'We Need to Talk' About Tayla Parx

'We Need to Talk' About Tayla Parx

Most people nowadays might recognize Tayla Parx as one of Ariana Grande's lucky seven best friends who received a diamond ring from Tiffany's. As we all know, Ariana made a trap-inspired pop smash from Thank U, Next about the luxury gift-giving experience, called "7 Rings." But did you know that Parx's name is in the writing credits? (In fact, she applied her pen to five other Thank U, Next tracks, including its massive title track).

At just 25, Texan native Parx has impressively made a name for herself as a dancer, actor, and empathic hitmaker to the stars, including Rihanna, Usher, Mariah Carey, Fifth Harmony, Nicki Minaj, and many others. While in-between gigs, she launched her own label imprint, Tayla Made, and recorded songs that would become an emotionally resonant mixtape named after her label.

Today, following a few successful promo singles, including synth-pop ballad "Me vs. Us," the cutesy electro of "Slow Dancing," and charmingly romantic "I Want You," audiences get a fuller picture of Tayla's songwriting prowess in her official debut album We Need to Talk. But what emerges perhaps more clearly than ever is a singular voice. Tayla has bars and melodies for days, and a distinctive image (cartoon animations blending her real life lavender pixie cut, and affinity for Texan iconography and art director-friendly sportswear).

Much in the way she has helped construct a more relatable sound for artists like Grande, We Need to Talk promotes an ethos of inclusiveness throughout its 15 tracks. She parses out her thoughts on gender stereotypes (the aforementioned "Slow Dancing" and the interlude "Tomboys Have Feelings Too") and friendship (the cleverly queer-baiting "Homiesexual"), even as she explores very millennial crushes ("What Can I Say") and very real heartache ("Afraid to Fall," and the album's title track). The uplifting tone of We Need to Talk is accentuated by stylish dives into sparse synth-pop, '90s-leaning R&B, and sprinklings of reggae. It is also an introduction to a shape-shifting artist who can translate her specific experiences into our common reality.

The down-to-earth songwriter is currently supporting Anderson.Paak on the European leg of his world tour, and PAPER caught up with her before a Berlin engagement. After that, Parx is touring with Lizzo for her upcoming Cuz I Love You album before headlining her own shows. Like any 25-year-old in Parx's position would be, she's pinching herself. "I've been learning so much from Anderson just because he's one of the greatest live performers that I've ever been blessed enough to witness," she says giddily. By all appearances, it seems that for Parx and her fans, whom she calls her "Taylatotts," the best is surely yet to come.

Below, Tayla Parx opens up about her Texan roots, leaving home at 17 and becoming her own boss, what she learns from Ariana Grande, and more. We're all ears.

You started writing music for other people when you were a teenager. How did you start being your own boss?

Well, I moved out of my house when I was 17, sooo... My mom tried to put me on punishment and I moved out. I was like, Shit, where am I going?[Laughs]. It's so crazy because before that moment, I had been very sheltered all my life. So it was like, "Oh wow, I've got to do my own laundry now? Oh wow, I've got to do all of this stuff? OK..." I was so hell-bent on proving a point and proving that I would never be going back, unless it was to visit and say hello. So I guess this all started out as kind of being fearless enough to, make a bold move and find out what would happen. I started Tayla Made, which is now my label with Atlantic. And when I say "Tayla Made," it just means that it's my own twist on whatever it is I'm doing, whether I'm doing creative direction or writing for other people. When you fully get Tayla Parx, that's when you're talking about my own artistry. Tayla Made, this is a piece of me that I'm sharing with someone else to create their vision, but when you get Tayla Parx, you're getting me with no limitation.

Where did you go when you left Texas? What happened next?

So, yes. I was still living with my family in LA. My entire family picked up their life, then we moved to two hours outside of LA and so I was kind of removed from it. Once it came to me doing a little bit of college and saying like, "Oh, I want to study entertainment law," because it was the business side of the music business which was always very interesting to me as well. Especially because of the fact that I've had to learn it. I didn't have somebody holding my hand, so I had to go through it. Luckily for me, I actually enjoyed it. I have friends that I went to school with that now work at Apple who remember when I was driving two hours from class to go to the studio with Babyface. I was saying, "I'm going to be a songwriter," and my mom remembered when James Fauntleroy put his BBMs out, back when BlackBerry Messenger was a thing. I sent him a message and I was like, 15 or 16 saying, "I'm going to be a songwriter, and I'm going to be seeing you in the sessions with Rihanna," and it was like, "OK kid." Now he literally lives two streets from me, and he's one of my favorite writers ever. The fact that he was willing to talk to a kid that had the balls to say, "Maybe I could change the world, maybe I could say something different than the other writers before me, the other artists before me." But, you have to start somewhere.

What's it been like to have all this lead-up your debut album?

This is probably one of the first times that, you know, the Tayla Made mixtape is what I kind of count as my first real introduction, besides Chris Brown, that "Anyway" feature, right? But, at first I was kind of just doing it to hold fans over, I was releasing one song here, one song there, and that was just until I figured out, "OK, this is the exact image that I have for myself," and once it all came together naturally, I knew that I was ready to put out that mixtape and now this album. It's been really incredible, kind of getting to know myself the whole journey.

As a Texan, what do you make of the yeehaw agenda?

Well, I like it. I've never been one to say that a particular item of clothing should be owned by a culture, and it's the same way I feel with genres and genders and all those things. I'm in Berlin right now, but I'm wearing a beret with a freaking baseball jersey. That's like saying I could only have done that in Paris,but if you follow that, it's less fun for the individual. So I love the fact that, once again, Texas culture is infiltrating pop culture.

Solange's new album is that whole aesthetic, a love letter to Houston.

Totally. Another Texan — it's so cool to see.

Are you into When I Get Home right now?

Oh yes, definitely, but I haven't been wearing cowboy hats. But definitely, I love to see that. You can hear it in my music, I've always gotta have it rocking. That's the one thing about me, even when I do pop, that identity. When you're from Texas, you never forget that. I love that Solange is really, really inviting her roots to become a part of her future right now

We Need to Talk feels like a collection of quick but very honest diary entries, and most of the songs are shorter in length overall. Was that sort of a conscious decision when you were writing?

I think in the beginning of creating this album, I didn't know that I was creating an album. Records like, "I Want You," and a lot of the beginning records, they were done effortlessly in me saying, "I'm going to go and have fun this time. I've done so much songwriting where it's very specific, I'm working with an artist and my job is to get your point across." Then, once I decided, "I'm going to allow my album to happen," the only struggle I had was literally containing myself enough to save it for me, for my right time. Once I finally opened up that floodgate, it was like, "OK. Cool. What do I think a song is? I don't think a song has to be three minutes long. Cool, that's fine, I'm not going to question myself. Let's do it." Also, some of those songs, some of those shorter songs, they're interludes, but I had to decide: do I want to put interludes, or am I just doing that because of the fact that you would typically do that, because it's a shorter song, or do we completely change our idea of what a song is, because some of our favorite songs happen to be interludes. So, I didn't want to place those same rules that I have to follow with everybody else's stuff with my own.

"The thing that I love about Ariana is that she's so unafraid to love."

Tierra Whack also played a major role in getting us to reconsider pop convention.

Exactly, whatever you write doesn't have to be a radio smash. It doesn't have to be written for radio all of the time. And guess what? Radio, now, is kind of forced to listen to culture. We have a direct link to the consumer now, we don't have to judge the music we create based off of, "Well, the radio man isn't gonna..." that's so outdated! It also had taken the originality out of music. It's literally sucked it dry, and now we're, for once, with the surge of independent artists and also just newer artists being able to do what they want to do, we now have finally had a little surge of creativity and new ways of navigating the music industry that people have been too afraid to do over the past 75 years or more.

Back to the album, in "Me vs. Us," you sing "Tell me that I wasn't alone when I lost my mind, and all track of time." I was like, how dare you come for my wig?

[Laughs] It is definitely one of those things where it's like, I needed the reassurance on that song and that's what that song's about. Then like, look, OK, "All I need you to do is tell me that I'm not crazy, I probably am! But, I just need you to tell me that I'm not alone in this." When you're with somebody, you just hope that they feel like your too-muchness is just enough, you know? Which is why I named the album We Need to Talk, because all of those desires, all of those secrets, hidden pains, all of those things that we don't really want to talk about, nobody really wants to be known as the crazy person that's like, "We need to talk! What is this? What are we?"

Clarity in a relationship is important!

It's more important to kind of risk your ego and make sure that you're not going insane, right? And that's the lesson that I've just learned, and that's what this album is about. It's me saying, "I want you and you and you and you too," until realizing that, wait a minute, maybe one of these people makes me better than all of the other people do. Also, having to say, "Am I the same for that person?" That's a whole other journey within itself.

Are you into aura colors by chance?

Oh, so some people have told me that I have a certain aura color, but let me see, what you gonna tell me?

Well, I've noticed that your hair is always a shade of pastel pink, or lavender or purple, something like that. I wondered if there was a special meaning behind the color choice for you. Is that weird?

No, I love it! I'd definitely say my hair is a form of me expressing myself because before this phase in my life, the past year and a half, two years, I was very safe in the way that I loved, safe in the way that I write music. Which, for a songwriter, you're like, "That's fine," until you do your artistry and it becomes another thing that it's imperative that you're not that. I was so afraid of being swept away and not having control that I didn't have enough fun. Now, I don't think twice about the things that I do and I don't judge any decision that I make. I look at it for what it is, whether it's good or bad, and I accept it and I allow it to happen and I allow it to teach me whatever lesson. I don't judge the things that I do anymore and overthink them.

That's a good place to be in. You're so grounded!

Usually it's just me kind of dissecting everyone else's emotions, and having to be that grounded person for them, and to really kind of put the mirror up to yourself and do the same is... woo!

On "Slow Dancing" and "Tomboys Have Feelings Too," you talk about gender stereotypes and going against them. Can you say more about that?

I've identified with being a tomboy all my life, so I felt like I was trading sides, and then a little bit of a traitor when I woke up and loved the color pink and loved pearls and loved the idea of love. It's saying like, "This has never been me, but now I'm reclaiming my idea of femininity." While at the same time, I'm reclaiming my idea of masculinity.

Speaking of pearls and shiny things, were you one of Ariana Grande's lucky seven rings recipients?

Yes, I was. [Laughs] It was so surprising, because she just comes in with just a bag. I'm like, "Oh you went to Tiffany's! OK!" And she pulls out these rings and she's just basically saying, "Thank you for being good friends to me and being there for me." Everybody shows that they care in a different language. That's her love language, doing things for the people that she loves, whether it's her making food for you. Because like, she made me a fire grilled cheese before too. I'm like that's my deal! Yeah, she's a very caring person so she likes to do things that she knows will make you smile.

Has Ariana taught you anything about songwriting that you've applied to yourself?

I think that the one thing that I was able to learn from Ariana and appreciate from her is the fact that she's so open with her heart. We've seen that it's been tough, she's been through a lot these past three years, you know, but especially the strength that it takes to say, "Hey. This is what I'm going through and I'm putting it all out there." I admire it because, like I said, we're completely opposite in the way that we think when it comes to love. One time she looks at me and Victoria [Monet] , and she's like, "Man, Victoria, you're my heart and Tayla, you're like my brain," which explains why all of us in the room allowed us to get a perspective across that was something a lot of females could understand, because we do have a lot of different ways of approaching the same situation. The thing that I love about Ariana is that she's so unafraid to love and so unafraid to give her heart.

"If you work hard enough, you're going to get one of the things that you want in due time... Stay focused. Patience is key."

Are you surprised at all by your success?

Um, I always knew that I would do something that mattered to me. I've always been the type of person where I believed that I would bet on myself every single time. I don't think twice about it, but I never know what that means. What does betting on yourself mean? Well, it just depends. When I bet on myself in acting, well, I was sneaking into auditions until I booked one. When I bet on myself in music, it meant, "OK, cool. I'm leaving my house at 17," I decided to get efficient and consistent as hell at this songwriting thing because now I have to take care of myself. Right? And again, taking that bet on myself an saying, "You know what? I bet if I could write this consistently for other people, and I bet that if I really, really feel like I have something when it comes to the time of me saying, "What I have to say is worth hearing," which is now... I just believe in that, I just run with it and fall into it now. That's one of the main, important parts of, well, where this place that I'm in is literally not questioning myself.

Remember how your mom tried to put you on punishment? What does she say now?

I didn't have family in the music industry and had a lot to learn on my own. I had family that supported what I loved to do. I could've been like, "I want to be a trash man," and they would've been like, "Oh, wonderful! Go ahead!" Like, whatever it is that makes me happy, they've always supported it. As far as my parents, my mom called me the other day, and she was like, "You know, when you were a kid I used to tell you that you were doing too much, and when you grew up I told you that you were doing too much, you might be getting in over your head." Then she says, "I will never tell you you're doing too much again because you've proven time and time again that even if you don't accomplish all of what you're trying to do, if you're doing too much, you're going to still get a hell of a lot done, even if you don't accomplish all that you set out to do." The lesson for me in that is that I learned I could do whatever I put my mind to do, even without a safety net of living at home. It's cheesy but it's true: if you reach for the stars, you can land on the clouds. If you work hard enough, you're going to get one of the things that you want in due time. If you don't get it right then and there, don't worry. Stay focused. Patience is key.

Photography: Madeleine Dalla