In October, Sadie Jean, a singer-songwriter and sophomore at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, went out with some friends to work on songwriting. A certain number, a plea for reconnecting with someone who’s gotten away, began to taking form.
Jean has a sweet but powerful voice and the song “WYD Now?
I don’t want to be 20 and still have it on my mind
17 Talking in my bedroom, you said we were now
Paint the walls of our flat share
You’re still everything I want and
I think we could do it
The chorus ends with a cold call question: “What are you doing now?”
Jean did TikToks on the trip, and in one of themA friend asks her to share the song with his subject: “You have to send it to him.”
Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. But what she did next almost certainly caught his attention. She published an excerpt from “WYD Now?” as a sound that TikTok users could append to their own Heartbreak videos.
Then, on Thanksgiving, she put out an “Open Verse Challenge,” a trusted TikTok gimmick to add virality to a song video and fill in the empty space with something special.
Challenges like these have become routine, but Jeans Refrain, a searching question that needs an answer, turned out to be perfectly suited to the format. In her video, she dubbed her chorus to a wooden spoon, then, with a plaintive look in her eyes, held the spoon out at the camera and looked for a solution.
In the weeks since then, dozens of different approaches have taken on the eight-bar challenge. Last week the best-case scenario unfolded: a real star took the bait. Rapper and singer Lil Yachty provided a synthetic, adoring answer. First he played with the structure, jumped in before the beginning of the eight bars, telegraphed emotional directness and urgency: “Fiiiiiiinallyyyydoingggggbettttterrrrr.” And his verses were tender and met Jean’s desperation with deep resignation.
First there were the well-coordinated duets – @theofficialkristylee Writing from an older sister’s perspective; a complicated sigh from @zakharartist; a shot of lame skepticism from @heyitsjewelss; seductive therapy talk by @davinchi; and an early Drake style rap by @lucasstadvec (“My pettiness is that I’m trying not to come back with you / You are bad for me and it’s unfair that I’m not bad for you”). Those who decided to rap in the eight bars took on more thematic leeway with vividly detailed verses sex and violence comically juxtaposed against jeans seriousness.
The most noticeable and natural exertion was from @ zai1k_whose voice is the purr of an engine, but sings with a light bristle. “You want to go girl then I won’t hold you / Don’t say you need me honey because I told you / You keep walking around pretending I owe you but I owe you it not you girl. “
Consuming these duets in one big gulp not only underscores the abundance of raw talent that pulsates through TikTok every day, but also the collective power of countless approaches. Singers found unique counter-melodies; Rappers explored fascinating counter-rhythms. A few songs took up the age theme in Jeans Original, and more than a few made reference to the spoon.
As the weeks went by, the collaborations got more absurd – Jean would another duet some of the funny ones, regarding the joke she made accidentally – and even opportunistic. That slight thirst began to professionalize the challenge, in some ways reminiscent of the early energy and promise of “American Idol” when participants were asked to impose limitless standards on their personalities. For a good measure @hashtagcatie – this is Catie Turner, the affable eccentric from the 16th season of “Idol” – also did a Lucy Dacus-esque duet. So did @franciskarelofficialwho became famous on TikTok last year a similar challenge edited by pop star Meghan Trainor.
The finished Sadie Jean-only version of “WYD Now?” Was released for streaming services on December 10; it only exists as a duet within the walls of the app. But perhaps suspecting, another young singer, Stacey Ryan, launched a challenge for a sparkling cabaret-style act End of December.
@ zai1k_ jumped up this challenge too, his verse as seamless as the one he wrote for Jean. And he and Ryan also raised the stakes, announcing that a full version of their streaming service collaboration would be released later this week.
Taking the exuberant energy of spontaneous collaboration to a more formal level is a smart move. But it also opens up the idea of what exactly a song release could be in this creative moment. Jean’s solo version can be heard on streaming services, but all of the above staff are also part of the song’s journey. Why not release an EP with all the different duets, the modern equivalent of the old remix EP or a dancehall riddim album? Nobody gets anywhere alone anymore.