After taking off with impressive velocity towards the end of 2021, “abcdefu” — the breakout hit from 17-year-old singer-songwriter GAYLE — has become one of the first official smashes of 2022.
Last week, the song — which was initially teased on TikTok, and went viral on the service upon its full release — cracked the Billboard Hot 100’s top 10 for the first time, and this week it climbs from No. 9 to No. 8, a new peak for the Atlantic artist. The song has found even greater success on Billboard‘s Global 200 chart, where this week it holds at No. 1 for a third straight week, with over 58 million global streams to its credit over the tracking week.
How has the song reached such stratospheric heights already? And is GAYLE soon due for a second hit? Billboard staffers discuss below.
1. “abcdefu” is quickly becoming one of the biggest breakout hits of the past few months, climbing to No. 8 on the Hot 100 this week and holding atop the Global 200 for a third week. Are you surprised at the degree to which the song’s caught on, or does it feel about right?
Rania Aniftos: Not surprised at all. It’s the perfect blend of sassiness and catchiness that the TikTok audience loves — the hook is essentially made for a 15-second viral video. It’s also different than a lot of the devastating breakup ballads that we’ve been hearing on the platform lately, so it’s probably refreshing for music fans to hear GAYLE take an angrier, more confident approach to heartbreak.
Lyndsey Havens: I’m a bit shocked given the fact it managed to persist through an arguably difficult trifecta: year-end madness, holiday season chart shakeup and top-of-year newness. Though, when you think about what those three periods of time have in common, one word emerges: reflection. And it seems, through everyone’s mental reassessing, there was a lot of angst to work through — and for that, the song’s ability to resonate and persist right now feels about right. After all, how better to release some rage than through a sing-songy chorus in which you can subtly shout (abcde) “f u?”
Jason Lipshutz: Commercial performance can sometimes be instructive of a song’s subtle power: when I first heard Gayle’s “abcdefu,” I thought, “Good song, fun title,” and kept moving. But as the song has continued to grow on the chart, I’ve found myself returning to it in order to personally unlock its appeal, and gradually warming up to it to a better-than-good anthemic kiss-off. I’m now all in on “abcdefu” as an obvious smash, and look forward to hearing it in karaoke bars for years to come.
Kristin Robinson: “abcdefu” was the culmination of a lot of different popular elements that have been brewing for years — a mix of the rise of TikTok songwriters who use fan participation to inspire new music; the popularity of songs about teen girl rage (think: “Happier Than Ever” by Billie Eilish and “Good 4 U” by Olivia Rodrigo); the proliferation of hyper-conceptual, clever lyric writing (think: “Hot Girl Bummer” by blackbear or “Mad at Disney” by Salem Ilese). With all that in mind, I think the song’s success makes a lot of sense.
Andrew Unterberger: I’m not sure I would’ve predicted it, but it definitely fits. With songs like “abcdefu,” I’ve long thought that once they reach a certain level of momentum — escape velocity, basically — there’s basically no stopping them at that point. “abcdefu” got there late last year, and now it feels like the most obvious hit of the early year. I’d bet it still has a ways to go, even.
2. The song obviously has one of the most immediately memorable hooks of the decade, in the punny, bird-flipping shout-and-spell-along chorus. After a couple of months with it, does the gambit feel fresh, stale, or a little of both?
Rania Aniftos: With TikTok virality comes overexposure. While I still think that the song is smart and definitely gets stuck in your head, I’ve never been a huge fan of chant-sounding choruses because I find them to become a bit tiresome after a while. While I understand why “abcdefu” is a viral hit, its gimmick isn’t the most timeless to me.
Lyndsey Havens: While I expected to tire of the approach by now, it still packs a punch — and makes me chuckle, particularly the bit about (rightfully) sparing the dog from such negative energy. Since the song’s release last August, the way in which GAYLE and her creative team managed to take such an obvious, almost childish idea and turn it into a more grown and relatable hit continues to intrigue me. Plus, I’m a sucker for when an impassioned message is delivered by a chorus of voices, which almost always succeeds in driving home the universality of whatever that message may be.
Jason Lipshutz: Fresh, for sure. The hook works because of Gayle’s vocal performance, all nervy anger and sneaky assonance, her words blurring into each other as she names more things that can go to hell. In the wrong hands, that hook would be overly confrontational or even snotty, but Gayle blurts out her declarations with a confidence that also doesn’t push too hard.
Kristin Robinson: I think this song marks the pinnacle of the hyper-conceptual hook writing. There’s already a bit of a movement I’ve noticed on TikTok of people saying they are so tired of the more gimmick-based songwriting that’s hot right now. I don’t suspect this trend will stick around much longer.
Andrew Unterberger: More stale than fresh — we’ve just heard this kind of hook a lot recently, whether in Nessa Barrett and jxdn’s “la di die” or blackbear’s “do re mi” (or his “hot girl bummer,” for that matter). Call it “lowercase pop” I guess, catchy and flippant and pretty quickly grating, though also undeniably effective.
3. TikTok has both given to and taken from the song’s success — the latter coming when a creator “exposed” the fan message that supposedly inspired the song as having apparently been sent by someone on GAYLE’s marketing team. If true, does that more seem embarrassing for GAYLE and her team, or more like a successful/validated marketing campaign?
Rania Aniftos: When I first heard about this, I admittedly did think it was a little embarrassing just because it took away from the authentic and surprising virality that a lot of up-and-coming artists experience and get to enjoy. But, on the other hand, the fans don’t seem to be talking about it anymore and it’s still climbing up the Hot 100, so even a fake fan interaction proved itself to be a successful marketing technique. Who am I to judge?
Lyndsey Havens: In my opinion, if you’re going to exist and thrive as a rising mainstream artist today, you not only have to be transparent but should also own your path — whatever it may be. More than ever, we see that fluffing up false narratives never really works out in an era of co-existing and sharing information at a rapid rate online. So while I see this — if true — as a successful marketing campaign that is so clearly continuing to pay off, I only wish there was more pride and ownership behind it along the way.
Jason Lipshutz: Simply put, there is no reason for Gayle or anyone in her corner to feel embarrassed, when most artists and teams would kill for a lightning-in-a-bottle moment like “abcdefu.” For better or worse, the song’s origin story has been a footnote, and will remain that way; what everyone will actually remember are the words and melody of “abcdefu,” and they will do so for a long time.
Kristin Robinson: It’s embarrassing. It seems right now everyone is on a witch hunt for “industry plants” and even people who release a song that might bear resemblance to something else (like the time everyone on TikTok was sharing the mash up of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U” and Paramore’s “Misery Business”). Even if the allegation is not true, it definitely matters if your fans believe it’s true. Fans, especially in the beginning of your career, can be lost quickly if they sniff out inauthenticity. I hope GAYLE can bounce back and learn from that blunder!
Andrew Unterberger: I think it’s fine. It’s the kind of gambit that would probably be humiliating if it was “uncovered” before the song took off — but once the song is already a massive hit, who really cares what marketing maneuvers it took to get it there? Maybe it hurts GAYLE’s credibility a little with some of her core fans, but in pop music, everyone’s gotta play the game a little, and I think most fans understand that. At least she and her team played the game well.
4. GAYLE’s second song is already out in the similarly fed-up “ur just horny.” How likely do you think it is to follow “abcdefu” up the charts?
Rania Aniftos: While I’m not sure that it will have the immediate, exponential success that “abcdefu” had — just because it’s not as infectious — “ur just horny” displays an edgy artistry and a tinge of rock that GAYLE hasn’t shown her fans yet, which I love. I can see it being a song that slowly makes its way up the charts, becoming an unexpected fan favorite because it’s a song that shows her musical talent, not just her ability to crank up TikTok views.
Lyndsey Havens: As a core member of GAYLE’s team recently told Billboard in her Chartbreaker feature, the artist is more than her breakout hit. And while I’m even more sold on “ur just horny” as a track that proves GAYLE’s fuller artistic range, I’m skeptical it can have a similar kind of chart-topping success as “abcdefu.” But if “abcedfu” helped GAYLE gain the platform and momentum for a song like “ur just horny” to have more eyes and ears on it than it would have otherwise — future chart success aside — then that’s still quite a success.
Jason Lipshutz: “ur just horny” is really good too — the blueprint of chugging guitars and pent-up rage is clearly working for Gayle, but she also gets the details right, from provocative lines like “Took scissors to your chastity belt” to that exasperated “ugh” right before the first chorus. This style is working very well for Gayle as she kicks off her career, but there are also signs of a whip-smart songwriter emerging into the mainstream.
Kristin Robinson: I think “ur just horny” will do well, but it won’t do anywhere near what “abcdefu” did. I worry this follow up was released too early since “abcdefu” is still holding on so strong, but I understand the label’s desire to start easing fans into more GAYLE music while the iron is still hot. “ur just horny” just may be more about proving to fans that she has multiple strong songs and that she has an identity as an artist outside the one hit, rather than actually hitting the top of the charts again.
Andrew Unterberger: When it comes to artists scoring a second hit after having their first take off on TikTok, you should always bet the under — we’ve just seen it too many times, where no matter how good an artist’s follow-up single is, you can’t hope to recreate that kind of momentum right away, if ever. (Olivia Rodrigo, as usual, being a major exception). That said, “ur just horny” is fairly good — you could see it exploding on TikTok if you just heard it without knowing the artist behind it — and less tiring on multiple listens than “abcdefu.” So maybe she’ll end up one of the rare exceptions to the rule.
5. The spelled-out song title is a classic, near-foolproof pop move — what’s your favorite song to spell out most or all of its title in the lyrics?
Rania Aniftos: “Glamorous” by Fergie every single time. A mid-2000s staple from a mid-2000s icon.
Lyndsey Havens: I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s my favorite, though it’s likely the most memorable: Britney Spears’ “If You Seek Amy.” I may or may not have been a fresh teen when it arrived, and that kind of eye-popping double entendre left quite the impression.
Jason Lipshutz: Gotta be “H to the izz-O, V to the izz-A,” from Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” Twenty years later, I still have no idea how a hook based on Jay’s “Hova” nickname and the short-lived “for shizzle my nizzle” slang works, but it undeniably does!
Kristin Robinson: “Glamorous” by Fergie, because it helped me out on a spelling test question when I was in elementary school (yeah, The Dutchess came out that long ago, y’all). Honorable mention to “Fergalicious” for helping me with the word “delicious” — and for messing up my understanding of how “tasty” is spelled for years to come (will.i.am says “T to the A to the S-T-E-Y girl you tasty” if you’ve forgotten).
Andrew Unterberger: Down with Naughty By Nature’s “O.P.P.” for 31 years and counting.