The 2024 Grammys included a new category for Afrobeats music. Asake and Olamide’s “Amapiano,” Ayra Starr’s “Rush,” Burna Boy’s “City Boys,” and Davido featuring Musa Keys’ “Unavailable” were among the nominees. Despite tough competition from these top Afrobeats stars, the 22-year-old songstress won the award. During the acceptance speech, she thanked God and her family for helping her get this far in her career.
In July 2023, the then-21-year-old, who is just four years shy in her music career, broke into the global music space after releasing Water, the lead single off her upcoming debut E.P. Like a Breeze; the song immediately became a sensation on TikTok courtesy of the catchy lyrics and viral dance challenge. To cap it all, the single caught the attention of fans in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, who claim Tyla sound like a mixture of Rihanna and Queen B. In only a matter of time, the 21-year-old singer became the youngest-ever South African and the first South African soloist in 55 years to enter the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. This is after Hugh Masekela’s “Grazing in the Grass” in 1968.
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Indeed, Tyla’s music career has been marked by a meteoric rise. As the rookie would have fans believe, she was born ready for this. But make no mistake, there is nothing instant about this South African beauty’s fame and success. Behind the scenes, the Popiano star has been grinding and working especially hard to gain international recognition. Now that she has, aren’t you curious about her untold journey to stardom?
How did she start? What did she have to give up? The pain and the gain? I mean? Who is this 22-year-old Rookie determined to become South Africa’s biggest pop star?
There are a thousand and one Tylas in South Africa, but only one is making us proud right now. You may know her professionally as Tyla, but she was born Tyla Laura Seethal. The life story of the gifted singer and equally talented songwriter dates way back to January 30, 2002, when she was born into a mixed-race family of Zulu, Indian, and Mauritian descent. And one more thing, a family that loved music. So, Tyla’s love for music was not accidental or forced.
While speaking with i-D Magazine in April of 2021, the then 20-year-old singer revealed that one of her earliest memories is “waking up to the sound of music blasting through her family home in Johannesburg.” Tyla said she had siblings who would typically join their mother on the lounge during the weekend cleanup exercise while vibing and dancing to local kwaito artists such as Black Coffee and Mi Casa, as well as American rap and R&B stars like Tupac, Boyz II Men, Aaliyah and Rihanna. This helped shape her deep appreciation of South African culture. At the same time, it sparked the singer’s interest in music and dance, pushing her to start singing at the young age of 11.
The talented singer would upload videos of herself singing covers of songs like Justin Bieber‘s “Fall” and “Die in Your Arms” to YouTube. Once, just so she could create an Instagram account to post her covers, original songs, and messages to music industry figures, Tyla stole her dad’s smartphone. “I would do everything and anything — because I just felt like, one day, something was gonna catch on,” she told Billboard in October 2023.
Unsurprisingly, after graduating from Edenglen High School in 2019, Tyla felt it was time to launch her professional music career. However, her parents wanted her to see the bigger picture. You know, prioritize school, get a degree, and keep music and dance as a hobby. Well, the Gen Z singer humoured her parents and was studying mining engineering. At the same time, the sensational singer was putting herself out there, posting original songs and covers to her Instagram account and reaching out to several figures in the music industry.
In no time, Tyla struck gold after being discovered by her first manager, Garth von Glehn, who organized her first recording sessions. Tyla initially felt she would be scammed and didn’t respond when Glehn reached out for weeks. “I ended up responding, and then I met up with him with my parents. And I ended up recording for the first time,” she said. The singer later linked up with South African DJ Kooldrink and recorded her debut single, Getting Late, without any label or funds, just her manager and best friend/stylist, Thato Nzimande.
It was on her debut single that Tyla founded the Popiano Genre, a mixture of RnB, pop and amapiano. This increasingly popular South African house subgenre blends Afro and deep house, jazz and kwaito music. When it was time to shoot the music video, COVID-19 hit the world hard, and then Tyla’s parents gave her an ultimatum to prove this music thing could work or return to her studies full-time.
“It was literally like a family business. We shot one scene, COVID hit, and then everything closed up. I felt like it was the end because my parents gave me that year to prove myself. After all, they wanted me to study. But I begged them, and I was like, No! I need to do the singing thing. Just give me one year. I’ll show you guys. And they eventually gave me that year, and then COVID hit. And I was like, “Ugh! This is the worst time for them to give me a year to prove myself,” she told Billboard.
Tyla’s manager had to shoot the video while her bestie styled her. @for_tyla declared: “She came out ready with no label, ghostwriters, her manager was the videographer, they had to rent the venue for 20 minutes, and her best friend styled her! She has been a hard worker from the start! “ the singer told fans once in a Tweet. At the time, the Gen Z artist wasn’t sure she would even get a great reception, but she was willing to try. “Even if it only gets 270 views on YouTube and my career fails, I’ll just watch this video on repeat for the rest of my life, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be happy,” she said. Fortunately for the sensational singer, her debut single shot her to national acclamation, all thanks to her unique Popiano Sound. In only a matter of time, its success set her up for a recording contract with Epic Records through a joint venture with US-based Fax Records on May 26 2021. This resounding success also gave the talented singer a choice to drop out of the University.
Since then, Tyla has gone on to record many more hit jams like Last and Overdue ft D.J. Lag and Kooldrink, which got featured on South African Netflix Series Blood and Water. In 2023, Tyla released Been Thinking and Girl Next Door ft Ayra Star. In addition, the Gen Z baddie had the opportunity to collaborate with the likes of Major Lazer, Summer Walker, Young Stunna, and DJMaphorisa. But it was not until July of 2023, when she released Water, that Tyla hit global fame.
The sensual pop/R&B/Amapiano melody accompanying a dance style that the singer called Barcadi made her an instant TikTok sensation, with many jumping on the music to join the Water Dance Challenge. But it also opened Tyla to a whole new audience in the U.K., U.S., and Australia who couldn’t believe a South African could sound just as good as Beyonce and Rihanna or a mixture of them both. No surprises there, though, because Water” was co-written by renowned producer Tricky Stewart, known for writing hits for Rihanna, Beyonce, and other American pop singers.
In the blink of an eye, the Popiano Pioneer single was a top ten hit in a dozen countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia. It became the first song by a South African soloist to enter the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 55 years. Water also enjoyed a three-week streak at №1 on U.S. Afrobeats Songs, ending Rema and Selena’ Gomez ‘Calm Down” 58-week streak record. Since then, it’s gone on to crack many more popular charts.
Speaking about this with Billboard in October of 2023, Tyla said the crazy reception in the global music industry is everything she has ever dreamed of. “This hasn’t happened in so long for a South African artist, born and raised in South Africa, with an African song, with an African dance style. Everything is so authentic, and the fact that all of that managed to translate overseas is crazy. And for me personally, it’s unbelievable. I always wanted to be the biggest pop star in general. I didn’t want to be the biggest African pop star. I just want to be the biggest pop star that was born and raised in Africa. And the fact that I’m already getting a good response from the world [means] I’m one step closer to that dream,” she explained.
Courtesy of her 2023 Hit song, the then-21-year-old singer was immediately nominated for a Grammy Award, a Soul Train Music Award, and two South African Music Awards. Even better, the University dropout has gone from opening for Chris Brown‘s European tour to making an unexpected cameo on The Kardashians. On October 31 2023, the hitmaker made her U.S. T.V. debut, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where she performed the bacardi-inspired hit song surprisingly without her water bottle.
Once upon a time, the Johannesburg-raised songwriter thought only Americans could be this famous. But it looks like she is too talented to be limited by citizenship and residency. “It’s crazy just being a normal girl in South Africa and then living this dream that I’ve always wanted to live. I used to be so jealous watching all of the American celebrities on T.V., like the Kardashians, Adele, Rihanna, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj. I was like, ‘One day, I’m gonna be there.’ I actually used to want to be born in America only because I thought only Americans could be famous. I did not know it could happen for us because it didn’t really happen very often for people in Africa and especially South Africa.”
Early December 2023, the sensation who enjoyed an extraordinary breakthrough year with the success of her viral track “Water.” unveiled her debut self-titled E.P., Tyla, which included three new singles: “Truth Or Dare,” “Butterflies,” and “On And On,” the latter of which she premiered on the minimalist YouTube performance show COLORS. Set against a soothing vanilla backdrop, Tyla’s velvety and nostalgic R&B vocals take listeners on a journey back to the musical landscape of 1995 through her COLORS performance.
In an interview on New Music Daily with Zane Lowe, Tyla expressed the sheer enjoyment she experienced while crafting her latest single, “Truth or Dare”, attributing it to years of refining her musical style for her upcoming album. She emphasized the importance of patience in the creative process, citing instances where waiting and dedicating more time to certain aspects ultimately led to the development of superior content.
Finally, on February 4th, 2024, Tyla achieved a remarkable feat by emerging as the inaugural winner of the esteemed Best African Music Performance category at the 66th Grammy Awards. The South African music sensation etched her name in history by piping the award from co-artists such as Davido, Burna Boy, Asake, and Ayra Starr with her captivating smash hit single ‘Water’.
You may ask what’s next for this Popiano Star, who is creating buzz everywhere she goes.
On the other hand, the South African Beauty hopes to collaborate with Nigerian singer Tems. “I’d honestly love to have a song with Tems. I love her voice; I love her vibe. Her new song [“Me & U”] is on repeat,” she said.
Tyla’s goal is not only to be just successful in the music industry but also rich enough to take care of her parents.“I wanna eventually buy my parents their dream home and make sure they don’t need to work another day in their life,” she said.
Are you surprised that Tyla beat Burna Boy, Davido, BFF Ayra Starr and Asake to win the Best African Music Performance Grammy?
Do you agree she sounds like a mixture of Rihanna and Beyonce?
Did she work hard enough to be where she is today?