The singer-songwriter discusses his journey from getting discovered on social media at 13 to scoring his first hit single on the Pop Shop Podcast.
“It’s the most insane thing ever to happen to me in my life,” AJ Mitchell says of notching his first Billboard chart hit with the melancholy midtempo single “All My Friends.” The track debuted on the Pop Songs airplay chart in April and has steadily made weekly gains in plays. “It’s so surreal,” he tells the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast (listen to the full interview, below). “It’s honestly the craziest thing.”
The track is from the 18-year-old’s forthcoming full-length debut album on Epic Records, which he says is “basically done” and due out “very, very soon.” In 2018, Mitchell dropped his six-song introductory EP Hopeful. In total, he’s earned 84.5 million on-demand streams for his catalog of songs in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music.
Mitchell says he’s “really happy” that he’s found success with “All My Friends,” as it’s “more mature” than the last batch of songs he released on the Hopeful EP. Of the upcoming album, Mitchell says “most of this music on this album are songs I wrote, like 90 percent of the songs… I’m very, very excited for this project, because it’s something I’ve been working on for a whole year. And now it’s not one song I’m putting out, it’s a whole album — a whole project — that I’ve spent so much time on. I’m so pumped to release it. It’s so personal.”
Mitchell’s rise to fame began when he was only 13, when the then-Illinois-based artist began posting videos of himself singing covers and original songs to Instagram. He started sharing videos “just to see what my friends would think,” and their positive feedback encouraged him to continue posting more clips. Eventually, he got a shout-out from a popular Instagram account that sent a bunch of new followers his way. That increase in followers led to an invite from social media superstar Jake Paul to come to Los Angeles and become part of his posse of social media influencers known as Team 10. So, at 14, Mitchell moved to LA to join Paul’s squad, appearing in numerous comedic videos over the span of a “couple months.”
However, “after a while,” he says, “it just became more… comedy social media stuff… less of the music.” Mitchell says that since he “didn’t want people to take my music as a joke” nor only be known as a “social media personality,” he felt the “need to transition out” of Team 10.
That said, the Team 10 experience led to him meeting his manager, and soon they found a lot of labels pursuing Mitchell, wanting to sign him. Ultimately, “Epic just felt right. Everyone at Epic… there was just a connection. It felt like family. It didn’t feel like business, or like a record label. It felt comfortable, and I think that’s probably why I went with Epic.”
Did Mitchell ever think that at 13, when he was starting to post videos, that when he’d be turning 18, he’d be signed to a major label with a hit single?
“Not at all. I thought I was going to be a senior in high school, not knowing what I was going to do with my life,” he says, laughing. “I was like, I don’t know, [thinking] maybe I’m gonna work in construction. That was my goal. But now I get to do what I love every single day, and it’s the best thing.”
In addition to the interview with Mitchell (which was recorded in late April), the Pop Shoppers discuss chart news about Logic scoring his third No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart, and how Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber’s “I Don’t Care” bowed at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Plus, Keith and Katie chat about Rihanna working on a reggae album, DJ Khaled’s new project (and its many music videos), and the premiere of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” video, featuring Billy Ray Cyrus and a cast of guest stars.
The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard's weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard's senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and deputy editor, digital Katie Atkinson every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)