What do Ariana Grande’s ‘thank u next’, Janelle Monae’s ‘Pynk’, Panic at the Disco’s ‘High Hopes’, and BTS’ ‘Mic Drop’ have in common? Other than being stone-cold bangers, of course, they’re all the brainchild of Tayla Parx, who’s spent the last almost decade working her magic behind the scenes on some of pop’s biggest smashes. Now, slowly she’s creeping out from behind the curtain and into the spotlight herself.
Last year, she released her debut solo album, ‘We Need To Talk’, which she’s touring when we catch her in London, and is currently gearing up for a second one, ‘Coping Mechanisms’, due for release this year. She works fast, and she works hard, she’s always been that way, and it’s probably what’s gotten her so far so fast.
“I was that kid that believed that I could do anything,” Tayla says of her childhood. “I had singing lessons and dance lessons, and all of those things, every day I woke up wanting to do something new, and my parents would support that. It’s something that they actually loved, when I wasn’t talking back.”
Maintaining that passion was essential to Tayla’s success. Starting acting at a young age and earning herself roles in 2007’s ‘Hairspray’ remake, and Nickelodeon favourites ‘Victorious’ and ‘True Jackson, VP’ in the early 2010s, amongst other small roles on high profile TV shows, kick-started her career, but she quickly found she’d rather be making music.
So while she learned to do that, she took on some voice acting jobs, mostly to pay the bills, but also so she could experiment with her image and put more energy into music, which she describes as the “best thing I could’ve done for myself.”
Tayla grew up trying to become an artist in a generation rife with child-actor-to-singer types. The formula wasn’t right for her – she wanted to write and produce her own music, and eventually would end up doing exactly that for ex-Disney and Nickelodeon stars who were also breaking out of their shell.
“It made it even it made it even harder because of the fact that everybody expects you to be like that Disney kid, or that Nickelodeon kid, and this is the only way that you could do it at that age,” she explains. “At that time, it was like, you had younger artists like Tiffany Evans and stuff like that, and really young boys who could be successful like Bieber, for instance, but you can’t do the same thing that you do with young boys. Young boys can have a million different girls screaming over them, and it’s cute, you know, quote unquote, but you can’t do that same thing for a young female artist.
“And so you have to work for that artist to grow up, or figure out what is the thing that makes them, them. They don’t know who they are. So you really have to discover yourself, and you haven’t discovered yourself at that age. But I think that when you allow people to at least say no, you’re not too young to be an artist, and you give the opportunity to develop and to grow and to discover. That’s where we find the next superstars, which is evident when you see an artist like Billie Eilish.”
Tayla’s biggest breakthrough, and arguably the biggest mark she’s left on pop culture, was her work on Ariana Grande’s ‘thank u, next’. The single earned Ariana her first number one on Billboard, broke the global streaming record for a female artist, and bolstered Ariana’s global superstar status.
“For Ariana, we did something that neither one of us ever did before. She’d never had a Number 1 before that, neither had I. And so that doing that together, showed that we’re doing something right here. And obviously, there’s a lot of growth that’s happened since we were on Nickelodeon sets. The thing that me and Ariana can really relate to is having to break out of that whole child actor turned singer stigma. And it’s something that’s so dumb, it’s the same stigma of being a songwriter that turned into a singer, but now everybody wants to be that, you know? So it’s once you break out of that idea that other people have been trying to box you into it that’s awesome like, and that’s the thing that you know, for an artist like Demi or Ariana or any other actor/singer that I’ve worked with has really been able to do.”
‘thank u, next’, and other singles ‘7 rings’ and ‘break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored’ continued Tayla’s chart reign well into 2019, following the success of Panic at the Disco’s ‘High Hopes’ and Khalid and Normani’s ‘Love Lies’, both of which charted in the top ten in 2018 and stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for over a year. 2019 also brought Grammy nominations for Tayla’s work on Janelle Monae’s ‘Dirty Computer’, just as 2020 would bring nods for ‘thank u, next’. It’s the stuff of dreams – specifically Tayla’s childhood ones (and it doesn’t sound like she’s mad about Billie snatching that Album of the Year over her, either).
“I definitely wanted Grammys,” she laughs. “I used to look up like ‘who’s the youngest person to do this’ or ‘who’s the oldest person to do that’. How far have people really really taken it? That really inspired me because the thing that used to suck when I was younger was people just see you as a kid. Me coming into writing, at 19 years old, people tried to play me just because of my age.
“Now, they love young writers, and they love young producers, you have you know, artists like Billie Eilish who completely prove that, yeah, you should listen to the kids. And your age has nothing to do with anything other than what year you were born, like that’s it. It doesn’t have anything to do with your talent. It doesn’t have anything to do with your ability to grow. And that’s something that I’ve really been proud to be a part of this kind of generation and this new way of doing music, and the respect that we are giving the younger generation now.”
After years working her magic behind the scenes and releasing mixtapes on her own label imprint Tayla Made, she released her debut album ‘We Need To Talk’ this time last year. It was a project that took her on her own tour, as well as putting her in opening slots for Lizzo and Anderson Paak.
“It’s been incredible to learn, and then to find people that are like, ‘wait a minute, I like you as a writer, but I love you as an artist’,” she says of the touring experience. “It’s satisfying to know that you’re just doing your thing and people are reacting to it. It’s just me being real. And obviously, anytime that you’re being real, and you’re being honest, and you have hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people that also relate. You have that reassurance that you’re not crazy, you know?”
Hearing Tayla’s own music brings to light the stamp she’s had on other people’s work. The opening track of her debut album, ‘I Want You’, sits somewhere between Janelle’s ‘I Like That’ and Ariana’s ‘make up’, and compliments them wonderfully. Most of the record follows suit, mashing up genres to create feel-good tunes with a heart. Even on her work in K-Pop (yep, she’s got her fingers in that pie too), you can hear her influence on tracks like f(x)’s ‘Diamond’ and Red Velvet’s ‘Dumb Dumb’, with the latter incorporating #TaylaMade signature heavily layered harmonies and a marching band beat.
“They already knew that genre didn’t matter. And it was really, really fun for me to write personally, because of the fact that they’ve been doing what American artists are just now catching on to. They’ll have a five-minute song, and it’ll have completely different genres throughout the entire song, so that was fun for me and also challenging as a writer.
“It’s really awesome to just kind of have my little golden touch, my version of it. And it’s really awesome that people are getting to know me more and more going through the music, which is what I wanted, and what makes me happy.”
She assures that her new record ‘Coping Mechanisms’ will have the same vibe, following on directly from ‘We Need To Talk’, ‘Coping Mechanisms’ has only been hinted at via her Twitter at this point, so there’s not much to be said, but it’s almost done and on its way* (*our chat was, of course, pre-apocalypse, and hopefully this is still the case).
“It’s a continuation of the last project, the way that ‘We Need To Talk’ was a continuation from the ‘Tayla Made’ mixtape. And so now it’s kind of like we’re transitioning into this next phase of how do you cope?
“‘Coping Mechanisms’ will have a gumbo of different genres, the same way that my other projects do, even on the mixtape, and I think that it’s even more acceptable now. I think that now we’re finally coming to a realisation that it doesn’t really matter, the whole genre thing, it holds back music, and you’re so concerned with sticking to one genre versus adding and evolving your initial genre. So I definitely will be continuing to make my mash at the moment, it’s my thing, and seeing other people now follow that type of thing, in regards to being like, ‘yo, I don’t care about genre’ is only allowing more fresh music to happen.”
Always thinking of the future, when Tayla creates her own music, she’s eager to get some of her favourite up and comers on board, including Khalid and The Internet’s Syd on her mixtape, then Joey Badass, Cautious Clay and Duckworth on her debut album. She’s always experimenting, pushing forward, and defying expectations.
“I’m also on the management side of everything. It’s usually something that I think of after the album is done. It’s really a matter of saying like, okay, what artists inspire me. What artists do I feel like have up next or are making waves right now in the music industry?
“I want to continuously just add features that people are like, woah, I didn’t expect that to happen. Like with Florida Georgia Line, you know, I want to just continue to work with artists that I really really respect, and going back to the fact that genre doesn’t matter, continuing to push my own genre.”
Ultimately, her belief in herself is what keeps her going. Having worked most of her life in entertainment, she’s kept her eye on the prize, and in the past few years has ticked off bucket list goals many artists could only dream of, but she’s showing no signs of slowing down yet.
“I’m doing things that people haven’t done previously. Just because it hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean that it can’t be done, I’ve always been that type of kid. And growing up, when I believed in myself, and it worked, that obviously makes you want to do it even more. So I think that’s why, if like my little sister or any stranger comes up to me and asks what’s the world’s best advice you can give, I’m like you gotta believe in yourself. You gotta believe in yourself more than anybody else will, and I know it sounds so easy and cheesy. But it’s actually the one thing that’s kept me going through all of the good and the bad.
“If you think that you’re not gonna do it you probably won’t. And if you think that you are, even if you don’t get as high as you thought you would, you’re gonna land somewhere close, and you’re going to be able to readjust and get to that goal, or even higher the next time around as long as you continue to believe that you can do that.”
Taken from the May issue of Dork. Tayla Parx’ album ‘Coping Mechanisms’ is out later this year.
Words: Abigail Firth