearly 46 million to date).

Most impressively, his monthly Spotify listener count skyrocketed from 504,009 in October 2018 to roughly 10.9 million currently, ranking him 286th in the world on the platform. 

Touring helped, too: He has played more than 50 shows across the country, at such venues as New York’s Webster Hall and The Fillmore in his native Maryland. Along the way, he has accumulated 31,000 Twitter followers and 53,000 on Instagram.

“Roxanne” was helped along by playlisting and radio support -- but its success was still driven by core fans.

Zervas released “Roxanne” on Oct. 10 and its speedy rise was aided by placement on heavy-hitter Spotify playlists, including Today’s Top Hits and Pop Rising.

“Roxanne” reached No. 1 on Spotify’s United States Top 50 chart on Nov. 8, just above Travis Scott’s “Highest In the Room” and Post Malone’s “Circles," consecutively. The song, which is distributed through Distrokid, is the first track by an unsigned, fully independent artist to top that chart since the beginning of 2017 -- the earliest date on Spotify's online archive. Even so, only 28% of his Spotify streams come from playlists, indicating that the majority of listens are from fans actively seeking out his music, Billboard has learned. 

On the radio side, "Roxanne" has been added to SiriusXM channels Hits1, The Heat and Hip-Hop Nation, according to a representative from the radio giant. And, yes, it has taken off on TikTok, where the song has been used in 320,000 videos to date. 

"Roxanne" is making waves internationally, too.

The song is on Spotify's flagship hits playlists in Malaysia, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Israel, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, South Africa and Iceland, according to a representative for the streaming service. 

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