By Quinn Moreland, a Third Bridge Creative contributor
Faye Webster knows how to break your heart, and she will do so while landing a punchline. This combination of devastation and self-deprecation “just hits,” as one TikTok user said in a video poking fun at their ability to go from “bumpin' hard rap” to internally weeping over the singer-songwriter’s lowkey tearjerker “I Know You.”
FAYE WEBSTER JUST HITS 😮💨♬ I Know You - Faye Webster
Though Webster’s music is driven by country pedal-steel and lonesome vocals, she would likely find the pairing fitting. Webster, an Atlanta native, released an album on the rap label Awful Records and has photographed Migos member Offset, Killer Mike, and Lil Yachty, an old friend from middle school. On top of these cool credentials, Webster’s most recent album, 2021’s I Know I’m Funny Haha, was critically acclaimed and one song, “Better Distractions,” even appeared on Barack Obama’s annual summer playlist. But, Webster’s biggest career success has happened spontaneously on TikTok, an app the 26-year-old isn’t even on.
A voice for the disheartened
Webster’s latest song to have a moment of TikTok virality is “I Know You,” which deftly captures the complications of a waning romance. “I wrote this when I finally started realizing that the only relationship I had ever been in was starting to fade,” Webster once said of the song, which appeared on her 2017 self-titled record. “I guess it was my way of getting closure for myself?”
Over the next six years, “I Know You” lay dormant as a deep cut in Webster’s catalog. By May, TikTok’s algorithm worked its magic, and “I Know You” was being used on everything from cooking videos to emo slideshows. A trend emerged in which users lip-synced to the self-effacing line: “I’ll quiet down if it’s what you want/I understand I’m not the only one/For you.” These clips are sometimes accompanied by melodramatic captions like “when you constantly overthink your place in everyone’s life” or “you cant lose something that never belonged to you.” Another frequently repeated sentiment, “realizing how annoying I can be when I get comfortable,” suggests that TikTok users recognize and relate to a feeling of inadequacy within Webster’s song.
faye getting the recognition she deserves 🙏🙏♬ I Know You - Faye Webster
Perhaps thanks to "I Know You’s" established presence on TikTok, the song became the soundtrack of two trends in early July. The first, albeit more minor, trend involved users sharing three photos, two from their childhood and one contemporary portrait, the implication being that they have transformed—and improved—in appearance. Concurrently, “I Know You” became attached to a trend in which a filter “calculates” a user’s “worth” and produces a “receipt.” Many popular users engaged with the trend, including High School Musical: The Musical: The Series actress Sofia Wylie (10.4 million followers), Christian social media star Brooke Monk (30.5 million followers), and Sports Illustrated model Olivia Ponton (7.8 million followers).
Those videos created a surge for the six-year-old song: It became the top TikTok track in the United States during the week of July 10, and currently has been used in 557.4k TikToks. From May 14 to August 14, the song dramatically grew from 2.3 million Spotify streams to 28.5 million streams, a 1,129% increase. During the same period of time, YouTube views of the song skyrocketed from 136.8k to 4.1 million, a nearly 3000% growth. Though Webster’s upcoming tour sold out before “I Know You” had reached peak traction on TikTok, the song’s success has had a clear impact elsewhere. According to Jon Coombs, the VP of A&R at Secretly Group, overall consumption of her catalog has increased by 38% since the song caught on. He told Chartmetric that Webster’s recently released track, “But Not Kiss,” has received a significant uptick in streams, likely as a result.
“You make me wanna cry in a good way”
Even if the success of “I Know You” surprised Webster and her team, it wasn’t their first TikTok rodeo. In early 2022, Webster’s track “In A Good Way” became popular seemingly after appearing in an animation made by a modestly popular TikTok user. First released as a single in April 2020, the song was later included on I Know I’m Funny Haha and claimed 4.6 million Spotify streams on June 25, 2021, the day of the record’s release. One year later, amidst its peak TikTok popularity, its streams had doubled and remained on a steady rise. Currently, the song has been played 37 million times on Spotify, appeared in 42.5k TikToks, and watched 1 million times on its official YouTube video.
A similar pattern also happened recently with Webster’s 2019 track “Right Side of My Neck.” Here, users were drawn to the line, “You said you can’t change your haircut, but it looks good anyway”—which inevitably appeared in clips of users showing off eccentric hairdos. Today, the song appears in 49.2k TikTok videos and has doubled in streams over the past year, moving from 25.9 million Spotify streams last October to 60.1 million.
Before “I Know You,” Webster’s biggest viral moment arrived in May 2022 when a sped-up version of “Kingston,” a track off Webster’s 2019 breakthrough Atlanta Millionaires Club, began soundtracking everything from get-ready-with-me videos to clips of cuddling animals to, bizarrely, several viral videos of people popping blood vessels in their eyes. Soon enough, creators had reclaimed the original song, and several trends evolved out of the winking line “He said ‘baby,' That’s what he called me, ‘I love you.’”
The effect of Webster’s music is epitomized by a TikTok trend around “Kingston,” in which users lay face down on their beds and pound their fists in frustration, as if overwhelmed by the song’s romantic yearning. A Billboard piece from July 2022 noted that the song's viral success led to a 43% boost in streams of her complete catalog across 7 weeks, totaling 2.3 million. Today, the song appears in 134.4k TikTok posts and has been streamed 123.3 million times on Spotify. Like Boygenius, Mitski, and Lizzy McAlpine, lyric-heavy songwriters whose "sad girl" folk music has found success on the app, Webster’s TikTok popularity underlines the notion that while users continue to gobble up silly videos and Eurodance parodies, there is a consistent openness to discovering music that resounds on an emotional level.
Unlike artists who capitalize on sped-up reworks by releasing their own official versions, Webster and her team decided not to pursue that avenue. “Faye is deeply in tune with what feels natural for her fans,” explained Coombs. “We always follow our artist’s leads when it comes to things like this and, ultimately, Faye didn’t feel it was the right look.” The “right look,” as it were, is one that trusts that Webster’s music will organically find its audience, whether in real-time or through digital crate-digging years after an album’s initial release. Delayed gratification is of a piece with Webster’s music, which moves with the syrupy lethargy of the dog days of summer. Unconcerned with pandering to a viral moment, Webster’s music reveals its wonder at its own pace.
Graphics by Sarah Kloboves and cover image by Crasianne Tirado; data as of Oct. 13, 2023.