In the isolated world of COVID, TikTok brought millions together through viral trends and challenges. When rising artist Tai Verdes initially dropped “Stuck in the Middle” in May 2020, he had no idea his song would be among those viral tracks just three months later.
Flash forward a year, and he’s playing a big stage at Lollapalooza as thousands of adoring fans sing along to tracks from his debut album, “TV.” With 1.7 million TikTok followers and half a million on Instagram, Verdes is on a skyrocketing fame trajectory with no signs of slowing.
Of course, the road to viral success was less of a smooth ride. After multiple rejected auditions for numerous singing competition shows, including “American Idol,” Verdes resigned himself to continue working harder.
A quick detour to reality television saw Verdes out of the musical element entirely. Appearing on MTV’s dating show “Are You the One?” season six in 2017 under his birth name Tyler Colon, his road map hadn’t changed, just the route of travel. Emulating the Cardi B route of “Love & Hip Hop” to household name, Verdes took the leap.
“I knew I wanted to do stuff in the industry but I didn’t know how much or how big it was gonna be,” Verdes told the Phoenix. “But I knew that I was gonna be bigger than the show. … I didn’t want to be attached to the reality TV world for a long time.”
“And also, I needed money at the time,” the 25-year old said.
The unconventional rise from reality TV personality to TikTok star to a Lollapalooza act is one few could pull off, but Verdes isn’t an average joe. With an infectious smile and a lovably carefree energy, Verdes pulls audiences into a vortex of good vibes.
As the summer sun shone over the Bud Light Seltzer stage Friday afternoon, Verdes kicked off his performance to hundreds of fans, soon thousands, vastly surpassing the typical engagement for an early afternoon set.
“I am so happy that you guys are here right now,” Verdes said, smiling in awe of the audience. “This is my first concert … I feel so welcome.”
For a rookie performer, Verdes was immaculately trained. His sheer confidence and wondrous stage presence catapulted him to Lollapalooza greatness.
After beginning to perform “A-O-K” — his first Billboard Hot 100 hit, rising to 78 in the week ending July 31 — his young fans excitedly sang along.
Cracking jokes and spilling anecdotes, Verdes brought personability to the stage. And his radiant positivity emits itself off stage just as seamlessly.
“Guys, you’re going to come to Lollapalooza… and whisper?” Verdes said, encouraging fans to get even louder.
Verdes is soaking up the reward of years of hard work. Closing the chapter on his career beginnings, Verdes said he felt immensely rewarded to see his album released.
“The most fruitful part of finishing the album is going online and seeing it everywhere,” he said. “I don’t really care how many people listen to it or how many people press the buttons, but the fact that I made something, that’s the goal. And that’s the goal moving forward, just keep making things.”
Sticking with the untraditional, Verdes is all about a genre shifting sound. Rather than classifying himself under a static label, he’d rather just make “whatever the fuck” he wants.
“I literally just make songs that make me feel good,” Verdes said. “If it’s pop, it’s pop. If it’s R&B, it’s R&B. If it’s indie, it’s indie. If it’s a combination, it’s a combination. But for me, I just want to make a sound that makes me feel good in the studio because that’s what I’m doing all day. I’m in the studio for a long time. And if I’m listening to something I don’t like, I’m gonna have a bad time.”
A fan of Childish Gambino and Kanye West, as well as newcomers Dominic Fike and Billie Eilish — and a “Shrek” soundtrack connoisseur — Verdes’ musical taste shifts genres just as much as his music itself.
As far as dream collabs, Miley Cyrus is Verdes’ current pick — even if just to talk to her.
But Verdes isn’t relaxing in the fame of his debut. He’s preparing to go on tour with Quinn XCII and Chelsea Cutler, followed by a solo tour in November.
“I’m just excited to keep going,” he said. “Like, I just want to go. I’m ready. I’m just excited, I love music. Music’s what inspires me, it’s like my heartbeat, so I just keep going.”
As for which sound he’ll do next, that’s a secret for now. Whether it’s synth pop, chill R&B, indie rock — or all of the above — he said he has his second, third and fourth albums planned out, and he’s ready to make his mark.
“I got people to catch up to,” Verdes said. “You know, Taylor Swift’s out there playing chess. I’m trying to sign up for a chess game.”