Dixie D’Amelio had an unconventional senior year of high school: a couple months before attending a socially-distant outdoor graduation, the 19-year-old TikTok star was in the studio recording her sadcore pop debut single, “Be Happy.” The Connecticut native, who grew up loving One Direction and Katy Perry, says she went from “living a normal life” and having a “really chill” final year, taking online classes due to the coronavirus, to suddenly launching her music career and collaborating with everyone from Wiz Khalifa to Liam Payne. “Be Happy,” which arrived in June and would soon land her on Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart a month later, was the first step in that transition.
D’Amelio first downloaded TikTok in October 2019, following her younger sister Charli’s lead. By participating in viral dance challenges, the sisters quickly accumulated millions of followers (Charli now has 99.3 million, while Dixie has 43.8 million) and scored a deal with United Talent Agency (UTA) in early 2020.
Around the same time, the D’Amelios took a meeting with Grammy-nominated songwriter-producer and founder of management agency Manncom Creative Partners, Billy Mann, at his Connecticut home. D’Amelio’s father Marc — who, along with his wife Heidi, are also repped by UTA — had sent the manager a clip of a younger Dixie singing at a school performance, and explained they wanted to take her music to the next level. “I always loved singing, but I gave it up once I got to high school,” says D’Amelio, adding that she chose to focus on sports instead. “And then, once this whole TikTok thing started, I was like, ‘Why not try it again?’”
On April 1, Mann texted D’Amelio a demo of a song he had co-written with Christian Medice, Joseph Davis Kirkland, and Samantha DeRosa that went on to become “Be Happy.” She says she gravitated towards the track immediately for its matter-of-fact, reassuring message that it’s okay to be sad, especially now, and during quarantine “realized how much it related to everyone.” Dixie recorded her vocals at Mann’s home studio at the end of the month, and released the track through the family’s own DAMFAM Records in June. The following week, when Dixie uploaded the accompanying visual that co-stars her dog Cali on her YouTube channel, she started getting calls from record labels.
“Be Happy” earned 3.1 million U.S. streams in the chart week ending July 2, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. The single also helped D’Amelio hit No. 41 on the Emerging Artists charts on July 11. “The combination of her vibrant, excited and engaged audience in the millions, and the song’s authentic message that’s reflective of the times, made for a really good alchemy to success,” says Mann, who signed on as D’Amelio’s music manager in January. He adds that TikTok is a “particularly fertile place for talent,” and credits his 13-year-old daughter for keeping him in touch with youth culture: “Any executive who has kids and has reached this altitude in their career would be lying if they didn’t say that their kids were in many respects, their greatest A&R source.”
D’Amelio celebrated her 19th birthday by announcing on Instagram she had signed to LA Reid’s Hitco Entertainment in early August, becoming label mates with SAINt JHN and Jennifer Lopez. Since signing, D’Amelio enlisted Blackbear and Lil Mosey for the “Be Happy” remix in September, and soon after released another remix featuring DJ Dillon Francis. D’Amelio also landed her dream collaboration with former One Direction member Liam Payne on the holiday-inspired “Naughty List.”
Instead of trying to distance herself from her TikTok beginnings to legitimize her music career, D’Amelio has used the app as a springboard for growth into other sectors. She’s partnered with Taco Bell, started a makeup line, launched The Dixie D’Amelio Show on YouTube (where she has 6.63 million followers) and continued her podcast CHARLI AND DIXIE: Two Chix, with her sister. D’Amelio says that she’s heavily involved in every business decision. Mann adds, “I’ve been paying close attention to Dixie’s opinions because she’s more connected than I could ever be. And it’s okay, because no executive is going to know better than a 19-year-old who’s living it in and out everyday.”