While screaming along to the song “Empty” in a throng of teens at a Juice WRLD show in Dallas last year, something clicked for Jaden Hossler.
“It was a God thing,” says the 19-year-old Chattanooga, Tenn. native. “That’s when I literally said to myself, in the middle of this huge crowd, ‘I have to at least try.’” He decided to commit to music full-time — but first, he had to get the lyrics of the Juice WRLD song (“Empty, I feel so goddamn empty”) tattooed on his right arm.
Hossler was raised on classic rock, but was also a pop fan (the 2011 Justin Bieber documentary Never Say Never made him cry, he admits) and performed in a few high school plays. Later, artists like Juice WRLD and XXXTentacion soundtracked his senior year, when he fell into a deep depression. “I didn’t think I was going anywhere,” he says.
It was around then that he downloaded TikTok to cope and connect with people, posting quick comedic clips set to music. In a matter of months, he had raked in millions of followers (he currently has 7.6 million), and couldn’t help but notice a spike in likes when he would sing bits of songs himself. His following earned him an invite to join the Los Angeles-based TikTok influencer home, Sway House, as well as Talent X, a social media management team.
Now, he’s fusing the worlds of rock and hip-hop under the stage name jxdn (pronounced “Jaden”) — and turning his social-media savvy into his biggest tool for artistic promotion. At the top of this year, Hossler released his first song, the hard-hitting trap-rock fusion “Comatose” (which his former Talent X manager, Gavin Rudolph, uploaded to DistroKid), and soon after signed a recording deal with Travis Barker’s DTA Records, a joint venture with Elektra Music Group.
Not only does “Comatose” sample Barker’s drumming, thanks to his splice pack, but one of its producers, Russell Alia, happens to be a friend of the Blink-182 legend and sent him the finished version. Within the same five minutes, as Barker recalls, his 16-year-old son had also discovered “Comatose” on TikTok and showed a clip to his dad.
“It just hit me,” says Barker. “It’s one of those things that couldn’t be more apparent and doesn’t take much overthinking. I wanted to at least meet the kid and see what he was doing.”
As word got out that Barker was interested, major labels came calling. Hossler recalls meeting with Interscope’s John Janick in particular for their conversation about Juice WRLD (who passed away last December at the age of 20), during which Janick said: “People think Juice was a hip-hop artist, but he was a rock star.” And while the sentiment resonated, Hossler says that once he met with Barker at his vegan restaurant, Crossroads, in L.A., he knew he couldn’t sign with anyone else.
“[Travis] is everything that a new artist like me needs, and everything that they want,” says Hossler, citing Barker’s years-long success in the industry. Plus, as Hossler’s Maverick manager, Larry Rudolph (Gavin’s father), says, “Travis’ commitment to Jaden automatically gives him massive credibility in the space, because everyone knows that Travis Barker is not going to f–k with an artist that he doesn’t believe in 1 million percent.”
Barker says that “Comatose” alone wasn’t what made him confident in Hossler. “More so than the actual song, I was interested in someone his age venturing in that sound,” he says. “Jaden is one of my dream artists — me and MGK [Machine Gun Kelly] always talk about it like, ‘Man, we wish we were this kid when we were 19.’”
He says he and Hossler have discussed TikTok at length, stressing the importance of jxdn’s music speaking for itself. “When I post about Jaden, there are people who are like, ‘I really like the song,’ and they don’t know anything about him,” says Barker. “It’s not like your music pops off because you’re great on this app, you’re great and just happen to be on this app as well.
“It’s a big reason why he’s popular, but it’s one of the reasons that rock bands in general are not popular,” Barker continues, “because they don’t know how to use social media. It’s just a fact. Rappers should do a Social Media 101 for rock bands, because they just don’t get it. I just feel like it’s one of the things that makes an artist in 2020, love it or hate it.”
Especially amidst a pandemic, when the normal avenues of breaking an artist like touring are on hold, being a pro at the internet comes in handy. Hossler has released two songs during the quarantine, “Angels and Demons” in May and “So What” in July, both of which entered the Hot Rock and Alternative Songs chart’s top 10. Meanwhile, “Comatose” was recently sent to rock radio and debuted at No. 23 on the Rock Digital Song Sales chart in March.
“Everyone is wondering what do you do in a time like this to break an artist where you’d usually be touring or be playing late night shows,” says Barker. “For younger artists like Jaden, we just plan on moving at a rapid pace, dropping music constantly when everyone is sitting at home on their phones waiting for something, and everyone’s attention span is so short.”
Hossler is also using the time to take guitar lessons and prepare for an eventual virtual YouTube concert that will give fans an idea of what to expect from a jxdn live show. He says his goal is to emulate the energy and intensity of a Travis Scott set.
Barker says they plan to release at least one or two more singles before hosting a larger-scale livestream, considering jxdn only has three songs out. “Pray,” an extended interlude that spotlights mental health awareness, will arrive this month. “As much as you worry about singles and how big they are and whatever else, it’s also important to have songs with a message — and the next one really screams that,” says Barker.
“This is what social media does for people,” says Hossler. “People think that I’m bound by it, but I’m not at all — it’s been a blessing. I have this cult following and almost all of them have transitioned over and see me as an artist. They don’t refer to me as a TikToker on social media. They refer to me as jxdn.”
A version of this article will appear in the August 15, 2020 issue of Billboard.