The Secret of Jax’s TikTok Success? Fusing the Funny With the Familiar
Singer-songwriter Jax may be iHeartRadio.com’s first-ever TikTok songwriter of the year with over 8.5 million followers and 80 million streams for her viral hit, “Like My Father” — but at the heart of it, she’s not all that different from her followers.
Case in point: Jax had just claimed the iHeart honor and was heading to the lounge to celebrate with her mother and frequent TikTok guest star, Jill, for a drink when nature called. When she returned, she realized she didn’t have her credentials to get back into the backstage suite.
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As Jax tells Variety: “It was like five minutes after I won the award, right? So I’m, like, ego through the roof; this is the best day; I’m going to go have a drink with my mom. Then I walked out to pee and couldn’t get back in. So my mom and I waited for the security guard to get distracted and snuck under all the ropes.”
The story had a happy ending, however, when Jax met up with label-mate Catie Turner to hunt down Avril Lavigne for a photo. Unbeknownst to Jax, the moment was captured on the show’s social media pages and had a huge reaction.
“[Catie’s] a major fan of Avril and I’m a major fan of Avril,” says Jax, whose TikTok parody video, “Update from Avril Lavigne & Sk8er Boi 18 years Later,” was also a viral hit with over 14.5 million streams. “I just was relentless and stopped her for a picture like a fangirl.”
It is that fearless can-do attitude that has propelled the 25-year-old musician and Atlantic Records artist forward in her career as the ultimate TikTok music success story.
Her duet, “u Love u” (out today) with Grammy-nominated producer JVKE features the melody of a very popular nursery rhyme sure to spark some childhood memories. Co-written and produced by Jason Hahs (Salem Ilese’s “Mad at Disney”), the song is about being secure with yourself before getting involved in a relationship, because “it’s much easier when you love yourself first,” she says.
“We were in the studio and my friends and I were like, we should just write a self-love song. And I had that melody stuck in my head for a week,” she says of the tune, which channels “This Old Man.” “Since we didn’t actually write that melody, we assumed that’s not going to be ours, but that’s an old-school nursery rhyme. So that’s up for grabs in a lot of other interpolations. We basically cracked up the whole session, and said we were going to write the cockiest love song ever.”
She continues: “I was thinking about how I had so many competitive relationships growing up, especially since I’m naturally attracted to other creatives and rock star dudes. So I always was fighting for his attention, he’s fighting for mine, and who can one-up each other. It was just super unhealthy. My relationship for the last five years has been so awesome because he loves himself. I love myself and we support each other in the meantime. And then when we come together, it’s this epic, awesome confident thing. We just wanted to write that we did, and we laughed the whole time.”
Keeping an optimistic perspective was a key factor as Jax — who began performing with bands in New Jersey including appearances at the Stone Pony, Count Basie Center of the Arts and the Warped Tour — took a detour from her career path.
Diagnosed with throat cancer at age 18, she was unable to sing. As she continued treatments and underwent another scare after remission, Jax turned her attention to songwriting, completed college with a social media degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and landed a record deal with Atlantic Records after her TikTok channel of parodies and original music exploded on the platform.
Her channel (which has 6 million more viewers than Lavigne, ironically enough), has welcomed many guest stars ranging from actor John Stamos, Lindsey Stirling, Natasha Bedingfield, Sandlot star Patrick Renna — who then appeared in her video for the song, “’90s Kids.”
Most recently, fellow “American Idol” alum Carrie Underwood — who was referenced in the song, “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” — made an appearance on Jax’s page. The tune nods to Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” with the lyrics, “I loved a kid from Hollywood and he cheated on me cause he could / And I went full Carrie Underwood on him.”
Underwood was all in on the joke and even brought a Louisville Slugger to added effect.
@jaxwritessongs I MET CARRIE UNDERWOOD AFTER I PUT HER NAME IN MY SONG AND I CAN’T BREATHE 😭😭 @Carrie Underwood #fyp #originalmusic #xyzbca #carrieunderwood ♬ To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jax
“I comment relentlessly on people’s TikTok. I had assumed that she didn’t know who I was,” she says. “I know we’ve had like similar histories and stuff like that, but when I met her, she was like,’ I see you in my feed all the time.’ That’s crazy!”
She continues: “The coolest thing about [TikTok] is I followed these amazing musicians my whole life and aspired to be them. And now that the app is so new, all these celebrities are really open to working with TikTokers because they want to explore it, and it feels really good.”
So how does one leverage TikTok to get original music heard as well as a record deal? Says Jax: “Just remain true to your own ideals and the rest will work out.”
“After downloading the app and posting original songs and whatnot and kind of flopping, the most shameless thing I did was put a robe on and dress up like my mom and do something stupid and funny,” she recalls. “That’s my personality, which was [the Fountains of Wayne parody] ‘Stacy’s Mom’ from Stacy’s Mom’s perspective. That opened the door for me to sandwich in my original stuff, which worked out crazy well. That was the most nerve-wracking thing. I post funny videos. I’m not a comedian, not an influencer, but it’s who I am. People will connect with that because it’s truth.”
Her top-performing video, “From the Kid I Babysit’s Perspective” [referencing the person who introduced her to the app], has garnered 113 million views. Stamos was so moved by her recent video honoring the late Bob Saget he immediately agreed to appear in a post dressed as his “Full House” character, Uncle Jesse, to surprise her mom in a video that hit five million views and climbing.
“In between, somehow I had to find a way to show people my actual music and posting “Ring Pop” right after that was my biggest risk, and it worked out,” she says. “I guess what I’m trying to say is, keep it light. People really do want that quick serotonin and be authentically you on the app, aside from your art and your craft.”
In addition to the success of her own songs, like the track “Like My Father” which was picked by the wedding website “The Knot” as one of the “best father-daughter dance songs of all time,” Jax also writes music for other artists including Bedingfield, Paris Hilton, Weezer and Big Freedia.
“I’m a lyricist, primarily,” she says. “People in Los Angeles compare me to a Nashville songwriter. Country music is a lot of storytelling. A session in Nashville is quite different from a session in L.A. It’s like heavy 808s in L.A — big beats, and they start with the track, mess around with some melodies and eventually get to a lyric. In Nashville, it’s, ‘I have a story and I want to tell it” — and that’s the way I work. TikTok was awesome for me as that kind of writer, because I was able to put the lyrics right on screen and close-caption everything. It’s in their face now. People can actually read what I’m writing and that’s probably my favorite feature on the app. So if you’re a lyricist and a songwriter, that’s a really good place to start.”
Atlantic Records, a label that features songwriters Charlie Puth, Ed Sheeran and Lizzo — took notice of that lyricism straight away, in particular Aton Ben-Horin, executive VP of global A&R for Warner Music Group, covering Atlantic, Elektra Music Group, Big Beat and other subsidiary labels.
“Jax’s TikTok popularity was more of a guide to show us that there was an audience engaging,” says Ben-Horin. “Her clever songwriting, creative vision and star personality were what actually hooked us and made the most impact in our decision to sign her. A social following and entertaining persona are obviously important tools to expose the song or artist to an audience. But for us the music always comes first.”
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