Pheelz: How to Finesse a Music Career – Udochukwu Ikwuagwu
The most crucial scene in the Netflix documentary jeen-yuhs may well be in the first episode of the trilogy.
The camera shifts to an animated Kanye West, accompanied by his amateur media crew, shuffling from room to room in the Roc-A-Fella office, playing the demo of his single ‘All Falls Down’ while lucklessly trying to garner the attention of the label employees to his music.
This scene is all-too-familiar for young artistes in the music industry.
Before the advent of pirate music websites and blogs in the early noughties to the late-2010s, the only way to break into the music industry was to record demos and hand to – most times, press into the hands of – music executives, label owners, A&Rs, radio and TV folks, major label acts, and hope to God that they listen to it. One of the head honchos of Nigeria’s then-most visited music blog had a famous tagline: “email that new music…and pray!”
But times have changed. TikTok happened.
TikTok has become the surest way to hatch a career as an actor, model, comedian, activist, content creator, PR guy, designer, MUA, or brand strategist.
Musicians have leveraged the platform, the most-visited website in the world in 2021, to promote their art, expand their fanbase while building their celebrity brand – blurring the divide between the art and artist – and testing the virality of new music.
TikTok has democratised curation of music, further improving the efficiency of A&R, which reflects in better output of artists, ownership of sounds and listener experience. How well has this worked? In the heat of the global lockdown, Drake released ‘Toosie Slide’, the TikTok-engineered hit, which became the quickest song to reach a billion views on TikTok – achieving that record in three days.
‘Toosie Slide’ debuted at the top of the US music charts. Other established acts like Coldplay and BTS have teased/premiered new music for commercial acceptance and critical reception. Some whose careers have dipped latched on to the new outlet for revival as in the case of Jason Derulo and Tyga.
For younger artistes, the experience is similar. In their 2020 year-in-review, TikTok broke out over 70 artists who received major label deals, including Claire Rosinkranz, Dixie D’Amelio, Powfu, Priscilla Block and Tai Verdes.
In Nigeria, stories of success and impact of TikTok in the music industry are rife. 2021 was the year of Nigerian artistes and their songs blowing up through TikTok. First, Guchi’s ‘Jennifer’ broke through the platform, soundtracking heartbreak and lost love of women, ‘Jennifer’ garnered millions of views from thousands of user-created content soon spreading across regions, becoming a pop culture phenomenon in East and Southern Africa.
We weren’t done when the 2-year-old ditty by CKay ‘Love Nwantiti’ blew the numbers off, accumulating over 15 billion views, charting across the globe, and scoring gold and platinum-selling plaques in Europe.
‘Shedibalabala’, the bum shake invite, turned into an ownership tussle among at least three relatively-unknown artists because of its popularity on TikTok.
The year ended with everyone and their dog unwittingly co-opting confra lingo as they vibed and created tons of content to Goya Menor’s cover of a club culture staple played when the ‘caskets’ are brought in.
Benin-based rapper Goya Menor’s ‘Ameno Amapiano’ turned into a global hit with the artist becoming an overnight celebrity.
Up the ladder, established acts using TikTok as a promotion/PR tool, and engaging TikTok influencers, have found visibility for their music. For instance, to push his social media-engineered record ‘Show Me’, JoeBoy casts TikTok star, Aji Anje, as his love interest in the music video.
Like Aji Anje, fellow slow-mo content creator, Jenni Frank, Twinzloves, Nollywood actress Iyabo Ojo and her daughter, Priscilla Ojo, have become promo influencer and A&R links for the music industry, especially artists seeking to plug their music to mainstream consciousness.
Sometimes, the success of music promotion is driven by artist user-content creation seen in the superfluity of dance challenges and other challenges on TikTok; other times, it’s an ‘accidental’ viral moment from TikTok content creators employing an unknown soundtrack. Whether artist-created content or influencer user-created or sponsored content, nothing about music promotion in the social media-era is organic!
Like his colleagues in the music industry, Pheelz is taking advantage of TikTok to push his art.
Born Phillip Kayode Moses in Ojo, Lagos, Pheelz began his music career as an understudy to famed producer, ID Cabasa, under the Coded Tunes imprint. It was at Coded Tunes that Pheelz honed his talent as a music producer. But, surprisingly, his introduction to music was as an artist. On labelmate Olamide’s debut album, Rapsodi, Pheelz’s vocals were featured on the hook and bridge of “I’m Going In”. Many expected him to evolve into a popstar following his grainy vocals which received critical acclaim, but his metamorphosis came as a record producer.
With first showing on Olamide’s azonto-flavoured “First of All ”, he got his breakthrough. Following up with major production credits on Olamide’s next two albums, “Yahoo Boy No Laptop ” and “Baddest Guy Ever Liveth”, which are considered classic records, he cemented his name in the industry.
Over the years, Pheelz’s catalogue has expanded to cater to artists outside his YBNL camp, including Tiwa Savage, Teni, M.I. Abaga, Kizz Daniel, Reminisce, Vector, KiDi, Mr Eazi, Wande Coal, Cuppy, Pa Salieu, and many others. His production career highlight came when he received the Producer of the Year award at The Headies.
But the music as a recording artist has been sparse and far between. That changed in 2021 when he released his debut project Hear Me Out EP, with the single, ‘Wayward Girl’. ‘Wayward Girl’ could have been Pheelz’s moment as a recording artist, but it wasn’t. ‘Wayward Girl’ was supported by the #waywardgirlchallenge on TikTok featuring influencers such as Aji Anje. It was viewed more than 240,000 times on the platform and received over 600,000 streams on Spotify. Despite being a viral song and pop culture moment on TikTok, it failed to make Pheelz into a popstar.
Regardless, the 5-track Hear Me Out distributed by EMPIRE, was an easy listen, mellow pop record blending elements of pop, amapiano, and dancehall. Building on the viral success of ‘Wayward Girl’, the highlight of his EP, Pheelz returned to TikTok for his debut release of 2022, ‘Finesse’. Before the song dropped, Pheelz engineered its viral moment with meme-worthy lyrics, premiering snippets on TikTok which quickly generated fan interest. Within three weeks, from when he premiered the first snippet on February 4, 2022 to February 25, 2022, ‘Finesse’ had generated 15,600 user-created videos, accumulating thousands of views. Pheelz had finally gathered the moment for the record which was hugely anticipated. ‘Finesse’ featuring Bnxn (formerly known as Buju) was released on March 2, 2022.
Produced by one of Pheelz’s proteges, Miichkel (MikeGoCrazy), ‘Finesse’, like the urban connotation details the confession – or more aptly, guide – for the emotionally unavailable caught among romance, situationships and flings.
‘Finesse’, to some, may be the perfect Lagos Boy Anthem we didn’t realise that we needed. To others, it’s the confluence of a Nigerian version of “Int’l Players Anthem” and a fuck boy song. The one thing that we all agree on is that the mid-tempo pop song is a global hit and goldmine for content creators and social media as a result of its meme-worthy, quotable and Instagrammable lyrics.
Since its official release, ‘Finesse’ has generated over 700 million views from over 470,000 user-created videos on TikTok, spiraling into virality across streaming platforms and charts.
Currently, the song is the most Shazamed song in the world. On streaming platforms, it is the top song on Boomplay, Apple Nigeria and Apple Charts in nineteen other territories, Audiomack and Spotify Nigeria, while sitting in the Top 100: Global Apple Chart.
Last year, Goya Menor’s ‘Ameno Amapiano’ generated almost 10 billion views on TikTok in a short period, what’s to say that Pheelz won’t smash that record as he’s done over 700 million views in the space of two weeks and debuted on the UK Official Singles Charts Top 100 (number 52)?
For Pheelz, it’s been over a decade since his introduction into the music industry as a vocalist. But the wait was worth it as he’s finally finessed his way into the hearts of, not only colleagues looking for a hot beat, or ladies looking for a steamy night, but the entire music industry.
With major label Warner, beating others to sign Pheelz, Mister Singer, the global finesse is complete!