Tyla Is Here to Make "Songs That Won't Just Die"

"If I want to be the biggest pop star, then I will say I am going to be the biggest pop star"

Photo courtesy of Sony Music

BY Vernon AyikuPublished Mar 22, 2024

South African singer-songwriter Tyla has always known she would be a star. The 22-year-old has carried herself with an aura of fame even before she took home the inaugural Grammy Award for Best African Music Performance for her viral hit "Water" in 2024.

For her 18th birthday, instead of having a regular party, an audacious Tyla gathered her friends and family and put on a mini concert where she performed original music live for the first time. "Even though it wasn't the best, it was definitely the moment when I realized, 'Yeah, I really love doing this.'" Tyla tells Exclaim via Zoom.

Coming off her Grammy win, an incredibly successful 2023 and the continued rise of Afrobeats in the North American mainstream, there is a lot of buzz surrounding Tyla's self-titled debut album, which creatively combines pop, R&B, Afrobeats and traditional South African amapiano (a subgenre of house music defined by its deep jazz sound and percussive basslines). Tyla is in a unique position to be a South African who becomes one of the biggest pop artists in the world — which she says is the goal.

"I'm a big dreamer. I'm not afraid to say what I want to accomplish. I won't hold back. If I want to be the biggest pop star, then I will say I am going to be the biggest pop star." Tyla says emphatically. "The core of it is creating the biggest music, the biggest-sounding songs. The songs that people will be listening to for years and years. The songs that won't just die."

With that in mind, like the wave "Water" was, Tyla has full confidence that her debut album is strong enough to redefine the way people see African music and sonically shift the genre.  

"I wanted the album to sound like they were all singles." Tyla says. "Even concept-wise, everything was so thought through. My team and the people I worked with spent a lot of time on it. It's definitely not a rushed or an average album, in my eyes."

Speaking with Exclaim before her recent tour cancellation, Tyla was as excited to hit the road this summer as she was for her album release. However, now that her small venue world tour and festival dates have been cancelled due to an undisclosed injury, she must now rely solely on her music being strong enough to accomplish her dreams.

While speaking with Exclaim, Tyla said creating visuals, both in motion picture and on stage, is her favourite part of being an artist, making her unfortunate circumstances on the cuff of what is supposed to be a break-out summer for her extra disappointing.

"I am involved in everything; I love being able to explain the song through motion picture," Tyla explais. "I'm always thinking of ideas and concepts and can envision things. If I were to close my eyes and think of the song, I can imagine what the video should look and feel like."

Despite her setbacks, Tyla has long been poised to be a recognizable player in the industry. While "Water" put her on the map, it is her performance of subsequent single "On and On" on YouTube series A COLORS SHOW that really displays her stardom. During the stripped-down performance against a plain beige background, Tyla delivers a striking level of sass, confidence and playfulness while she tells the story of the song with her body. It is a mesmerizing performance that speaks volumes about her artistry.

"My parents always tell stories of me wanting all the attention and wanting to perform for everyone, dance for everyone and just show people what I can do," she reflects. "I guess I was born with that type of personality. But my confidence also comes from being confident in the music and the things I'm creating."

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