Luke Rogers

GAYLE Thrives Through Freedom of Expression

Few people who cite Aretha Franklin as one of their biggest inspirations can say that they are truly following in her footsteps, but alternative pop prodigy GAYLE, in all her rising singer-songwriter glory, can.

17-year-old GAYLE was recently signed to Atlantic Records and, like Franklin, is finding success in the home the label is granting her.  She’s rooted in pop, but has no shame in gravitating towards sounds that are innovative and inspired. Comparable to Miss Franklin in the soulfulness category, this starlet also could go toe-to-toe with the likes of Taylor Swift and Charli XCX when it comes to modern day storytelling through genre-bending strokes of personalized genius.

Personalized is the operative word, as GAYLE is already one of the most realistic young artists out there right now. She is dedicated to her craft, excruciatingly honest, and thrives through expression. What makes GAYLE, Gayle, is this aspect of vulnerability on all accounts – in her music, in her interviews, on her socials. Nothing she sings about, nothing she writes about feels fiction. Songs like her latest single, her first on Atlantic, drip with unnerving truth and an uncensored perspective. Right now, though, the musician doesn’t feel much pressure to be extra guarded. If anything, she feels empowered by what she connects with, what she’s going through and how she can make an audible and visual journey for her growing number of fans.

Being truly immersed in this nerve-wracking world of music at such an impressionable age isn’t a negative for GAYLE. It’s a positive coming from being young and being fiercely integrated in the digital culture of connectivity and engagement. She admits to us that “there’s even vulnerability in letting somebody know when you pushed them enough for you to get mad.” 

“I hate letting people know that they hurt me, but obviously it’s kind of easier when you’re not like saying it to their face and you’re saying it in a song. Then you have to show it to people and that’s a vulnerable moment where reality sets in. […] There’s definitely times where I’ve made a song really personal and I have to say, ‘This might take a minute for me to release because it is so much my experience.’ I think it’s more with sadness, though, and those moments/ I’ve definitely gone through times of depression that have been really, really difficult to deal with. I wrote songs at times where I was literally in my worst moments and so that can be really hard to go back into, especially because for me, I write those songs as like moments in time. I want people to be able to see and hear and feel the emotion that I was trying to capture in that one moment in time so that they are able to put their own selves into that, too. Sometimes I think that is a lot for me to captures as it takes me right back to how I was in that moment when I was writing that song – and it’s not a good one. Yeah, there are times where I’m like, ‘This song… nope, not today, not today. That’s a little much,’ but most of the time I’m pretty ok with putting myself out there. It takes practice. It took a lot of practice. I’ve definitely gotten used to kind of being vulnerable, though, and actually like showing people that part of me.”

It’s monumental to be that young and have the wisdom that GAYLE so clearly has. The only way is up for her, as she’s already mastered awareness of her surroundings, has found peace with her inner monologue, and has laid the foundation down for a great career by simply putting her frustrations and feelings to song. A big voice and a lot of heart goes a long way, but a sense of self? That’s the cherry on top of what this star is bound to do.

GAYLE’s F U Tour Announcement

Few things are limiting the singer-songwriter, as well. She’s open-minded about much of her artistry and the direction she can and will take it. Her abundance of influences and stellar personality are simply crafted into this sensational ball of new talent. “The way I kind of think of my music, it’s kind of overall in the pop genre, but I think there are like sub-genres inside of that. Charli XCX; she could do at times more of a hyper pop sound, but it’s pop, but then even Olivia at times, her more pop stuff can be stripped down, so those are two completely different things inside of this pop bubble.”

“I think now with things like Spotify and Apple Music and all these things with curated radio, genre does play a big part inside of the industry. Even when it was with ‘Old Town Road,'” GAYLE explains, referencing Lil Nas X’s breakout hit that broke more records than ever imagined for a country/rap crossover track that originated it’s success on TikTok and continued it’s reign when veteran cowboy Billy Ray Cyrus hopped on for a feature. 

“When the song was charting on country radio stations, it got taken off because it wasn’t country enough. Then when it first started going to pop radio, it was too country for [mainstream] pop. When you go on these DSPs, though, it’s like you can kind of be whatever you want and have a hit be part of a country playlist, but also on a pop playlist at the same time. Because of that, I honestly try not to combine all my music into one thing. I don’t think it has to be this or that. I just kind of do what I want to do in terms of what sounds right to me, especially when it comes to music. I do what I think works best for the song and then I take it from there.”

Like Lil Nas X, GAYLE is going full speed ahead with that mindset. Her songs like “dumbass” and “abcdefu” are feminist bops with a mind, heart, and ego specifically behind them. They’re alt pop and pop punk and soft rock and contemporary folk all at the same time. “It is really exciting, though, the thought of being able to be on a pop playlist, but being able to be on an alternative playlist, too, and kind of being able to have a wide range and variety in my music,” the singer admits. “Right now you can kind of genre bend and you can combine all of these things. Artists have more freedom to just do what they want and still have it discovered now and that is just so exciting.”

GAYLE’s mentor, Kara DioGuardi, is teaching her those versatile ropes. The former American Idol judge, critically-acclaimed songwriter, and music producer has her own sets of skills and honing them alongside other rising talents makes for an incomparable pairing. DioGuardi discovered GAYLE and has helped put her talents on the map in the most widespread, credible, and unique way. By meshing coming-of-age narratives with industry consciousness and the bold truths, both DiGuardi and Atlantic Records have a bona fide pop icon on their hands. The worldly way GAYLE crafts her songs and paints her image simply depicts that fact.

She’s a multifaceted artist signed to a major label with a banger on her hands and ideas in her head. There’s nothing stopping her and tricks up her sleeve… that much we’re sure of, even after a personable, all-encompassing, laughter-filled conversation. Still, the perception of GAYLE feels reminiscent of the fun girl next door – one that you would want to go thrifting alongside and talk about all the petty drama in your hometown with. She’s comfortable and comforting in her honest reflections and teen angst, both of which are interspersed into these radio-ready songs and cleverly-written hits. It’s what the best of the best are doing, and have been doing, for quite some time, regardless of their genre. Seeing that work out for others, while simply enjoying their work as a fan, paves the way for how this youthful powerhouse approaches her own music.

“I saw [Aretha Franklin] literally when I was seven and I was like, ‘I’m going to be Aretha when I grow up.’ Her and her music and her stories – that’s what did it for me. I really see Olivia [Rodrigo] and Billie [Eilish] as inspirations, too, especially because they are so close to my age and doing what they’re doing, but at the same time, I have to appreciate these artists and try not to take from it either. There is always something that can be so expiring, but I have to do my own thing still, because that’s already been done before, you know? I also obviously love Julia Michaels, who is an amazing songwriter that really inspires me. A lot of her music, like mine, too, is inspired by moments. 

She continues candidly, “Moments in time inspire my music. It’s my own personal experiences that I get to kind of turn into song. My own situations are the most important. Then I also collab a lot, because I really love the art of collaboration and I love the way it can be represented in music. Writers might come in [to a session] and put their own stories out there and throw in their own pieces of themselves in songs. I try to relate to that and do the best combination of all of those things to then just turn it into my own little thing.” It’s the reality of the situations – her own and other people’s – that get the ball rolling, because what more could a fan ask for from a song than something that is real and resonating? It’s surely something that a younger GAYLE loved and would still greatly appreciate.

The performer doesn’t hold back when asked, “Having dreamt of being this whirlwind performer and artistic force, do you think that the 10-year-old version of yourself who had just made her first trip to Nashville would be proud of who you are today, where you’re at, and the songs like ‘abcdefu’ and ‘dumbass’ under your belt?”

“Actually I was thinking about this the other day – thinking about like 12-year-old me, because I was really judgmental at 12. I went through this phase that I look back on now and I’m just like [Cringes]. 10-year-old me, though, they would be so scared. She would see me and be like ‘There’s an issue here. Like, what’s going on? Why does she have a nose piercing? Why did she split dye her hair? What is going on? Why is she not doing country? What’s what’s going on with her life?’ At the same time, I think 10-year-old me would have been proud of the position that I’m in now, especially on the side of signing with Atlantic. That is something I’ve wanted to do my whole entire life. I think she would have been happy about that, but I still think she would have been like, ‘Why are you cursing? Why are you singing about sex? We’re supposed to wait ’till marriage!'”

“I’ve been writing with Sara [Davis] since I was 12 and I specifically remember a conversation that was when people just started posting more on Spotify. It was starting to get used a lot and because it’s not radio, it’s Spotify, you can curse. People were cursing all the time in their songs and I kept saying to Sarah, ‘People should just be more creative. I feel like it’s just like a cop out cursing your songs!’ We learned a lot. I lived life. I really like to think I’ve grown as a person since then. I’ve actually tried really, really hard to grow and make a point of doing that. I really love the person that I became from the 10-year-old version of myself, too, especially some of the judgments I would have had on myself. I think that is why I’m also so open about the things that I am because of the judgements I had at like 10 or 12. I thought you shouldn’t wear crop tops and you shouldn’t curse in your songs and you shouldn’t talk about sex. I actually got a chance to go into the real world and was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m an idiot. I was an idiot,’ you know?”

“I’m also so passionate about all of these things now because of who I was as a person. If I could have never thought about those things in the first place that would have been such a better environment for me to have created for my friends and even just for me and my own life. Looking back, I love who I am now, but it’s different and it’s a mixed bag of being super happy for myself and being scared of myself at the same time.”

There are a variety of styles floating in and out of GAYLE’s growing catalog of music. There are slightly electronic, wildly eclectic R&B tones dipped in these fun pop beats. Sultry moments at the piano lead the way for rollercoaster vocals and heartfelt narratives, as well, without ever taking away from innovative runs and sparkling melodies above gritty instrumentation. It’s music that can be grasped onto and enjoyed by anyone – not just the fellow young women who want to say “screw you!” to their boyfriends and their friends and their family and their cousins and, well, you get the gist. 

Photo by Luke Rogers

The song is an anthemic in the vein of the aforementioned Olivia Rodrigo smash hit, “good 4 u,” but has stronger hints of R&B and a more melodic rock quality found under the witty lyrics and warm pop harmonies. It didn’t take too long to get this song, having had the idea for the ‘ABC’ part prior, to get off the ground. “We kind of already had this concept of the alphabet, but we wanted it to be bigger. [Shouts] Eventually, I was like “Ok, I think I kind of have something that I was like ‘eff you and your mom and your cousin and your father and your brother and your sister,” and I just started listing off people without stopping. In the original version of the single, I was like, “Fuck you and your mom and your sister and your job and your broke ass car and that shit you call art and your cousin and your father and your brother and her mother. I was just going at it, like every family member.”

She made sure to spare some leftover, barely lingering love for the dog, though. The slick nod to still having a bit of warmth for someone – something – chocks up to another level of GAYLE for people to experience. She almost breaks the fourth wall, winking at the camera, so to speak, and letting people into her genuine frame of mind in the situation at hand. With her collaborators in the room building melodies from the ground up and telling this story means breaking it down and then rebuilding it with the notion that there is a reason we’re at this point of angst and anguish. “‘Why are we telling this person the fuck off? Well, let me spell it out,’ was the set up and then in the verse we decided we needed to take the time to show why he deserves the telling off. You have to explain it and this was coming off my own personal experience of trying to be nice, but that didn’t work, so here’s what you’re getting instead – a big ‘eff you section of a song.”

It’s ingenious, really, the combination of the first six letters of the alphabet and the infamous insult that is ‘f u.’ Brilliant lyrics and dynamic vocal range mixed into a little youthful nostalgia and blatant integrity has shaped this major label debut into something magnificent and edgy, but most importantly, memorable. It’s a slice of authentic, sleek songwriting heaven and plays right into her own strengths, even though her covers of songs like Kehlani’s “Honey,” fit the GAYLE bill just as well. The way GAYLE portrays the emotion in this new single release through her own inflections and the distinctly hyper pop meets alternative rock instrumentation is remarkably unforgettable. “abcdefu” is uptempo and real, anthemic and excitable, and truly feelings-based.

Emotions are gender-neutral, age-defying, and wholeheartedly accepted by the permeable art that GAYLE is setting out to make. As we discussed, she strives to paint a picture out of her feelings through songwriting sessions and anthemic moments in the studio. It’s empowering – she’s empowering. That is exactly why it is so special to see her headlining SheRoo in Tennessee next week as part of Bonnaroo’s She Is The Music’s Women of Nashville Showcase. On the topic of such, GAYLE reflects fondly of her inclusion in the event… and the concept of inclusion all together.

“I’m really glad that there’s a safe space inside of Bonnaroo where females can go and just kind of make their own peace and take the time for themselves – especially when you’re in a festival or even at concerts. I know that I want to look cute at the concert, especially, when it’s hot outside, so I’ll wear shorts and a crop top or something, you know? It can be hot and there’s a lot of people, so at times I want to wear just less clothing, but I can’t think of it like that. ‘Oh, I’m wearing a crop top and shorts, I look cute.’ Guys will and can come up, and at times even women, that think they have a right to objectify me just because it’s hot outside and I’m wearing like a tank top and shorts.”

“I’m actually very grateful that Bonnaroo is giving us space and is acknowledging that women need that to be able to take some time for themselves and just be away from that uncomfortable energy that can be created at times. I know when I was younger, I would have loved to see somebody like me wearing what they want and doing what they can on stage. Also, the women who are also playing alongside me are such amazing artists that I really look up to. I’m just very happy to be able to be a part of that experience.”

We’re just days away from this starlet’s Bonnaroo debut and it’s only been two weeks since “abcdefu” came into our lives. GAYLE is on a roll that we hope never stops. She’s a future chart-topper, certainly, a definite awards-show-sweeper, and a soon-to-be household name. The musicianship and passion is evident, but her millions of amassed streams already make up for that. With the “Natural Woman” performer in her mind, an esteemed record company in her corner, and the trials and tribulations of being a young woman navigating both society and the industry, GAYLE is well on her way to getting the “RESPECT” she deserves. Her enthralling talent, good-natured personality, and scintillating humor will only expedite that.