Music News & Reviews

Not your forefathers’ pop star: Hailey Knox at Raleigh’s Ritz

The 17-year-old musician Hailey Knox is a perfect example of the new way pop stars are made: online. Knox opens for Charlie Puth Friday at The Ritz.
The 17-year-old musician Hailey Knox is a perfect example of the new way pop stars are made: online. Knox opens for Charlie Puth Friday at The Ritz. Shore Fire Media

One of the first things you realize when talking to Hailey Knox, the internet singing sensation set to perform Friday at The Ritz in Raleigh, is that the 17-year-old pop musician is as do-it-yourself as any punk band going today.

It’s just that while many young singers are still practicing the ethos of their DIY forefathers – plastering homemade flyers to light poles throughout town for basement shows that will pay nothing – Knox understands what it takes to connect with the tech-obsessed teenagers of today. After all, she is one herself.

And the young performer, opening for fellow viral sensation Charlie Puth, is finding it hard to maintain her online lifestyle while juggling promotional requirements.

“The only pressure that I have really found so far is attempting to find time to continue posting videos online in the middle of all of the traveling I’ve been doing lately,” says Knox, during a car ride to the next stop of a radio tour. “For me, it’s just finding the time to record the covers that my fans have become accustomed to, and finding time during the day to post pictures to Instagram.”

For those a generation or two older than Knox, the mention of social media and streaming apps may make eyes instinctively roll condescendingly, and it’s tempting to picture her as just one more young person who can’t stay off of phone. But Knox is something of a window into what it means to be a musician trying to make it in the pop music world of 2016. While she is busy promoting her debut album – the EP “A Little Awkward” – to mainstream Top 40 radio stations, she’s not about to let her online work ethic slide, a standard that has brought her a staggering 1.9 million online views to date.

Knox represents one astonishing reality of the current state of the music business. While many young musicians still grind it out on the road to gain a large enough fan base to attract record execs, more and more breakout stars are likely to wonder what a major label can offer them that they can’t get on their own.

Knox even gives off a nonchalant vibe when discussing her relationship with her label, S-Curve Records: “They’ve developed so many awesome acts in the past, like the Jonas Brothers and Joss Stone, that I thought it would be pretty cool to be on the same label.”

Knox is a reminder that, for all who scoff at the notion of a “YouTube star,” they do exist. Online stardom means just as much – if not more than – any other form of celebrity, with many social media celebrities turning down opportunities that previous generations would have killed for – all in an effort to preserve their personal brands. Gone are the days of instant success from television, replaced by performers wondering if enough of their Facebook followers even watch TV.

“I considered doing ‘The Voice,’ ” Knox admits, “They actually reached out to me. It’s actually pretty cool, because all three of the major signing competitions – ‘The Voice,’ ‘American Idol’ and ‘America’s Got Talent’ – all reached out to me, I believe all wanting me to appear on their shows as a competitor.

“In a way, I think nowadays you can make a name for yourself as a musician by just creating your own content online, because most kids today are more likely to watch a musician on a streaming site than sit and watch a TV show. I think these days you can build a name for yourself, by yourself, much easier than when young singers were more likely to just rely on being cast onto a TV show for exposure. You can make a name for yourself and just hope that someone will reach out to you, which in my case they did, because I was pretty much found through my videos.”


Who: Charlie Puth with Hailey Knox

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: The Ritz, 2820 Industrial Dr., Raleigh

Cost: $25