Tyla Reflects On Her Journey To Her Self-Titled Debut Album

Fresh off her Grammy win, the 22-year-old chats about elevating her sound with her new release.

So many things can change within a year. The last time GU spoke with Tyla, her song “Been Thinking” took over the Twittersphere and garnered an audience that she’d been prepping for her entire life. Still, even with laying the groundwork early, nothing could have prepared her when she heard her name called at the 2024 Grammys for Best African Music Performance. “I can only explain this [moment] with sounds; words cannot explain the feeling,” she tells GU. “It’s such a blessing that I’m able to be the artist to not only be nominated amongst all the other African artists but to win it for the first time. It’s a proud moment because I know it will be in history forever.”

Last year, Tyla’s hit single “Water” became an unequivocal phenomenon and catapulted her to the forefront of pop culture. Generating hundreds of millions of streams, “Water” peaked at seven on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbed to No.1 on the Billboard U.S. Afrobeats Songs Chart. The Johannesburg native has probably experienced one of the quickest trajectories in the digital age. Her music not only pushes boundaries, but she’s also a part of the class bridging the music gap regarding international artists. 

With her personality, clear, crisp vocals, and room-filling pride for her South African roots, she offers the world greater exposure to amapiano. “It’s amazing that people love the sound and the vision that we’ve been working towards,” she says. “It’s an amazing feeling that I’m able to celebrate with the people I’ve worked with before ‘Water,’ it’s like we’re all reaping these rewards together.” The rewards aren’t ending either. Her debut self-titled album is now available for the world to gain better insight into the 22-year-old. “I’ve been working on this project for over two years,” she says. “The album direction was me wanting to introduce myself to everybody, and it only made sense for it to be called Tyla and for people to realize I’m here, yes it’s self-titled, but I think it’s the perfect album to be my self-titled one.”

Photo Credit Jeremy Soma

Read ‘Tyla Shares The Story Behind Her Viral Hit ‘Been Thinking’

As we dive into the album, we kick it off with the first official song, “Safer,” which depicts a relationship she’s reflecting on and deciphering all the emotions that come with exploring new love. We then go on a back-to-back run of hits with “Water” and “Truth or Dare,” reminding listeners that as you sink your ears into each drum, note and melody, you can hear the intentionality behind the music. “I’ve learned so much over the years, and my sound has developed,” she says. The songstress had to listen to her intuition amid the pressure to create a song as popular as “Water.” She believed her album was finished before the Grammy-winning song popped off, but then realized she wanted to continue elevating her sound. “Just going back in and refining it even more was such a fun experience,” she tells GU. 

She revamps her sound by challenging herself through songwriting, production and collaborations. One in particular comes from one of her favorite artists, Tems, featured on “No.1.” The song serves as the perfect backdrop for anyone who needs reassurance to put themselves first instead of getting lost in a relationship. The tune came organically, as Tyla revealed Tems sent her the song, and both knew this was the song that would be the perfect fit. Still, as they raced against the clock to perfect the song, it came right in the last few days before she had to submit the album. “We were like, ‘We have to make the song work,” she says. “I’m just so happy with the way it turned out. Her voice is just so strong and emotional. I feel like she was the touch I wanted on the album.”

Collaborations like this continue to show the importance of having those Black girl link-ups in pop culture, which shows the next generation what it means to have community no matter what industry you’re in. She continues to make calculated choices throughout songs like “Breathe Me,” “Jump,” and “ART.” At the moment of our conversation, the Zillennial could not stop raving about “ART,” which showcased her lyrical strengths. “I feel like that song is something I hold [onto] dearly because I once felt that for someone,” she says. “I just feel like the writing in that song was on a different level. I know people will be able to relate to that feeling beyond just the vibe.”

During the recording process, Tyla learned that the most valuable lesson she could carry throughout her career is to relinquish the overbearing control that takes over her and let the music speak for itself. “I’ve learned over time to let go and trust,’ she says. “It came with a lot of failure, but God brought me out of it many times, and he’s rewarded me with even bigger things.”

Her ability to seamlessly fuse elements of Afro-pop, R&B, and traditional South African rhythms resonates with a diverse audience locally and internationally. Through her innovative approach to music production and storytelling, Tyla has captured the attention of listeners craving fresh perspectives within the music scene. “I’m excited that I’m introducing my sound, and I can see the potential in the album’s sound and where it could take African music,” she says. 

Her digital presence, including vibrant social media engagement and strategic use of streaming platforms, has further amplified her impact, allowing her music to reach audiences far beyond geographical boundaries. Tyla’s impact in the digital age is not merely defined by her individual success but by her role as a catalyst for positive change and evolution within the industry. “I’m happy that there are finally eyes on me,” she says. “Now more people can hear what I have to say, and I’m just creating music that I feel is the sound of Tyla.”

Read ‘How Tyla’s Industry Rise Is Reminiscent Of An Original Popstar’

About the Author: Kenyatta Victoria is the lead writer for Essence GU, working on all things pop culture, politics, entertainment and business. Throughout her time at GU, she’s garnered devoted readers and specializes in the Zillennial point of view.

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