We caught up with Tyla in a rare moment of peace, chatting adolescent dreams, making amapiano, and why it's important to always be grateful.
Tyla never thought that “Getting Late” would permeate beyond South Africa’s borders. Racking up millions of views and becoming a global amapiano anthem, the track disrupted Africa’s ascendant music scene and flourished on the sound systems of clubs and festivals worldwide. “It’s crazy because that one video changed my whole life,” she tells me over Zoom, still perplexed by its triumph. Purring with deep basslines and an angelic vocal delivery, the single encapsulates the growing intersection between amapiano and pop: a fusion Tyla has tinkered with on countless singles.
For those who’ve been living under a culture-void rock, amapiano is South Africa’s most recent musical sensation. Popularised by DJ Stokie and Kabza De Small, the genre’s pounding percussion and dizzying bass patterns have captured the minds of TikTokers, hearts of ravers and souls of electronic producers globally, and it’s showing no signs of leaving the public conscience anytime soon. But the rainbow nation’s always had a rich electronic music history. Soundtracking celebrations that ensued when apartheid was abolished, house music became synonymous with hope and freedom in the country during the early 9os. Since, producers like Black Coffee have brought their ‘afropolitan’ four-to-the-floor to Ibiza and beyond, collaborating with superstars like Drake along the way.
As one of the hottest artists coming out of Johannesburg, Tyla’s pushing the boundaries of popular music in South Africa, adding her voice to the sounds defining the country’s musical heritage. Before the success, the 21-year-old had her mother to thank for early forays into songwriting. Scribbling lyrics into a gifted diary, she later honed her craft on YouTube pairing harmonies to beats, whilst developing a unique cadence through song covers. Instinctively posting them to Instagram, Tyla realised her passion could become a professional career and started sending the videos to anyone with notoriety. Soon enough, everyone wanted some of the future superstar’s main pop-girl energy.
Speaking from Paris, where she’s been finishing a European tour, Tyla kicked off 2023 with the new single “Been Thinking”: a slick dance floor heater that revels in seductive R&B. Displaying the intoxicated fantasies channelled in her lyrics, the visuals showcase South Africa’s creative diaspora and the international crossover happening for the country’s pool of talent. We caught up with Tyla in a rare moment of peace to talk adolescent dreams, working with Will.I.Am and why it’s important to always be grateful.
How’s life in Paris? Have you managed to see much of Europe whilst you’ve been on tour?
I haven’t seen many of the cities, but when we had our days off, I was able to go and explore with my friends. Amsterdam was a nice city to explore and Paris, obviously. I’m actually not supposed to be here [in Paris] but I’ve been staying for a while just so I can see more people before getting back to work.
What have you seen in Paris – has anything taken you by surprise or has there been anything that you’ve really enjoyed seeing?
I’ve always dreamt of going to the Eiffel Tower, ever since I was small. I even painted it on my bed when I was younger and got in so much trouble for doing so. It’s crazy that I was able to see it in real life. I went there last night, and to the Louvre. I’ve been taking the Metro, which I really love because I’m able to explore the city properly.
It seems like a full circle moment for you then, from drawing that picture of the Eiffel Tower to visiting it. As part of the tour, you’ve also been in the UK. Was this your first time over here? What did you think of it?
No, that was my second time. I love the UK. I want to move to London. Out of everywhere, London would be the place I’d move to because of the people, the vibes, the parties. It reminds me more of home than any other part of Europe.
Let’s talk about the latest single, “Been Thinking”. You’ve had some time to see how your fans and the public are receiving it. How do you feel when reflecting on that and looking back on the past couple of months?
I’m super proud. Even just the making of the song, and the video – it took a lot from me and my team. So I’m super proud of the way things turned out. We released it in January, and I’ve already done so much and so many things have happened based off the song. I’m excited to see how much further it goes because it’s only the beginning.
When you’re in a studio, or you get sent an instrumental, what do you listen out for? What gets the Tyla seal of approval?
It’s never something specific. It always depends on the session, the song, my mood, and who I’m working with. But specifically with “Been Thinking”, I heard the beat and I was like, that is a hit beat. Usually, it’s a feeling and not something specific. The beat isn’t something that I’ve worked on before, but at the end of the session, we got to a place where it had that African touch to it. I think that session was perfect.
And the music video was directed by Meiji Alabi, who’s done so much work for Beyonce, as well as the choreographer Fatima Robinson, who’s credited. It’s a real spectacle. Did you have any creative input on it as well?
Definitely. As soon as the label said that they wanted to release the song, they were like, ‘let’s shoot the music video’. But at the time, I was in America, and I said, ‘no way are we going back to South Africa’. We had a few days to plan the whole thing. Instantly, we were on a flight back to South Africa, we gathered up my people and my dancers. I also worked with Lee Shane on choreography because I wanted to showcase my South African culture in the video as well. It was very important to me to work with other South African people.
Something that you’ve said previously is said that you didn’t think “Getting Late” would be able to permeate through South Africa, or you didn’t expect it to have the global reach it did. Why do you think people beyond South Africa resonated with it so much in the end?
I feel like it was very pop. It’s amapiano but delivered in English, which made it easier to relate to. I feel like the visuals also made it a whole story. It wasn’t until the visuals were released, and people saw me, and they saw the vision, that they were able to see the bigger picture. Social media has been so important, especially for my career. But as you said, I had no expectations when I released it. It was just pray and post, you know? It’s crazy because that one video changed my whole life.
Before you were getting the success that you are now, you were grinding, sending videos of your covers to anyone and everyone in the industry. Do you take a moment to ever reflect on that time and see how far you’ve come within the short period that you’ve been doing music?
Yes, I always have gratitude. And I’m always praying and thanking God, and thanking my team. These things don’t just happen, especially to people from South Africa, or in Africa. The opportunities that have been given to me already are crazy so I’m grateful and happy that I’m here because people would die to be in this position.
Can you remember the first song that you posted to Instagram as a cover?
I can’t remember the first song. But I do remember doing “Boyz II Men”. I loved posting covers but I used to post original songs as well. I’d write and freestyle random songs, and I would ask my followers what they would like me to freestyle about and what type of beats they wanted to see. I still do it sometimes.
Looking at South Africa more closely, on paper, the country has one of the best music scenes in the world. It’s produced genres like amapiano, Gqom, Bacardi house, to name a few sounds. Can you remember the first time you became aware of amapiano?
I feel like a version of it was always around, but it kept developing. The first amapiano song that I heard was when I was in a class at school and a friend was playing it on his phone. And I was like, ‘what the heck is this song?’. From then on, I was playing it everywhere – at all the parties, all the get-togethers. It’s been around for a while in South Africa. So it’s just crazy that it’s travelling so far now.
It really is. And what do you think has been the catalyst in South Africa for all of these genres? Where are they coming from?
The youth. And there are so many making these amazing songs. I’m sure you see how many credits there are to these amapiano tracks, which tells you how many people are involved in the culture. It’s also very spiritual because it’s a part of us. The songs are coming from the bedrooms of South African kids.
It’s like that over here in London occasionally, as well, with grime and other genres. All the best music is birthed from people being squished into a small room to make music, you know?
I love it. The sessions in South Africa are crazy, like a party. There’s people drinking, smoking and vibing. One person will add something to a beat, they’ll dance to it for a while, and then another person will hop on and add something else. It’s crazy how it all comes together. That shines through in the music as well, because it feels like a party.
And so, you’ve got a debut album coming out this year. At this early stage, how’s it going? Has the process been different to how you anticipated it would be?
Ever since I was signed, and I’ve been travelling and I was able to meet new people, new artists, new producers, I’ve learned so much. I’ve been to so many new places. We had a music camp in Dubai and Will.I.Am came. It was crazy. I brought everyone to South Africa too. I didn’t know that making an album was this much work but I’ve been enjoying every moment of it. My music process has changed over time. I’m now more comfortable and more confident and I’m excited to share the music with everybody.
If you could describe it in three words, how would you describe it?
Dream come true.
Beyond music, do you have any hobbies that you’re pursuing, anything that maybe takes your mind off the music?
I love spending time with my friends and family. Like, even going to a movie, ice skating or theme parks. That’s what I love doing. When I’m alone, I like painting and I love to draw. I go to the gym. And sometimes I just want to lay down for the whole day and just sleep.