Numb Little Bug Singer Em Beihold on Scoring a No. 1 Radio Hit and the Double-Edged Sword That Is TikTok
On Aug. 6, Em Beihold’s “Numb Little Bug” hit No. 1 on the U.S. Adult Top 40 chart — nearly a year after the singer-songwriter posted a viral snippet of the song on TikTok, which racked up 7.1 million views and 1.6 million likes. The song, which was inspired by Beihold’s experiences with antidepressants, has accumulated a slew of accolades since its official release in January: according to Luminate Data, it’s tallied 158 million on-demand streams to date, good for a platinum certification; and with an airplay audience of 771 million, reached No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100.
It’s an out-the-gate success for Moon Projects, the label launched backed by former TikTok exec Mary Rahmani, and an imprint of Republic Records. And while industry perception of TikTok has shifted in that time — from added value to marketing must — the public has remained loyal to the platform.
Ahead of Beihold’s performance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” tonight, the Los Angeles native spoke with Variety about the success of “Numb Little Bug,” appearing on the soundtrack for Billy Porter’s directorial debut “Anything’s Possible,” her label experience and the challenges that come with the “TikTok artist” designation.
What was your reaction when you found out that “Numb Little Bug” was a top song on the radio?
I was just like, “There’s no way I can be above Lizzo and Harry Styles.” With a lot of stuff that’s happened with “Numb Little Bug,” it all happened so quickly that I normally don’t heavily react to things, but this one I did. Like this one, I started jumping up. I was just, like freaking out.
Back in May, Variety reported that Mary Rahmani was launching Moon Projects. You’re the first artist that she signed — what about Moon Projects and working with her specifically appealed to you?
I loved Mary immediately off the bat. She also emphasized that she really cares about mental health and [wanted] the artist to have therapy and stuff like that. I thought that was really cool, because we prioritized the same things. She’s full Persian. I’m half Persian, so we kind of bonded over that. I like the idea of being signed to an imprint with a major label backing instead of a major label off the bat, because you tend to be on a timer with like a Republic or a Sony or Universal, so I liked not having that pressure, because I’m still definitely in the developing phase.
Given that Mary came from TikTok, in what way did her understanding of that ecosystem affect how you connected with her?
It was super important, because obviously like TikTok was the way things started working for me. So to have someone with that experience just seemed like the perfect fit and then especially with “Numb Little Bug,” she had a creator campaign going. She advised me on like how many times to post and things to repost. Most A&Rs are just like, “Post a lot,” and that’s all they can say. But she was able to approach it with specificity and whenever I had questions, like I could go straight to her, which was super helpful.
Looking back at that piece with her, she said that she wanted to sign artists and not just someone who has the viral song, which I think is a really important distinction. Is the label of TikTok artist something that you’re trying to transcend? Or is it something that you’re trying to lean into?
Yeah, I don’t want to be a TikTok artist. I feel like there’s some people who make music for content, which is totally fine. And then there are people who were making music before there even was such a thing as TikTok obviously. And I would rather be in the latter category, because I don’t want to associate my music with, like, clickbait lyrics, and titles, but I want to be like known as an artist. For instance, I think Shawn Mendes started on Vine, but you never think of him as a Vine artist.
How does knowing that you’re going to promote music on TikTok affects your songwriting style?
It doesn’t really affect how I write. But I will say it like affects which part I’ll show on TikTok. You know for “Groundhog Day”? “All my friends are moving on getting hitched, then they’re gone,” then “Numb Little Bug”: “I don’t feel a single thing,” or “Do you ever get a little bit tired of life,” like just kind of the first line is important with what you tease. I don’t want to let the platform dictate my artistry.
I know you’ve talked about this a little bit before also, but a lot of artists, for example Halsey, have complained about TikTok and how it’s kind of taken over the music industry. What’s your take on TikTok’s role in it? What’s the mindset that you have that you generally try to approach when you’re having to promote your music constantly?
It’s a double-edged sword, because TikTok is how we’re having this conversation in the first place. I’m very grateful for to talk for the opportunity, but yeah, I mean, I also don’t really want to be posting every day, but that’s just kind of the climate nowadays. You know how with a lot of apps, they have their lifespan for you, and then you kind of want to move on? I feel like during quarantine, I didn’t have anything to do, so like all I had was TikTok and that was fun. But at this point, I don’t really want to be spending my free time making three videos to post a day. There’s definitely a pressure, but it also provides opportunities, so I don’t know. I kind of see it as both ways, but I’ve also met like so many friends through literally just scrolling on my For You page.
I noticed that your song “12345” was used in the trailer for Billy Porter’s directorial debut “Anything’s Possible.” How did that come about and what was your reaction when you learned it was in the trailer?
That was through Republic specifically. Mary told me it was a possibility that our song would be in Billy Porter’s directorial debut. It happened, and I was freaking out. I didn’t know they’d use it so much in the trailer like that was a surprise, because I thought it could be like in the background. But it’s a pretty prominent usage, so I’m stoked on it.
I feel like the word “pop star” comes with a lot of connotations to it.
I kind of negate the term “pop star,” because it doesn’t feel right to me. It doesn’t really weigh on me, because the way that I entered this industry is writing the song you probably last expect to be No. 1 on Hot AC, about being tired of life. So it’s just proof of being yourself works — it’s not a strategy. Yeah, I would say I feel the pressure. I kind of like that I’m being different and that being outsider worked this time.
Are there other pop artists who have inspired you?
I’ve been inspired by female singer-songwriters of the early 2000s, and I feel like I use a lot of that in my writing, but I’ve never tried to conform. I’ve actually never dreamed of being Dua Lipa or Hannah Montana like a lot of girls. I don’t imagine myself in big stadiums with this crazy outfit. I just want to write songs that matter, and I still want to perform, but my inspiration was always Regina Spector, who’s like at the piano singing her soul out.
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