Editorial Intern, PEOPLE
On an app brimming with established stars pushing new music and small musicians trying to make it big, Hemlocke Springs stood out almost immediately — no dance, trend or gimmicks required.
Isimeme Udu — who also goes by Naomi — is the 24-year-old medical student behind the viral TikTok hit “girlfriend.” The pop newcomer created her musical alias with the help of a random name generator, following in the footsteps of artists like Childish Gambino and Post Malone. (The addition of the “e” in “Hemlocke” was Lorde-inspired.)
The day before Halloween, Udu teased the bridge of her single “girlfriend” while dressed as Dionne from Clueless. She was about to leave for a party when she thought to herself, “You know what? You’re just going to do a quick running man dance and then call it a day.”
The following afternoon, the video hit a million views.
After sharing the catchy bridge, which has now been used in over 60,000 TikToks, the North Carolina native quickly amassed a loyal following and landed on the radar of musicians like Khalid before the track even hit Spotify, where it has garnered over nine million streams since its Nov. 2 release.
The undeniable earworm quickly became an "awkward Black girl anthem," a title Udu says she saw on TikTok and immediately embraced: "I've gotten a lot of support, particularly from a lot of Black women saying, 'This is tapping into my awkward high school phase,' or saying, 'Where were you during high school?'"
"To be in such a space and to be regarded in such a way, it's just amazing," Udu tells PEOPLE. "I'm so honored."
Months before “girlfriend” was even written, Udu laid the foundation for her TikTok fame with her first single “gimme all ur luv.” The Grimes-esque tune grabbed the attention of celebrities like Bella Hadid, who used it in a mini vlog, and Grimes herself, who called it “good.” The dreamy track kickstarted Udu’s popularity — but it almost didn’t make it out of the vault.
"On my SoundCloud, I would go and I would post a song and I would immediately remove it literally one minute later," the singer confesses. "That was just a thing that I did."
Udu still isn't sure why she formed this habit — her exact words are "I have no clue" — but, ultimately, she had a change of heart. About six months ago, she decided to leave some of her songs up under the impression that "nobody is going to listen or see it anyway," and one of them was "gimme all ur luv."
The singer says she's "still confused" about why "girlfriend" blew up and, to echo the song, it wasn't really in her plans. Though the budding pop star has been making music secretly for seven years now — a statistic that shocked her to hear out loud — she's been working toward a career in medicine for much longer.
As her song captivated TikTok, all that stood between Udu and the ability to become Hemlocke Springs full-time was two weeks of school. Motivated by her newfound notoriety, the Dartmouth master's student powered through her "hellish" final semester, and says she's ready to exchange her microscope for a microphone — at least for now.
"Multitasking is just not my thing," she says with a laugh.
The rising star says that her family, particularly her mom and brother, are supportive of her career change, but her father still doesn't know about her "music side": "It's always just been like, 'I'm gonna go and I'm going to be a doctor. That's been the path and that's still what he thinks."
Now signed to Good Luck Have Fun Records, Udu says that she's working on an album and "would love to perform live" in the near future — something she's previously only done in high school productions and talent shows.
"I've been practicing in my room with a hairbrush," the TikTok star admits. "I don't know if I should have said that out loud, but I have."
"I look forward to going and interacting with people," she adds.
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The singer, who has already been likened to iconic performers like MARINA and Kate Bush, says that her favorite comments are those that compare her Kristen Schaal. Udu has publicly embraced her uncanny vocal resemblance to the actress, who lends her voice to beloved characters like Bob’s Burgers‘ Louise Belcher and Gravity Falls‘ Mabel Pines.
Like the eccentric characters she's compared to, Udu says that she and her music have been placed under the "quirky girl" umbrella, a classification she welcomes — but doesn't necessarily see.
"I consider myself pretty bland," she says with a laugh. "I'm a pretty normal person but I'm like, 'Whatever you can do to make me more interesting, totally.'"
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Editorial Intern, PEOPLE