"I'm not afraid to show off who I am," starts LILHUDDY. A bold declaration for most fledgeling musicians but for Huddy, there's already a huge audience watching his every move.
Huddy, real name Chase Hudson, is a TikTok celebrity. He's got over 30 million fans on the social media platform and helped found the Hype House in 2019 alongside YouTuber Thomas Petrou (who the 17-year-old Hudson needed to sign the lease). This collaborative content factory was the base for 19 of TikTok's biggest stars. Uniting under one roof, it allowed them all to elevate each other to new heights.
But now Hudson wants something more: he's launched a music career.
"It's crazy," he starts over Zoom. "A lot of people have known me through social media for such a long time, and now they're seeing me as this musician. It's a whole different look." One that he hopes will feel exciting for both his fans and himself.
Huddy's first two tracks, '21st Century Vampire' and 'The Eulogy of You and Me', are energetic slabs of angsty pop-punk. The former is a statement of intent that sees Hudson as a "little punk kid not giving a fuck, that's just showing up to the scene to rock shit", while the Travis Barker-produced 'The Eulogy of You and Me' was inspired "by a lot of my high school relationships." Hudson never spoke to anyone about these troublesome breakups and kept a lot of stuff bottled up, he explains. "Even though it's written about multiple people, this song is me being done with that high school bullshit. It felt like a release of tension."
New song 'America's Sweetheart' is less anarchic. A heartbroken ballad, it sees Hudson sing "I get so depressed when I hear your name" softly over plucked acoustic guitar. "I've given it to people in a headbanging way; now it's something raw, sweet and romantic."
The singles form part of a debut album. It's finished and coming this summer. "It's gonna change everything," Hudson declares. He seems excited about the idea of it surprising people and believes "it's going to move people so much."
"I can tell you that no one song is going to be like the next," he says. Across the record, "there's something for everything." The tracks tell stories of all the relationships he's been, and they're being told out of order. "It's like a guessing game for everyone else," he explains, aware people will be fishing for details about his ex-girlfriend and fellow TikTok star Charli D'Amelio.
"The emotion behind all my music is coming from a very real place," Hudson continues before admitting that he's "a very vulnerable person that's not open with many people. Being able to tell my story through music makes me feel good about myself. I feel like I can be open with everybody, and singing my heart out to this shit makes me feel good inside."
Still, Hudson was scared about releasing music. He really took his time, "perfecting my art before releasing it to the world." Now, he's three songs into a career he hopes will last a lifetime. "The reaction, the love and the support that I've received have been super comforting."
Hudson, like the rest of the world, joined social media on a whim. "It looked like fun," he explains, and within a few weeks, had 1000 followers on musical.ly (which rebranded as TikTok in 2017). He figured if he kept posting, it could lead to something. "I've always wanted to entertain. Growing up, I loved singing." But like many thirteen-year-old boys, he wasn't comfortable with his voice, so he found an audience with lip sync videos instead. He didn't take it seriously at first, worried his parents (both teachers) would stop him from pursuing a career online, but he still quickly amassed a fanbase.
"Why did people connect with me? There's something different about me that you don't really get from most people. There's something different with my creativity. I'm such an emotional being, I have so much to tell, and I feel like people are just willing to listen."
With his blossoming online fame making him the target of schoolyard bullies, and struggling to meet the various demands of sport, school and social media, Hudson couldn't keep up with everything. "It was draining, and it made me depressed," he remembers. So he switched to online school. "It was healthier, but it was also a lot more lonely."
Over the next few years, Hudson became one of TikTok's biggest stars, with The Hype House defining a new generation of influential figures. Away from the camera lens, Hudson was taking meetings with producers, co-writers and vocal coaches. "In the back of my mind, I've always wanted to be a musician. I lost my voice a little bit when I was going through puberty, and I didn't really know how to sing but getting in the studio helped."
LILHUDDY is the same person as @lilhuddy, with Hudson explaining: "I'm the same kid that people know; the only thing that's different is where I'm putting my time. I'm focusing on music. I've always thought musicians are the coolest. I don't look up to actors, comedians or athletes. It's always been music." The drive to become one "has really awoken in me in this last year."
In everything he's done, Hudson's main priority "has always been to be as authentic as possible," he says, but now he's got a platform to actually tell his story and explore his more vulnerable side.
"People like to think that they know me. People have eyeballs on me and are watching me do me, but like, nobody's actually hung out with me. I'm more outgoing on social media, but I'm also this emotional kid that feels all these feelings but doesn't say shit."
If he spends too much time by himself, "I'll get in my head, start overthinking shit and beat myself up." He chooses to live with some close friends, so he doesn't "go fucking insane." Despite the millions of followers, he needs those homies around otherwise, "I'd be in a much more dark place."
"It might be harder for some people to be honest once their life is so public, but I don't give a fuck," continues Chase. "When I'm releasing music, I just want people to take something from it or be inspired by it. I don't care if you want to judge me or hate me because I'm just writing music about my life. What are you going to say, no? You can't; this is the fucking story of my life."
As well as pulling inspiration from acts like Lil Peep and Travis Scott, Hudson's music is part of 2021's pop-punk revival. "When I was younger, pop-punk was always more interesting than anything else," he explains. Growing up, he'd occasionally hear a track from Panic! At The Disco or All American Rejects on the radio, but his mum wasn't going to let him blare 'Gives You Hell' from the car. Hudson had to make do with borrowing his sister's iPod Nano while she was busy with cheer practice. In secret, he fell in love with Blink 182, Avril Lavigne and My Chemical Romance and their emotional lyrics. "Being able to connect to music on a deeper scale is something that I really cherish. It's one of the reasons I am where I am, because that's what makes me LILHUDDY."
Now he wants to help "pass the torch from generation to generation. Maybe kids haven't heard that older stuff, but there are people like me, Machine Gun Kelly and YUNGBLUD doing it. Now we're the people speaking to the youth."
"A lot of people are just going through a shit time right now. I want them to take a little bit of comfort from my music. I want them to relate to it." In the same way that those records by Blink, My Chem and Avril helped Hudson feel understood, he wants his music "to leave a mark."
"I think this album is going to help a lot of people understand me and see that more emotional, vulnerable side, which is one of my goals. I want people to feel connected to me."
Pop-punk, like TikTok, is an aspirational platform. As we saw in the 90s and 00s with Green Day and Sum 41, you don't need anything but hard work and a few power chords to become one of the biggest bands going. Hudson knows he's not there yet, "but I think over time, once more people start to hear what I have to say, they're really going to get it. I don't think I'm the biggest pop-punk artist in the world, right… I definitely think I could get there if I work hard enough, though."
"This music career is going to be a lifelong thing. It's not only the beginning, but it's so far from the end. I want to fucking take it to the ends of the earth. I want to tell the whole world about me."
But would he be content if LILHUDDY never got bigger than basement shows? "I don't think it's ever going to be one of those small things. We're just gonna elevate ourselves every time and then work our way up."
Still, Hudson is yet to play a gig. "How am I gonna feel like a rock star if I can't feel that love and that presence?" he asks. "Right now, I have a couple songs people fuck with, and it sounds like people would kill for a live show. If I'm a rock star to them, I guess I'm a rock star."
Travis Barker is at the centre of this pop-punk revival ("an icon, and no one can tell me different"), collaborating with artists like JXDN, Machine Gun Kelly, phem, Tyler Posey, YUNGBLUD and iann dior as well as fostering a community where these artists are constantly jumping on each other's tracks. Barker also produced Hudson's 'The Eulogy of You and Me', but his debut album will have no special guests.
"I'm talking about collaborations for later down the line, but right now, I really want to establish myself. I want people to know I don't need anyone else to make my album better. I can rock this shit myself. I feel like it's something people are going to respect me so much more for."
It's this self-belief that also explains why LILHUDDY is a solo artist. "There's something super special to me that a band might take away from. Also bands, they break up. I want to depend on myself now. I've had too many friendships and relationships getting fucked up; I've just got to a point where I'm like, fuck it. I need to, for once, depend on myself and not have to rely on anybody else to do shit for me. I want to show people that I can do it myself."
You need "very fucking thick skin" to do what Hudson has done. "So many people want me to fail. The best thing has been people posting that they hate the fact that they like my songs and wish they didn't. It feels like people really are praying for my downfall. They're just waiting for me to have a shit song so they can make fun of it. They don't have it yet."
"There's some pressure," admits Hudson, "to keep coming up with good music. I'm always striving to better what's come before." But he's got no fears about being known as a TikTok musician. "You've just gotta make sure that what you're doing is more special."
"I don't think there's anything wrong with it," Hudson continues. "People just have a weird view of it. They look down on TikTokers because we come from a place that's viewed as corny. Some people fuck with it; some don't. I don't think there's any shortage of people fucking with my music right now." And he's got no time to worry about anyone else.
"I'm just gonna make my music. If someone's got something to say, go ahead and talk your shit." Justin Bieber started as a YouTuber, Shawn Mendes started as a Vine Kid. "I don't think there are any limits to being a musician. Anyone that thinks differently, whatever."
Fashion Director: Nicola Formichetti.
Hair: Johnny Stuntz.
Taken from the May issue of Upset. LILHUDDY's single 'America's Sweetheart' is out now.
Featuring Lilhuddy, The Offspring, All Time Low, While She Sleeps, Evanescence, Manchester Orchestra, Gojira and more.