June 19, 2024

Tyla has always wanted to be the world’s first global South African pop star — and she’s already well on her way. In the past month, Tyla’s summer single “Water” became her first Top 10 hit in the United States and also landed her a Grammy nomination for Best African Music Performance.

“It makes sense,” she tells Variety nonchalantly over the phone. “I’ve been ready for this moment.”

Born Tyla Laura Seethal in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tyla grew up listening to the piano-driven, tech-house beats of the amapiano music she heard at parties and gatherings throughout the 2010s. Those faster-paced tempos, paired with Tyla’s love for American singers like Aaliyah and Britney Spears, were what made “Water” a standout on the charts.

“Amapiano has done so much for South Africa, to the point where the vibe of the country has changed,” she says. “There’s more events, there’s new music scenes popping up everywhere because it’s the first South African-born genre that has crossed these borders. It’s given us jobs, it’s given us opportunity to travel. In my case, it’s already given me more than I could’ve imagined.”

Tyla is part of the inaugural class of nominees for the new Grammy category for African music alongside her friend Arya Starr and Asake, Burna Boy, Davido, along with featured acts Olamide and Musa Keys. She was in her hotel room in New York when she found out.

“In all seriousness, I didn’t really think I was going to get nominated,” she admits. “But my label asked me to watch the livestream announce and I was so nervous … And then I saw my name pop up, and I died (laughs). I couldn’t stop screaming. I called my family and my best friend who travels with me. She came to my room and we just screamed and screamed.”

Tyla signed with Epic Records in 2021 after seeing success with her debut single “Getting Late,” featuring Kooldrink, which was featured across streaming playlists for R&B, pop and Afrobeats. Then came “Water,” an ode to the summer of 2023.

The song was embraced on TikTok, where Tyla and Litchi, her friend and choreographer launched an accompanying dance trend inspiring others, including Jennifer Hudson, to give it their best shot. Incorporating a South African dance move called Bacardi, the trend also involves pouring a bottle of water down your back as Tyla sweetly sings: “Make me sweat, make me hotter, make me lose my breath, make me water.”

“I just feel like everything started to flow like this whole year,” she says. “Bacardi is not usually done to music like this. My choreographer came up with the dance, and I learned to do in rehearsal, and then I was like, ‘I need to pour water on myself! Feels like that would be fun!’ It’s all been so authentic.”

After dropping a remix of “Water” with labelmate Travis Scott, Tyla has announced the release of a bundle of three singles that will appear as part of her upcoming debut album. In addition to R&B pop singles “On and On,” and “Truth or Dare,” there is also a track called “Butterflies” that is much more stripped back compared to its sister releases.

There’s been a lot of “experimentation” for Tyla to get to the sound she’s ready to present now. “Every weekend I was in the studio recording music, trying all different types of things, from rap to straight pop music, to R&B, dance music, everything.”

She feels “Water” was the perfect prelude for her big debut. “What I like is mixing [amapiano beats] with pop and R&B and ‘Water’ is exactly that. You’ll find that vibe in most everything I do but I’m definitely experimenting a bit [for the new record] but it all sounds like me — the music and production styles I enjoy, especially the music I heard growing up. Now, I can’t wait to properly introduce myself.”

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