Tyla is on a mission to become South Africa’s biggest popstar
By putting a pop spin on the deep house sounds of amapiano, 19-year-old Tyla is taking the genre international with her debut single ‘Getting Late’.
by Frankie Dunn
04 March 2021, 11:22am
Image courtesy of Tyla
One of Tyla’s earliest memories is of waking up to the sound of music blasting through her family home in Johannesburg, South Africa. The weekend routine saw her and her siblings drag themselves out of bed and join their mother in the lounge, where they’d spend the day dancing together as she cleaned the house. Now aged 19, the singer-songwriter credits the fact she grew up in such a racially and culturally diverse country for having shaped her deep appreciation of music and dance. “I’ve just become someone who has a whole different level of pride for my home and where I come from,” she tells us.
It was just a few years ago that Tyla began posting videos of herself performing both covers and original songs on Instagram. After sending them to “literally everyone in the industry” but never making it out of their message requests, she eventually received an email from her now-manager who she was convinced was trying to scam her, so promptly ignored. Luckily, he persisted, things worked out and Tyla was soon having regular recording sessions with her go-to collaborator Kooldrink, who would go on to produce her impossibly catchy breakout single, “Getting Late”.
While the song (her debut) came out pre-pandemic, the epic accompanying video dropped just a month ago and is already approaching a million views on YouTube. And for good reason. “Getting Late” isn’t quite like anything you’ll have heard before. “I describe it as fusion music,” Tyla explains. “I grew up with a love for all types of sounds and never wanted to be tied down to one. On ‘Getting Late’, Kooldrink and I unintentionally found a balance between my vocal style, which is more pop/R&B, and the sounds of the South African genre amapiano.” By taking elements of the latter — a blend of deep house, jazz and kwaito centred around piano melodies and hard, isolated basslines — and putting a pop spin on it, the duo have created a beautiful musical monster. “We’ve seen people calling it ‘popiano’!” Tyla adds.
In the cinematic music video for “Getting Late” (“It’s a modern African fairytale”) we join Tyla and her girl gang up in her palace, getting ready for a marching band-led cheerleading performance like no other. Kooldrink plays the love interest in this classic high school movie, stealing Tyla an iced-out Rolex and falling for her hard. Naturally, everybody ends up dancing around the stadium. “South Africans LOVE to party and dance, so it’s a huge part of our culture,” Tyla says of the song’s amapiano beat, “just like the dance moves that come with it, such as the pouncing cat.” Of course, these are moves which you’ll find tutorials for on Tyla’s TikTok, where she currently has over 700k followers eating up her every post.
With people already calling her “South Africa’s Ariana Grande”, Tyla seems to be well on her way to reaching her ambitious end goal to be “the biggest popstar to come out of South Africa… and just in general. I wanna work every day towards breaking that door down for future African artists who have the same dream,” she adds. “I want to become the new reference and the start of something new.”
1. Tyla writes her own music and loves to get involved in the creative process behind her visuals
“I am a person full of ideas and things I'd like to do. I am highly involved but also have a team that is too, so I’m always open to new suggestions and working with my bestie/stylist and the director. We manage to produce amazing products that end up better than if I had to do it by myself.”
2. The video for “Getting Late” is set in a fantasy African city
“I play an inner city princess who lives in an urban palace in a fantasy African city, where I have a life of luxury with a huge girl gang that represents the diversity of modern Africa. Kooldrink follows in the footsteps of Yahoo-boy legends like the self-made millionaire ‘Hushpuppi’ and finesses his way to buying an iced out Rolex for his crush, Tyla. In the evening that follows, Kooldrink is let into Tyla’s world where she performs what seems to be a show just for him, emphasising the fact that all good things come to people who wait.”
3. Kooldrink is the first producer she ever worked with, making the collaboration a very lucky pairing
“In 2019, when I was discovered, I met Kooldrink the same time. He basically taught me all the basics I know. We butt heads sometimes but I know we have a deep love for each other and enjoy the creative process together.”
4. For Tyla, songwriting is the ultimate form of storytelling
“I write based on personal experiences, but also how I imagine I would be feeling if I was in different situations and a different type of person. I enjoy putting myself in other people’s shoes and writing deep songs in a more fun and light-hearted way. I’m not the type to openly share my emotions, so I try to do it in a way where people are still able to dance and have fun without having to carry the deeper meanings. I find it easier to play a character than actually let out what's going on.”
5. And she loves it when her music gets stuck in your head
“I used to always be on the other end, so to hear that this happens to other people with my music is crazy.”
6. Despite what her moves suggest, Tyla has never taken dance classes
“When I was small, I was convinced that I was the best dancer. I never had dance classes but I would always try out all different forms of dance, from belly dancing to krumping, and now amapiano type dancing. I’m still learning but my love for dancing runs deep.”
7. Tyla has over 700k followers on TikTok. You should definitely follow her, but she also recommends that you follow…
“@mooyamusunga, who I first saw when he did a dance challenge I created and I was shocked at how talented he is. He is Zambian and grew close to my sister which resulted in us all meeting him this year!
8. Tyla very nearly went down a whole other career path
“I almost studied Mining Engineering.”
9. She’s aiming to pay her parents back for raising her right
“I wanna eventually buy my parents their dream home and make sure they don’t need to work another day in their life.”
10. The music scene in Johannesburg might be on pause right now, but it’s ready and waiting to turn up
“We have so many talented artists and new ones coming up. Covid has us artists and party freaks on standby but we’re managing to utilise our platforms and find new ways to keep active.”