You may not have heard of Tayla Parx (yet), but you’ll certainly know her artistry.
Over the past seven years, the American singer-songwriter has penned bops for some of the biggest names – and streaming forces – in the music industry: Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, Demi Lovato, Janelle Monae, Kesha, to name a few. Oh, and perhaps the biggest pop artist in the world right now… Ariana Grande.
On the star’s widely-acclaimed fifth studio album, thank u, next, Tayla contributed eight songs; two of which became Ariana’s first chart-toppers on the Billboard Hot 100. She also provided Panic! at the Disco with their first ever top five entry in the United States, as well as Khalid and Normani with their first top ten hit as lead artists.
If you haven’t gathered by now, Tayla Parx is a pretty big deal in the music industry. “I want to do records that affect culture,” she tells us after her (very on brand) pastel-themed photoshoot. “I want to do records that last in people’s hearts for a very long time. I want them to remember where they were when that song came out and how it affected them.”
Last year, Tayla launched a solo attack on the charts with her debut album, We Need to Talk, with her sophomore album to follow later this year. Here, we talk to the star about the power in writing for others, embracing her feminine and masculine energy and how female artists are “over the bullshit” in the music industry.
You were signed as a songwriter at 19 – how long was it until you were writing for some of these A-list stars?
My first major thing was at 20 or 21. You had your Sevyn Streets and Fifth Harmony’s and then it continued to grow and grow to legendary artists. I went through a phase of, ‘Everybody inspired me in the 90s and 00s, I need to work with them!’ I like to go through decades and decide who I want to work with! Or I’ll go by places in the world. I’ll be like, ‘The UK has something crazy going on over there’ and that’s what I’ll focus on that year.
You’ve written for a lot of strong female artists, many of which have been put on full blast in the media – what draws you to them?
I’m a little queer, black girl from Texas, and I think it’s really important that we have artists who can help that next person, that person who’s maybe going through that exact thing you’re going through just because you’re a women or not-straight or whatever it is. It’s important for me to write these songs that empower, and when I do them for artists that are iconic, you’re much more likely to have this other girl hear it who needs to hear it. I want to make sure I’m affecting an entire generation, and creating something that changes the world 50 years from now, or five years or five months. I’m also careful about who I write for, I like to write for people who get across the message that I’m trying to say. For the most part, we all have the same message, we all want to be able to be ourselves, we all want to fall in love, we all have our hearts broken, we all do those things – but I think writing music that is relatable to the world and empowering the creative and empowering women and men is important for the evolution of society.
Ariana is one of the artists you’ve collaborated with multiple times – what is it about your relationship with her that keeps you going back?
It’s very rare that I want to work with an artist numerous times. Once I do it I’m like, ‘I’ve learnt that thing, now it’s time to move on.’ But there’s something about watching an artist grow, watching them breakdown and build themselves back up. It was inspiring, and we were approaching thank u, next completely different from My Everything. She’s such a different artist now. One thing I really learned from her was that she owned that vulnerability for everything it was. I know it was tough for her because we’re friends outside of music, so to be part of her building herself back up and saying, ‘Forgive yourself for the feelings you’re having. They’re not better or worse, they’re just your emotions, they’re just you. Let’s ride it out,’ all of sudden the world was like, ‘I never felt this way about an ex and I never knew how to say it like this.’ Nobody would’ve thought to say thank you to an ex.
What was it like to see the impact of thank u, next?
It was incredible because like I said, I want to do records that affect culture. I want to do records that last in people’s hearts for a very long time, I want them to remember where they were when that song came out and how it affected them. It’s the most satisfying thing when fans come up to me during a meet-and-greet and say, ‘This song has gotten me through so much.’ I’m like, ‘Wow, I know they got me through much, I know they helped the artist,’ but to hear that it’s doing the same thing to other people… it’s like we’re all in the same experimental life together.
You’ve been writing for artists for years, how did you get to the point where you decided to write your own music?
I think it was just a matter of self-discovery. It was like when you’re a kid and you try sports and then you try music, and then you try poetry, and then you’re like, ‘Which one is for me?’ And that’s what songwriting was, it was literally me saying, ‘I want to write for every kind artist there is to write for.’ I want to write for the divas, the ones who are looking for a comeback or the ones who want to stay on top – and there was something to learn from every single artist. I was able to experiment with different sounds, see what moved me personally, and see what’s not me. All of the artists I’ve written for, I don’t think any of my own music would’ve worked for them, and that’s how I knew to start having fun and be like, ‘This is my identity, and I love creating your identity, because it shows me who I am.’
Have you ever written a song for an artist and thought, ‘Damn, I wish I kept this one!’
Never! Not yet. We’re going to keep knocking on wood, but right now I think I have a distinct sound for my own lane. When I put on my songwriter hat, it’s strictly a songwriter hat. And this is a therapy session, so it’s my job to get across what they’re trying to say. ‘What do you love today, what do you hate today?’ And it’s a really important thing as a songwriter to say, ‘This is not about you in this moment, this is about the artist.’ I’ve never been confused and thought a song of mine could work for somebody else. If I think it could, then it’s not a song for me.
Because you’ve written some of the biggest hits in the world, do you ever feel pressure to live up to them with your solo material?
I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes that every writer and singer-songwriter before me has ever made. No matter what you do in life, you’re going to try and compare it to somebody else, which I think we all know by now is the biggest fucking mistake. I’ve been working on songs since I was nine years old. I’m just trying to be happy. I’m 26 now and can do whatever I want to do in the world – and that freedom is what allows me to keep my sanity.
Historically, women haven’t been given the respect they deserve in the music industry, whether that’s as singers, writers or producers – as someone who works in all areas, do you think it’s getting better?
I think women are finally like, ‘We’re over the bullshit and we’re going to take the things we deserve.’ It’s a beautiful thing. Like we were just talking about, with why I write for the artists I write for, the whole point of it all is to continue to inspire. A lot of women are inspired to take control of their business and say, ‘Hey! I’m going to grab that respect. You don’t have to give it to me. I’m taking it.’ That is the mentality a lot of women now have… it’s necessary for us to catch up. We’ve been pushed back for so long, and we’re catching up very fast because people finally get it. I believe in myself enough to fight for what’s right, fight for other females and allow the next female artist to have the ability to surpass anything we’ve done now or 20 years ago.
Do you think that’s the same for queer musicians?
Yes. I completely agree for the simple fact that now we’re able to be us. Whether you’re straight or gay, whatever it is that you are, claim it. As a female in this music industry, I think we’re in a situation where a line of women are claiming that power, and claiming that extra oomph, instead of being known as girls can be when they ask for what they want: aggressive or emotional. But if emotional is asking you to cash my cheque, then yeah, I’m emotional.
You said in a previous interview that you feel both masculine and feminine energy. Is this something you’ve always felt?
I definitely think the feminine energy came as I got older. I always associated myself with being a tomboy. One day I woke up and was like, ‘Oh my god, I love makeup and I love getting my nails done.’ All those things that are typically associated with being a ‘girly girl’. There’s this different side of me that is still growing everyday because I’m learning more and more about myself. Whenever I have an extremely feminine moment I’m like, ‘What was that?’ I’m shocked by it, but I’m really embracing it. That’s what this whole phase of We Need To Talk was, me embracing that side of myself with records like Slow Dancing, and me being unafraid to fall in love and be the most vulnerable I’ve ever been, me exploring every deep emotion that I was typically scared to talk about on the mixtape. I’m growing up and finding strength in my vulnerability.
Your colourful aesthetic is everything. It felt like there was a period where it was ‘cool’ to be toned down – are you trying to bring colour back?
[Laughs] It’s brought back! Look at everybody! I went with what I feel like was my thing, and now I look around and everybody is pastel and dreamy. Bitch, I’m here for it! I’m like, ‘My job here is done. We’re done with the boring dark shit.’ We’re going into this next phase, and it’s still very me, but a little bit more mature as now I’ve visited both extremes; the extreme of colourful and inviting people into my dream world, now it’s what happens when people are brought into my reality.
Your fans come out in hordes to your concerts and even dress up as you – bright wigs and all. What is your relationship like with them?
My relationship with my fans is super beautiful, they’re my Taylatots. When you hear someone singing word for word something that you wrote, when you felt so alone in that emotion… There’s a song called Easy, which is hard for me to get through live without having a breakdown. When they sing it with me, I feel a little bit less alone in this world. There’s a lot of people on this planet, so the fact that we can all experience this from a stream or a concert is incredible. One of my fans came up to me and said, ‘Can I just say that the other fans here are so respectful and so nice, and they’re just trying to have a great time. That says a lot about you as a person.’ I never realised that, a lot of the time your fanbase is a reflection of who you are. And so, I’m learning more about myself through the interactions I have with my fans. It’s beautiful.
You’ve just played us some incredible new songs – what can you tell me about your next album?
Thank you! This next album is called Coping Mechanisms. I ended We Need To Talk on Easy, a ‘Woah, this person broke my heart’ ballad and the next album is, ‘How do you cope with getting your heart broken? Do you party all day and party all night? Do you fall in love and try and find a replacement? Or do you say fuck love in general and stay single?’ This album is showing every aspect – how I’ve been all those people, and I think everybody has been one of the other at least. I’m excited to go into this new phase and the album is nearly done.
Would you call it a break-up album?
I think it’s more like…
A healing album?
Yes, I definitely think this album is about healing and discovering; that once you go through a dramatic thing in your life, getting your heart broken or doing anything for the first time, you change as a person. Your perspective on life, your perspective on love, all of those things shift. The things that I thought mattered to me in the We Need To Talk phase, the things that I thought was love I’m finding out now that, ‘Woah, this whole world has been opened up to me.’ Now I’m talking to somebody that’s really opening up my world and opening up this whole concept for me. I’m going to fall into it, and I opened that Pandora’s Box on We Need To Talk, and now I’m going to surrender to it.
Photography Rinaldo Sata
Fashion Umar Sarwar
Words Sam Damshenas
Hair Sven Bayerbach at Carol Hayes Management using Evo Hai
Makeup Grace Hayward using Marc Jacobs Beauty
Photography Assistant Gillian Murray
Fashion Assistant Solly Warner