Tyla Talks About That “Water” Grammy Win, Her Debut Album, and Why She Admires K-Pop

Like every young girl with dreams of becoming a singer, Tyla used to practice her Grammy speech in front of the mirror. Last month, at 22 years old, the rising South African artist got to give that speech for real, when she became not only the first-ever winner in the new Best African Music Performance category but also the youngest African singer to ever win a Grammy.

She earned this accolade for “Water,” a steamy amapiano track that went ultra-viral, inspired Travis Scott to jump on a remix, and turned her into an almost-instant pop star. She’s already been compared to Ariana Grande and a young Rihanna, but Tyla is adamant about paving her own path as an African artist. “Obviously, people before me have inspired people in their own way, and for me personally, I just want to have my own complete, unique Tyla come-up story,” she tells GQ from her home in California. “I want to have my own experiences, and I want to inspire people in different ways.”

Before the release of her debut self-titled album, Tyla chatted with GQ about her whirlwind year, her signature Y2K-tropical looks, working with Tems, and what people get wrong about her.

Tell me about the moment when you won your Grammy!

Very surreal. Still doesn’t feel real. I didn’t expect it, honestly. Every time there was a new category, my heart would just sink because I’d be like, “Oh, the category is coming.” And then, I mean, when he said my name, it didn’t register. So I was sitting there for a bit, not knowing that he called my name.

Are your family members musicians, or is this a new legacy you’re creating for your family?

I have family members who are musicians. My gran used to be a singer. I have aunties and uncles who are in music, but I’m basically the first that made it, I guess, which is cool because it makes the family also feel good.

Would you ever collaborate with your family members? Are they asking you to?

They’re definitely asking. Maybe the next album will be a family album.

I saw in an interview that you want to be a Disney princess. Which Disney princess made you want to take on a role like that?

Oh my gosh, every single one. I’m still obsessed with Disney princesses and animation and all of those types of things. I definitely want to get into all of that. But yeah I love Princess Jasmine, Ariel, and even Tangled. If they were to do a Tangled live-action—come on, call me. I would love to be my own princess. That would be ideal. I would love to get into that type of fantasy role, just something young and fun.

How did you choose collaborators for your debut album?

For over two years, I’ve been working on this album and working with everyone and anyone that I could. I feel like things have been happening naturally in terms of my career. Things have been aligning in their own way, and I do feel like it’s just God putting the right people in the right rooms at the right time. It’s sometimes me just liking a song and finding whoever worked on that song and getting that person in and then getting this person that’s randomly in the city. Everything is just trial and error and yeah, I feel like a lot of that helped me get to where I am in terms of my sound.

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