Bronze Avery Earned the Gold in the Billboard NXT Competition, And Now, ‘The Sky’s The Limit’
The singer, songwriter, producer, designer — and now winner of the first-ever Billboard NXT competition — had to take "no" for an answer over and over. So, he changed the question.
In times of trouble, Bronze Avery heads to his couch. Sometimes, he’ll nestle into its quilt-like crevices, his neck nuzzling against its pale gray upholstery. On other occasions, Avery is perched on the couch’s curved edge, his forehead cradled in his hands. If it was your first time tuning in on TikTok, you might expect a mental health professional to join him on the couch. Instead, there’s a microphone.
“I used to self-censor because I didn’t want people to know about my private life,” says the 27-year-old of his couch sessions from his Los Angeles apartment, during which he debuts snippets of songs for his TikTok following. “Now, when I’m going through something, I just sit on my couch with my mic and record a chorus.”
It’s his well-articulated vulnerability that earned Avery a spot in Billboard’s NXT competition — a first-of-its-kind singing competition designed to discover the next great unsigned artist using TikTok — and propelled him all the way to the finale. Across the competition’s many weeks of unique song-based challenges, Avery held a slot in the top three, setting the stage for his appearance in the December finale, where he faced off against Amir Brandon and Sophie Marks. Wowing the crowd with a cover of NXT mentor Charli XCX’s hit single “Good Ones,” Avery won over the rest of the mentors as well. Rapper and competition mentor 24kGoldn gushed, “If you were ever looking for a sign that this is what you’re supposed to do, this is it.”
Avery’s NXT win represents vindication — for his decision to study music at the University of Central Florida, for his move to Los Angeles in 2018 and for the innumerable email pleas for exposure sent from his bedroom floor. It validated his fandom, too, the small but fervent group of listeners who have long felt that Bronze Avery should be synonymous with superstardom.
“People who have followed me for so long have really believed in me,” says Avery. “It takes little things to affirm why you’re doing this, because in the music industry, even when you’re making it, it can feel like you’re failing. Whenever you want to give up, it’s like the next big thing is around the corner.”
Giving up never sat right with Avery, who was born Gabriel Brown in a Navy family in Orlando, Fla. A choral mainstay, Avery quickly developed a taste for musical theater and a prodigious range that was rare for his age group. By 12 years old, Avery could belt, control masterful vibrato and harmonize like a pro. In his mind, a career in music became the only option.
When Avery was 14, he begged for a computer. He’d heard of a versatile and user-friendly piece of software that budding artists could use to self-record vocals and experiment with production. That year, his single mother spent her entire tax return on procuring Avery the computer — a gift for which he is still grateful. The hardware proved to be the missing piece that could make his dreams come true. Coupling his superior voice with a natural technological prowess, he began writing and producing his own music in the pre-SoundCloud era. The name Bronze Avery quickly became his preferred moniker and was soon accompanied by a number of self-sustaining side hustles.
“How to be Bronze: Step one, live life fearlessly and spontaneously,” explains Avery’s life and business partner Justin Gilbert. “Step two, acknowledge all the dreams and desires you want out of this life. Step three, welcome all the highs with grace, but when the lows come, let them hurt.”
Gilbert has nurtured the artist through five years of personal and professional setbacks — standing by as Avery has taken to the couch, again and again, to process his pain. “He has this ability to instantly channel his life’s intimate experiences to song,” says Gilbert. “Beyond his pitch-perfect musical skills, his greatest talents are his emotional wisdom and courage.”
“He does it all,” adds fellow singer-songwriter and frequent collaborator VINCINT. “Literally everything you see, from the music to the visuals to the rollouts — I’ve watched how his mind works when he’s in music mode and it’s like watching a chef in their element with the perfect ingredients for success. I imagine that’s how it is with everything he does.”
On TikTok, Avery riffs on follower engagement to serve the algorithm catchy melodies and mini-songs. The more unfiltered his output, the greater the fan response. Within a matter of months on the app, Avery’s writing process shifted from what he figured fans wanted to hear to what he wanted to say.
“When I let people hear the truth, my writing became more honest, raw. I didn’t overthink anything,” he explains. “I’m also so thankful for the queer community because they started to understand my project and my sound and, honestly, my purpose.”
Every day Avery peruses a library of messages from fans. Many thank him for having the courage to express their sexuality and for soundtracking their queer experience. As a gay Black pop singer, Avery recognizes his path isn’t well-trodden, and is determined to make sure other queer artists of color can follow in his footsteps.
“When you first start, it can feel like there’s only one spot at the table, like there’s only room for one gay Black boy,” he says. “And we just realized that we don’t have to compete. People want to support people who look like them.”
Over the past year, Avery has been focused on “gut-based” music-making. His latest project, HIDDEN PPL, is particularly instinctual. Each month, Avery drops a new single under that moniker the way one might write a new journal entry, each song disguising his natural singing voice with postproduction pitch-shifting. The distortion led to further lyrical liberation, and the result is a track like “ROMANCE IN THE PARK” — Avery’s personal favorite, as well as the seed from which the project sprouted — a repeat-worthy celebration of diving into (possibly ill-advised) romance without considering the consequences.
“It was written at the height of a pandemic, where it was especially important to live each day as if it was your last and to love bravely and unabashedly,” says Avery.
By pouring personal trials and triumphs into every verse, Avery hopes HIDDEN PPL will allow fans to feel seen. Still, he serves each emotionally explorative offering with a caveat: Bronze Avery will not glamorize gloom.
“Social media has proved that we want to see musicians be happy,” he says. “We don’t want to see artists suffer. Being sad can make amazing art, but we need to be OK when it’s being released.”
Harnessing the appeal of R&B and dance music, Avery offers emotional hyperpop built with a DIY ethos. His vocals span octaves with ease, and he will seamlessly shift into a crisp falsetto before finishing with a precise flourish of vibrato. The Bronze Avery discography, which dates back to 2017, includes singles peppered with reggaetón, hip-hop and house influences — even a synth-laden cover of the meme classic “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
Avery is a pop enthusiast, and among his contemporary idols, Charli XCX is queen. The hyperpop pioneer’s trajectory has been important to Avery, who has spent years harmonizing with her hits in his L.A. apartment. When the two had a virtual face-to-face as part of the NXT mentorship process, Avery couldn’t help but think of that expectations-mediating adage: “Never meet your heroes.” Then, his hero answered the phone.
“She made me feel like her contemporary,” he says, still beaming from the experience. Their rapport was almost instantaneous. “We could talk about production techniques, artistic authenticity. She really wanted to uplift a rising artist.”
At the NXT finale, hosted at the Avalon in Hollywood, a projection of the pair’s conversation was played on a large screen as Avery stood center stage, watching. To his left, huge portraits of the celebrity mentors surveyed the venue, and below, a group of young fans eagerly took in the contestants’ offerings. His back turned to the crowd, an enraptured Avery listened for a second time as Charli XCX emphasized the importance of remaining vulnerable for the digital-age listener (whose radar for formulaic creativity is more fine-tuned than ever, she explained). In the wake of the conversation and his cover of Charli XCX’s “Good Ones,” Avery returned for a second performance — this time with an original track.
“How many of you have used dating apps?” he asked the onlookers. “And poured your heart into something, only for it to not work out? That happened to me, and I wrote this to dance through the tears.”
Launching into “Pitch Black,” a breakup track so anthemic it could rival Robyn, Avery twirled and kicked before an awestruck audience — exuding a kind of diva-esque magnetism and devil-may-care rock star attitude that would leave mentors Anitta, 24kGoldn and Todrick Hall dumbstruck. Within minutes, Avery was announced as the winner of the Billboard NXT competition. “Completely gagged” was how he described his reaction.
“I’ve never won anything,” he says. “I couldn’t believe I had even made it to the finale. I’m just here because I’m so inspired by artists who are authentic to themselves. For that reason, I know that ultimately, I’m never going to be in competition with anyone else, because I am me.”
In addition to scoring tickets to the Billboard Music Awards, as the winner, Avery will be able to create a music video and book studio time to record a single. In the coming months, he’ll also conclude his HIDDEN PPL project and start work on his most significant undertaking yet: his debut album. He’ll be tackling themes like stereotype-defying love, the kind you “don’t see in romantic comedies or hear about in church” — and the labor required to maintain it. Gilbert says he believes it is Avery’s unflinching embrace of unconventional, or controversial, subject matters that reinforces the artist’s position on the front lines of “emotional warfare.”
Avery’s songwriting couch was purchased from a collection marketed to teens, the result of a reverse internet image search and a tight budget. Despite its off-brand origins, the couch is styled with such finesse and taste it rivals those that retail for 10 times its price. Avery learned a long time ago that nothing is truly out of reach — not if you lean in another direction.
“So much of my life was not affording things or having things accessible,” he says. “So, I would come up with some creative alternative that made everything feel like me, mostly because there’s no other person who would’ve even thought to do something so ridiculous.”
It’s perhaps for this reason the Bronze Avery playbook doesn’t record wins or losses. “I know I can do everything I want to do,” he says. “Now, the sky’s the limit.”