Why 2024 Is The Year Of South African Superstar Tyla

tyla on the cover of her album
2024 Is The Year Of South African Superstar TylaJeremy Soma

Tyla always knew stardom was within her grasp. ‘I knew it was going to happen,’ she says, while commuting in New York, flitting between a string of pop-ups promoting her album and music video sets around the globe. ‘I never used to stress about it. Ever since I was a small child I remember constantly singing, dancing, making videos and entering music competitions. I would always tell people that I'm going to do music and it never felt like a crazy thing to say because it felt right.’ And now it’s happening: the Johannesburg native secured her first Grammy Award this year, and is now the most streamed African Female artist on Spotify, off the back of her debut self-titled album, which was released in March this year (it's currently garnering 34.4 million monthly streams).

At just 22, Tyla already has the world in her clutches. She’s cultivated fans globally and it was her infectious first single of the album, 'Water', that catapulted her into the global spotlight. When it was released last summer you’d have been hard-pressed to open a social platform or turn on the radio without hearing the single, a perfect blend of Amapiano and pop, blasting out. The genre-smashing track now has 161 million views on YouTube, and her accompanying dance became a TikTok viral hit. It also won her the Grammy for Best African Music Performance – the first of its category at the awards show.


musician tyla posing for the camera
Jeremy Soma

Songwriters Hall of Fame writer-producer Jimmy Jam presented her with the prestigious award, and a stunned Tyla said she 'never thought I’d say I won a Grammy at 22 years old'. What was running through her mind onstage? ‘I was just so happy that I was even nominated. That whole experience was something that I never thought I would experience this early in my career; hearing my name felt like I was in a movie.’

tyla at the 66th annual grammy awards held at cryptocom arena on february 4, 2024 in los angeles, california photo by michael bucknerbillboard via getty images
Michael Buckner

She toasted the win with a close-knit group. ‘My friends, my team and I all went out, but it wasn't a big celebration. We were in a big party bus blasting "Water!". Naturally, the award is back in South Africa. ‘I brought it back to South Africa a few days ago as I went home for the first time in months. It’s engraved and sitting in my parents’ house.’

Her background is a huge part of Tyla’s worldwide acclaim. True to her South African roots, it’s evident in both her sound and live performances. Amapiano, a South African music sub-genre with jazzy, pulsing beats has provided the soundtrack to many recent summers, and Tyla’s take merges the sound with her buttery smooth soulful vocals and catchy lyrics.

Garth von Glehn (who later became her first manager) contacted Tyla after he came across videos of her singing on her Instagram page, and soon her first recording session was booked. She began work on Tyla, her debut album, the moment she was signed to Epic Records, three years ago – and it’s packed full of brilliant tracks. The Caribbean-tinged ‘Jump’ featuring Gunna and Billibeng, is a highlight, and is quickly amassing a legion of fans (her 'Tygers' she calls them). ‘I didn't think it would be the favourite on the album. People just latched on to that song. The reception has been insane!' ‘Art’, about the object of Tyla’s affection treating her like expensive artwork (with sumptuous visuals to boot), has taken off just as quickly. Quite the feat for the musician who would shy away from an audience when recording. ‘I would be very private when I would make music, I’d want it to be just me and the producer,’ she explains. ‘Travelling and performing allowed me to learn so much and allowed me to perfect this sound of pop and R&B.’

Years of consistency have honed her sound. ‘This album was me introducing who I am to the world’ she says. ‘It was very important to me to work with people who actually get it and don’t just want to make African music because Afrobeats music is trending right now. It's a very spiritual sound and it’s a feeling – it's not something that can be calculated.’

A modern popstar doesn’t exist without equally beguiling styling, and Tyla’s signature look involves a blend of Y2K gems, waist-cinching tops and loose trousers, with labels from Di Petsa, and Blumarine to Versace and Area, further boosting her It-girl fashion credentials. ‘As a kid, I would make my parents watch me while I tried on outfits and give them a whole runway show,’ she says, grinning. ‘I just love looking effortless. Baggy jeans, small tops, waist out: that's just me.’ It’s a hint into the direction her wardrobe will take when she hits the stage at Wireless this July. Although she still lives in Johannesburg, she feels comfortable in London, and a recent music pop-up in Shoreditch celebrating her album release has cemented the capital as her home away from home. ‘It's the place outside of Africa that feels closest to home. I love that African music is so loved in the UK.’

An injury forced Tyla to postpone her North American tour which was due to begin in March but a cheeky glimmer in her eye confirms a tour is on the horizon (stay tuned for dates), and her best friend (and her creative director) will be in tow. ‘I'm just looking forward to elevating and evolving for my Tygers. My mission is to take it to the top and bring the world an African pop star.’ And, with that, the singer heads off to rehearsals, dreams of world domination firmly in mind.

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