When Queen Naija created a new YouTube channel in August 2016, she had no idea that she was beginning a journey that would eventually put her on a billboard in the middle of Times Square. Yet this month that’s exactly where she’ll end up, earning the honor as the latest Artist on the Rise, the most recent selection in a series that showcases the next generation of stars emerging through platform. “When I see it, that will be surreal,” Queen says of the Artist on the Rise billboard. “I’ll be on a big screen with people walking past and looking at me. I don't know what other way to say but that I’m really overjoyed and happy.”
The song that in part brought her here is “Medicine,” a steamy R&B jam inspired by Queen’s breakup with her ex-husband—and former YouTube collaborator—Chris. Its official music video has tallied more than 52 million views and reached as high as #7 on the YouTube U.S. Songs Chart.
But the deeper story might be told in the over 142,000 comments, where Queen’s #RoyaltySquad tells the singer how proud they feel when they hear her on the radio, speaking as if they’ve known her since back when such success seemed impossible. That’s because, in a way, they have. Many of those fans have been following Queen since 2016 when she started uploading her first videos to Queen and Chris.
"We had a son, and we were really broke," Queen remembers. "We found out you could make money on YouTube." A steady stream of pranks, challenges, song covers and vlogs followed -- and the videos quickly found an audience. Anchored in large part by Queen’s raw but sincere renditions of tracks like Beyoncé - “If I Were A Boy,” PnB Rock - “Selfish” and Andra Day - “I'll Rise Up,” the pair’s channel earned over 1.6 million subs and 215 million views within a year of its launch.
Queen created her own channel in April 2017, where she offered fans an unusually intimate glimpse into both the positive and challenging moments in her life. It was in these uploads that she found herself forming a stronger bond with her growing audience. “If you look at my channel, you can see everything I went through and how I went through it. This is why my fans really support me,” she explains. “And once I did open up, I just kept going with it because I developed a fan base that wanted to know what was going on -- I felt like I had to keep them updated.”
It’s this level of sincerity and transparency that she brings to her music, with “Medicine” and her latest single “Karma” -- which recently reached #25 on the YouTube U.S. Songs Chart -- capturing the same difficult moments shared with her nearly 3 million subscribers. "I'm going through this tough situation in my marriage, and everyone is asking me all these questions" Queen recently told Genius of her breakout hit. "I just kind of put all my pain into a song."
Queen’s long-awaited EP was officially released on Friday, along with an updated clip for Karma. And judging by her success thus far, the rest of 2018 is shaping up to be a massive one for the 22-year-old singer. Thankfully, she is already prepared for the spotlight.
“My channel has helped prepare me personality-wise, not being afraid to talk in front of the camera and just being comfortable bringing out my personality in front of a bunch of people,” she explains. “I was almost practicing for this.”