Signed to an international label, Tyla is pioneering a new ‘popiano’ sound

Tyla. Picture: Supplied

Tyla. Picture: Supplied

Published Nov 6, 2022


Tyla’s break-out single, “Getting Late”, was the most ubiquitous hit of summer 2019. Just days after its release, no matter where you turned, clips from the music video for the viral amapiano hit were on every WhatsApp and Instagram Story and all over TikTok.

Then, with an international breakthrough at the tip of her fingers, the coronavirus pandemic reared its ugly head and ground everything to a halt.

The timing couldn’t have been worse for Tyla, as she wasn’t able to perform and promote the single on the road.

Now, with the music industry back at full tilt, the fresh-faced 20-year-old is finally preparing to release her long-awaited debut project. When we speak, she sounds upbeat and excited about this new chapter.

“It’s all been amazing. It’s been a movie,” she shared, in terms of how her year has been unfolding.

“I’ve been travelling a lot. I’ve been to places I’ve never been and never thought I’d be, making music and working with people like a writer from the UK called Cory. I worked with Teron James and Tricky Stewart.

“I’ve just been basically trying to find my sound because I feel like since I do popiano, I like to fuse different western genres with some African influences.

“I’ve been trying to explore that, and I feel like I’ve gotten to a place where I’m happy, and I feel like I’ve found it.”

Tyla coined the term “popiano” to define her blend of amapiano and pop music. She says the sound came during the creation of “Getting Late”.

“There wasn’t really any thought initially in trying to make a genre or anything.

“It was really just me in the studio with Kooldrink and us just exploring different sounds because I always gravitated towards pop music, and I love amapiano music obviously, because, aye, I’m South African, you know, we’re within.”

Tyla. Picture: Supplied

Despite her career trajectory being interrupted by the pandemic, the buzz Tyla managed to garner in the months prior helped her become a household name in next to no time.

She’s no longer just another artist trying to make it now. She’s a big deal.

“I feel like my life has done a 360. Mainly my work because in my personal life, I’m still the same girl – I get shouted at, and I have to do chores. So that hasn’t changed. But my work life has been crazy. I’m really living my dream.

“Because of ‘Getting Late’, I left South Africa for the first time. I’d never been out of South Africa until I was given this opportunity.

“I met people that I never thought I’d meet, and I was in the studio with people I never thought I’d be in the studio with. It’s just been amazing, this whole journey.”

Last year, Tyla released her second single, “Overdue”, featuring DJ Lag and Kooldrink. The song was released as part of the soundtrack for the popular Netflix original drama series, Blood & Water.

“We actually made that song before they reached out,” she explains. “It was an opportunity to have a song on ‘Blood & Water’, and I took it, and they loved the song.

“It all just really fell into place, and I feel like it really fit me and what I was about because I genuinely love the show, and it was really anything forced.”

Tyla has been moving more intentionally ever since she signed to an international recording deal with Epic Records, the label behind international stars like DJ Khaled, 21 Savage, Future, Black Eyed Peas and Travis Scott.

She and Sho Madjozi are the first and only South African artists on the label’s roster. I asked her what is the difference now that she’s signed.

She said: “Things are definitely more organised and easier now. I mean, when I was independent, it was really just me, my manager and my best friend, and we were trying to figure things out.

“Like when we were making the ‘Getting Late’ music video, it was really us doing favours and borrowing stuff. Like it took a whole year to get it done. We had a lot of challenges before, and it has taught me a lot, and I appreciate it even more now that I’m signed.

“Now things are easier, and I have much more support. I always get reminded of how things were before, and it allows me to just keep going and realise that we really made magic out of nothing, so now that we have support and everything, we’re just gonna go crazier and crazier.”

On Friday, Tyla released her new single titled “To Last”. The new “popiano” bop had already garnered a lot of traction on the social media platform TikTok, where Tyla has 1.6 million followers, weeks before release.

She describes it as having a bit more of an African sound to it than her previous releases. It’s also less of a party song and a lot more emotive.

“I wrote it basically in the shoes of my friend. At the time when I was in the studio with Lu, Manana and Christer, my friend was really opening up to me about her relationship and how she felt disposable,” she explained.

“I just felt like I really channelled that when writing the song because initially, I had the hook written down years ago, but I didn’t do anything with it.”

With new music scarce over the past two years, her activity on TikTok has kept her top of mind. She posts nearly every day, and her videos on the platform garner hundreds of thousands of views daily.

She considers her footprint and presence as being very critical to maintaining her relevance. She also feels like the platform has set her up nicely to push the music that she’ll be rolling out.

“I feel like it really helps to have that initial support and knowing that people are listening when you are dropping. So now that I have a social media platform that I’ve had since my early teens, I feel like I’ve learned the people that enjoy my content, and I’ve gained that relationship with them,” Tyla shared.

“So now, releasing has really become a little bit easier, and I just feel like I enjoy it more in a way because I know that people are genuinely listening and genuinely interested.”

With her career now back in full swing, Tyla is optimistic about the future and looking forward to spreading African music to the rest of the world.

“My goal is definitely to become a global star. I’ve always looked up to people like Michael Jackson, Rihanna and Aaliyah. I’d just love to know that people are listening to an artist from South Africa.

“I feel like we need more Africans and more South Africans in the forefront of music. The interest is there, but we need more of us leading that.”

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