Tkay Maidza Is Hitting Her Stride
The genre-bending artist talks about a year full of milestones, from moving to LA and releasing LYWW Vol. 3 to channeling her most authentic self
The genre-bending artist talks about a year full of milestones, from moving to LA and releasing LYWW Vol. 3 to channeling her most authentic self
Watching one of Tkay Maidza’s insanely enjoyable music videos—or simply listening to one of her songs by itself—is like taking a ride on an unpredictable roller coaster. Maidza’s intricate lyricism, enthralling visuals, and effortless blend of singing and rapping turn each track into its own thrill ride. This effect is no accident. Maidza, who hails from Australia, has put in the time and effort to hone her artistry since her 2013 debut, cultivating a sound as singular as it is satisfying. Through it all, she’s remained devoted to making the kind of music she wants, putting her opinion first. “I think everything I do now is completely authentic to me,” she explains. “It’s not so much being like, ‘Oh, do you guys actually really like this?’ and then if someone says, ‘Yes,’ that’s good enough. That’s not how I judge things anymore. It has to be about whether I really, really like it.”
The chameleonic artist recently capped off a trilogy of innovative EPs with the release of Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 3. A sonic journey through genre, style, and her emotional state over the decidedly weird last year, the EP is Maidza at her most vulnerable. While her sound, ambition, and even her label have changed over time, the 25-year-old has only come closer to channeling her most authentic self. “I feel like I’m finally starting to hit a stride where my identity’s showing through,” she says. This progress can at least partially be ascribed to Maidza’s recent move from her native Australia to Los Angeles, AKA ground zero for rising rappers and musicians of all genres, Having grown up on artists like Lauryn Hill, Tyler, the Creator, and Nicki Minaj, Maidza has been quick to familiarize herself with the evolving rap scene in the States—and find a community among other BIPOC musicians who are similarly shaking up the industry. Maidza is set to embark on a North American tour supporting R&B group Emotional Oranges this fall, which she sees as a chance to further contextualize herself and the music she wants to make next. “I’ve had so much time to have trial and error,” she notes. “Now, I’m really sure of what makes the most sense for me.”
Below, Maidza talks to V about wrapping up her EP, how she crafts her iconic visuals, and what she’s looking forward to next.
V Magazine: You just released Last Year Was Weird Vol. 3. Are you on a break period where you’re letting that project live in the world, or do you find you’re already working on something new?
Tkay Maidza: I think now I’m kind of like, “Okay, it’s go time.” I’m ready to do other things. I had three to four months where I could kind of relax—but at the same time, I was shooting music videos—so that was a good time for me to do something else that wasn’t music. I think I’m finally ready to start writing new stuff and make sense of what’s been happening lately and where I want to go next.
V: Since that EP was the final entry in the Last Year Was Weird trilogy, how are you feeling about closing that chapter—especially since the first installment came out in 2018?
TM: It’s bittersweet. I guess it’s a strange feeling to commit to something for four years. I think in the beginning, going into it, I didn’t—I was ready to do it, but I didn’t realize the magnitude and how much energy I would put into it. I think when you have goals and things you want to get done, you see it as just that. But being on the other side, I was like, “Oh my God, we did that!” I was pretty pleased. And then you look back at each project, there were always so many little checkpoints and turning points that determined the tracklist, who the collaborators were that I was working with, visuals, the moments of realization where I was like, “No, this is meant to be, and this is the best thing.” It’s been interesting looking back and seeing moments that have defined who I am now. It’s so interesting, because I planned [LYWW] out, and I think it turned out better than I wanted it to be. I’m like, “Cool, what do we do next, and how do I level up even more?”
V: I read an interview where you said with Vol. 3, you were becoming a lot more straightforward and having an easier time expressing your emotions in music. I’d love to know what you think aided that growth from the first two EPs to the third one. Was it a product of making more music and becoming more comfortable with your songwriting, or do you think there was a conscious choice to start opening up more on that final EP?
TM: I feel like after going through the first two—especially with the second one having a great response—[when it came to] figuring out the third project, I didn’t overthink it. It was like, I feel really strongly about all of these songs separately, and I think if we put them in a good order, it makes a lot of sense. Why would I take the time to search for something else when it seems like it’s right in front of me?
V: You mentioned shooting all the music videos for this album. I would love to touch on your imagery and the visuals that accompany your music. I think that’s always been a strong point of yours as an artist—for example, the video for “Kim” is very cinematic. I want to know, do you find yourself envisioning the visuals and crafting them alongside the music, or do you think about that after you’ve created the songs?
TM: It’s a bit of both. Before I start doing the music, I have checkpoints. Moodboards, photos of what I want the music to be like—if it looked like something, that’s what it visually would look like. I want to make music that matches this visual aesthetic. Then, when it comes to actually figuring out the videos, the visuals, and everything, I go back into the songs and try to find specific words and things I say [in order] to piece the story together. It’s kind of like it starts visually, and then it inspires the songs, the actual story, and when we’re doing treatments for videos I can say things like, “Okay, we’re starting in a car ride,” or, “I want it to be a dance video, and I want the story in the video to be more like this,” because I think the song will have a more in-depth story with what should be in the video.
V: Backtracking to your earlier life, when were you first drawn to music? Were you in the choir at school or anything like that? When did it become a part of your life, and who were your earliest influences?
TM: I didn’t study any music. I’ve never learned an instrument or anything like that. I think I was just always surrounded by music, and I felt really passionate about it. It felt like an escape from daily life that I had. I felt like the music that I listened to really spoke to how I felt. That [music] kind of ranged from Lauryn Hill to Macy Gray and Rihanna and Outkast and Janelle Monáe. As I got older, it was more like Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, Kanye West, Tyler, the Creator.
A lot of those artists are the full package. You can see what they’re selling, and you can hear it, and it’s a whole experience. I think that was always what was so exciting. Especially the artists like Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes as well. It’s like, they seem very surreal because they always create a completely new universe. It’s a new experience every time they bring out albums or have campaigns.
V: You used to be an architecture student for a while. Why did you choose architecture in particular?
TM: It seemed like the best progression for what I was doing in school. I think having parents who had the mentality that whatever you do must be at a high level, or give you security—with that, architecture made the most sense, because I could be creative and it was also an academic job. I just wasn’t that passionate about it. I don’t think I wanted to sit there and do that kind of work. There was a moment when I realized it was probably better for me to pursue music.
V: Are you excited to begin touring again [with Emotional Oranges]? Or do you think it will require a bit of time to get reacquainted with live shows?
TM: I’m really excited. I think it will be a lot of fun. It will give me a lot of context in terms of the music I want to make next, and where I should go. I think when you can experience the music with people, it transcends and becomes a 5-D thing. That’s what’s been missing for the last year-and-a-half.
V: Thinking more broadly about your music and your sound, I know you’ve undergone some change—from switching labels and trying new sounds to blending genres like reggae and electro-pop—so I’m curious if there was ever a point where you were worried about how your fanbase would react to something so different from your previous releases?
TM: I feel like it’s one of those things where, if I feel good about something, I have to trust that instinct. I think anyone that’s following [my] journey, if they’re still here, they understand it. I guess I can’t really worry too much about if someone’s going to understand it. That’s where your vision gets diluted and everything gets more confusing—if you’re trying to completely cater to people around you, I feel like you have to look forward and feel that whatever you do, you feel good about. That attracts more people, even if it means some people won’t stay on the journey.
V: That’s great. Would you say that there has been a constant thread in your music throughout all that change? Maybe on a thematic, lyrical, or musical level. Something that’s been essentially ‘Tkay’ all this time, even with all of the changes.
TM: I think for me, honestly, it’s always a stream of consciousness. If I feel like I’m being honest with my thoughts—and some of them will be existential thoughts, some of them will be trying to empower myself and others, some of them will be, “I just want to have fun”—that’s the common thread. It’s an honest reflection of who I am. I feel like I don’t really communicate well in daily life, so this is my outlet to piece my thoughts together. As the projects have come out, there have been the recurring themes of existential crises, thoughts of, “I just want things to be fire. I want to be the best I can be.” They all started popping up again and again. That’s probably what’s been the really cool thing, because I feel like I’m finally starting to hit a stride where my identity’s showing through.
V: I can see that coming through, especially with the latest volume of LYWW. I’m curious if you feel like your creative process or mindset when making music has also evolved. You started with the album TKAY in 2016, ended the LYWW trilogy in 2021. When you’re sitting down to write and when you’re going into the studio, do you approach it differently now? Or do you think it’s kind of still the same process?
TM: It’s still the same process. The difference between what I did in the last four to five years and when I first started is that there’s more of a curation of what can and can’t stay—more soundwise. I think I’ve always kind of been the same, but this time I have parameters of where I want to explore in terms of sound. If I’m doing a pop song, it doesn’t go too far to the right. It’s always left, and there’s always something interesting that I want to find about it.
I never want to feel like I’m not being myself. I think everything I do now is completely authentic to me. It’s not so much being like, “Oh, do you guys actually really like this?” and then if someone says, “Yes,” that’s good enough. That’s not how I judge things anymore. It has to be about whether I really, really like it. If I will still like it a year from now, and three years from now.
V: Who’s on your playlist right now? What are you listening to lately?
TM: I’ve been listening to this Shygirl track called BDE, and I’m so obsessed with it. A lot of Mahalia. A lot of BROCKHAMPTON. Isaiah Rashad. Syd. And the Tyler, the Creator album [Call Me If You Get Lost] has been really good too. That’s kind of what’s been in my daily rotation.
V: You made the move to Los Angeles earlier this year. I’m curious about your experience with the music scene in LA and in the States compared to the scene in Australia. I read somewhere that you said you could understand rap better than when you were in your bedroom in Australia, because you’re more in the scene. What has that shift been like, and what has your experience been like since you made that move?
TM: I think when you’re on the ground anywhere, you see the culture and you experience it, and it makes more sense. When I’m literally in my bedroom, anytime I hear a track, I’ll be like, “What did they just say?” I don’t understand what it means because I’m not really around anyone who speaks like that. Being here, it’s like I can go to a party or the store, or run into certain artists, and you really see and understand that this is the way people live. I live how I speak in my songs. But when you have other people in a similar world to you and you experience it as a collective, it validates your existence, in a sense. It gives you more confidence to say things and not feel like—if I speak a certain way, people in Australia will be like, ‘Why does she speak like that?’ But here, amongst people that are really like that, it makes more sense. I feel more comfortable being myself. I’m really starting to understand the artist’s lifestyle, and it’s really cool.
V: That is cool. Obviously, I want to know what’s next for you post-LYWW. Do you think you’re going to start exploring a new genre and sound? Or is there anything you’re working on now that you’re really happy with?
TM: I guess the next step is to work on an album. If anything, I just want to expand the worlds I’ve created within LYWW. I feel like there’s a really good base to start from, but there’s also room to grow. I could make soulful House music, and do R&B. I could do indie-pop, and I could do rap, distorted rap. I think there are so many avenues to build. If anything, it’s just [about] being focused and making sure I’m hitting these checkpoints. I’ve had so much time to have trial and error. Now I’m really sure of what makes the most sense for me.
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