Chartbreaker: Priscilla Block Traded Dumpster-Diving For a Country Music Bidding War, Thanks To TikTok
The rising country artist started posting on TikTok out of boredom, and ended up with a breakout hit and record deal.
After graduating from high school six years ago, Priscilla Block moved from Raleigh, N.C. to Nashville, planning to chase her dream of becoming a country star — just like her hero, Taylor Swift, had done years before.
A year into her move, Block was attending night school and working at a yogurt shop, having yet to make any inroads as a musician. Feeling despondent, she was thinking of giving up — until one day, as she was leaving work while wearing a Swift t-shirt, Swift herself drove by, and pulled over after spotting Block’s attire. “I had a million things I wish I would have said, but, honestly, that moment itself meant the entire world to me,” Block recalls. She quit school and her job, deciding then and there, “I’m going to give this a real shot.”
Block began writing songs and playing local gigs, including six-hour stretches at the Opryland Hotel. To help pay her rent, she excelled at dumpster diving. “You find everything by apartment complexes,” she advises. “One time I found a high-top table with four chairs that weren’t even wobbly and I freaked out. I put it on Facebook Marketplace and I think I made $200.”
By last December, Block still had yet to break through. While visiting her family for Christmas, she decided to post her first TikTok video for fun; by this spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she started posting regularly. The 25-year-old uploaded covers of songs like Morgan Wallen’s “Whiskey Glasses,” as well as original tunes, quickly realizing the app may be more beneficial to her success than hotel gigs. “The most shocking part,” she says, “is my original music was what was exploding.”
Block posted “PMS,” a humorous self-penned country ode about the woes of premenstrual syndrome, in April, and the song rapidly garnered more than 1 million views on TikTok. She soon replicated that success with her body-positivity anthem, “Thick Thighs.” But Block was about more than songs that bordered on novelty. One night — after she’d moved out of her apartment, because she was too broke to afford her rent and the pandemic had shut down all her paying gigs — she and her sister went to get a drink, and a horrible day turned worse when she ran into an ex-boyfriend at the bar. Not long after, she and two friends, Emily Kroll and Sarah Jones, wrote “Just About Over You” via FaceTime. In the ballad, Block laments that as she was finally ready to move on, seeing her former love made her heart break all over again.
Block posted a work tape of her singing the song into her phone on TikTok at the end of June, and fans quickly raised the $1,500 Block needed to make a proper recording. Once complete, she followed the advice of her then-manager and released the polished version to streaming platforms on a Wednesday in August, instead of the usual Friday release day. The gambit worked: within 12 hours, “Just About Over You” soared to No. 1 on iTunes Country Chart and iTunes All Genre Chart.
“I was speechless,” Block says. “The tears that flooded out of me that day were endless and I was like, ‘On my gosh, this might be my chance.’”
By the next day, labels in Nashville, New York and Los Angeles came calling, including Universal Music Group Nashville. The label’s evp of A&R, Brian Wright, had alerted CEO & chairman, Mike Dungan, to the rapidly rising country star. “I went into the whole thing completely skeptical, because it’s TikTok,” says Dungan. “There were a jillion TikToks [for Block] and there was a lot of twerking, but there was also music that was really solid.”
When they met, he couldn’t help but notice the duct tape on her shoes, “because she was so broke,” but he was drawn to her unapologetic personality. As other labels circled, Dungan brought in additional fire power, including Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grainge. Block was late to their Zoom meeting because she was waiting to pick up food at Chick-fil-A; she proceeded to down waffle fries throughout the call. “I’m kind of dying, because this is not Lucian’s world, but I’m also loving every minute of it because this is absolutely who she is and that’s why we were so interested in signing her,” says Dungan. “Combined with the songs and the performances, this just feels great to me.”
UMGN’s Mercury Nashville imprint recently serviced a new version of “Just About Over You,” which rises from No. 45 to No. 42 on Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart with play on 55 reporting stations in the week ending Nov. 1, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. Without Block being able to visit the stations playing her music in person — Dungan says it is “without a doubt, the worst time I’ve ever witnessed to try to introduce a new artist” — the label has coordinated Zoom meetings and performances “with every possible partner we could have.
“She’s a Tik Tok phenomenon, but she is not going to be marketed as a Tik Tok star,” he adds. “This is the real deal.”
And now that Block, who is meeting with potential managers and publishing companies, shares a parent company with Swift, she hopes a reunion may be in their future. “Then,” she says, “I can tell her how much that moment changed everything.”
A version of this article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2020, issue of Billboard.