If you spend much time on TikTok and you fit a certain demographic (young-ish, female), you’ll undoubtedly run into a whole mess of videos expressing anxiety about turning 30. There’s a video of two 24-year-olds joke-fretting about their “forehead wrinkles” while drinking at a college bar. There are videos of creators in their early 30s still “dressing like teenagers.” A throwaway insult on the app will be something along the lines of “you look 30.” Fear of aging, especially among women, is nothing new, but the extreme young-ness of TikTok has breathed new life into the phenomenon, as recently documented in Kate Lindsay and Nick Catucci’s Embedded newsletter, which this week was titled “Why is TikTok so scared of 30?”
I bring this up because Los Angeles-based pop upstart and former fencing — yes, fencing — champ Em Beihold arguably got internet-famous last year on the back of a song called “Groundhog Day,” which parses that universal feeling of being left behind as college ends and people scatter into a bunch of different directions. Over bouncy piano, she sings: “All my friends are movin’ on/ Getting hitched and then they’re gone/ And I’m alone, all alone/ I’m in the same room as before/ With Mom and Dad right next door/ And I’m scared I might be here forever.”
Naturally, since “Groundhog Day” dropped last spring, it has soundtracked nearly 3,000 videos on TikTok (and more than 8 million Spotify streams), many of which feature creators lip-sync lamenting similar feelings about what it means to grow up. In a fun, cleverly meta move, Beihold even had her parents hanging out in the background for her video intro-ing the song. When we document our lives to the nth degree on various social-media platforms, pop music will inevitably reflect the anxiety and cognitive dissonance that comes with feeling like you’re somehow out of step with your peers.
Beihold’s latest single is exponentially bigger. “Numb Little Bug” has amassed more than 60,000 videos using the audio, all in under a month. Its lyrics are similarly raw — and I mean no-skin-left raw: “Do you ever get a little bit tired of life?” she asks, “Like you’re not really happy but you don’t wanna die/ Like you’re hanging by a thread but you gotta survive?” It’s got more than 18 million(!) streams and is currently at #1 on the app’s Pop Rising playlist. Tons of pop singers have made a living on juxtaposing vulnerable lyrics with upbeat melodies, but Beihold definitely takes it to a new level, like if Fiona Apple decided to play more like Sara Bareilles.
“Last year, all of my dreams were coming true,” Beihold said earlier this year about the transition from “Groundhog Day” to “Numb Little Bug.” “Everything I wanted was happening, but somehow I didn’t feel anything. I was struggling with some heavy anxiety and I was on antidepressants. Songs weren’t really coming to me the way they used to. I felt numb. The antidepressants sucked the soul and energy out of me a little bit. I wrote ‘Numb Little Bug’ about the feeling.”
Beihold, now 23, has been at this since about 2016 when, after her very first concert, director Michelle Schumacher asked her to contribute a song to the J.K. Simmons vehicle I’m Not Here, which birthed the song “Not Who We Were,” which appeared in the film as well as her 2017 debut EP, Infrared.
More recently, Beihold, who cites piano-pop game-changer Regina Spektor as a major influence, is the first artist to sign with Moon Projects — a joint venture between former TikTok music chief Mary Rahmani and Republic Records, the Universal imprint whose roster includes many of the biggest stars in music today including Taylor Swift, Drake, the Weeknd, Ariana Grande, and Post Malone. It feels significant that Beihold — one of the many young stars to pop off on the clock app in the last two years — should be the first to sign to a TikTok-specific label that, according to Variety, specializes in “creator curation and content strategy for short-form, vertical platforms.”
Though she is nowhere near 30, Beihold definitely isn’t a stranger to social anxiety. And the thing about anxiety is that it’s not unique to one age group. You can feel just as strung out — or numb, as the case may be — by the pressure level up in the video game of life at 23 as you would at 33, 43, and beyond. Through truth-telling piano bops, Beihold has earned a viral following on the app where people get more likes and comments for telling an authentic, perhaps tearful “storytime” than for taking followers on a contrived-seeming “day in my life” video.
Of her proclivity towards honesty, Beihold recently said: “A lot of my life, I have been different and excluded from things. So, when I write, I try to make this atmosphere of inclusion. I’m the kind of person, if I’m at a party where everyone is having fun, but there’s someone in the corner of the room and they’re not looking happy, that’s all I’ll think about. I’ll go to them and try to bring them in. That’s the same vibe with my music. I’ve also been way too blunt of a person. So, nothing is really sugar-coated in my songs. It’s always exactly how I feel. I’m just here to be really honest and for people to feel like they have a home with my music.”
The fear of not measuring up, not fitting in, or, well, turning 30 might seem silly in hindsight (if I could go back and tell my 23-year-old self to freaking relax, I 100% would), but that’s only because those anxieties have probably just been replaced with new ones. And hearing a talented, relatable singer-songwriter find new ways to express the universal never gets old.