Atlanta’s rising country star Lily Rose found love among TikTok followers in the fall of 2020 with her song “Villain,” which then topped the iTunes sales chart late that year. Within two months, she signed a major record label deal with Big Loud and Republic.

In a sense, she is hardly an overnight sensation, plugging away playing shows on the road the past decade. But TikTok was a major gamechanger.

Photo Credit: JOHN SHEARER via AJC.com

“I amassed 850,000 followers in seven months,” said Rose, who graduated from Atlanta’s St. Pius X Catholic School in 2011 and is now a Nashville resident. “It changed my life tremendously. Things went from 0 to 500.”

Billboard magazine named her country rookie of the month last May. And she was recently nominated for new female artist of the year by the Academy of Country Music. (Lainey Wilson won.)

“Villain,” which she co-wrote with Kyle Clark and Mackenzie Carpenter, is a pensive midtempo ballad where she offers to fall on the sword and be the “bad guy” in a just-ended relationship so her ex can look better, even if the truth is different.

She was originally thinking they could pitch “Villain” to an artist like Keith Urban. But in the end, she chose just to record it herself.

Her fiancée Daira Eamon convinced her to add the song to TikTok. “She was like, ‘This is the best song you have. It’s ahead of its time socially. It’s very country-pop-meets-Marvel-superhero theme. Trust me. Post it!’ I’m very glad I did!”

At the same time, the song isn’t quite consistent with other work she has done previously. “It stands alone in the genre itself,” she said. “It stands pretty alone in my catalog. It just has a very different sonic feel.”

In many ways, she said it has helped shape her future songs and her career path.

Rose loves to perform so she’s thrilled she was able to get back on the road last year opening for Brantley Gilbert, coming to Ameris Amphitheatre. This past Thursday, she opened for Chris Lane at Buckhead Theatre, which fits 1,800.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to headline a place like this ourselves,” she said.

She is now touring every weekend. “I’m very busy and I love what I do,” she said. “I have 45-minute-long meet-and-greets and merch lines.”

She was born and raised in Dunwoody. Her father is Neil “Hondo” Williamson, director of marketing and research at Cox Media Group and a long-time radio announcer for the Georgia Bulldogs Radio Network. She started playing drums at age nine, then added guitar and piano to the mix.

Rose spent five years going to school at the Oconee campus of the University of North Georgia. “I wasn’t much of a student,” she said. “I couldn’t get into UGA. But of course I’m a huge Bulldogs fan and I worked on campus so I felt like I was a student there.”

While in Athens, Rose began playing open mics with no genre in mind. “I would sing everything from Maroon 5 to Lady A to Bruce Springsteen to Maren Morris,” she said. She gave a shout out to Boar’s Head Lounge for giving her plenty of stage time. She could eventually draw 300 to the 40 Watt Club.

She decided to move to Nashville in 2017 and focus on country music.

Having been openly gay the past decade, she feels Nashville is now more open to the LGBTQ community than ever before. “The city is very blue,” she said. “I dealt with way more pushback when I was in Athens than here. People have been great to me. I’m really glad I’m on this cusp of it all.”

Rose said she has been called a trailblazer but she credits predecessors like Shane McAnally and Chely Wright for paving the way. “They walked so I can run,” she said, “so I can help kids down the line with good music.”

Her broad goal? “Be a movement, not just a moment.”

This story comes from our partners at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more on the news and events in metro-Atlanta and Georgia, visit AJC.com.

Rodney Ho | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.