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Talking sneakers and mentoring emerging songwriters with Tkay Maidza

Words by Leah White

Photography – Amelia J Dowd

Hair and makeup – Justin Henry

Ahead of Nike Battle Force in Melbourne.

Since bursting onto the scene as a 16-year-old, Tkay Maidza has accomplished a lot in five short years. She’s released an album, dropped two EPs and has been nominated for – and won – a host of awards. Most recently, she took home the title of Best Aussie Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards.

Now, Tkay’s back in Aus to take the stage at Nike’s Battle Force in Melbourne this Sunday. Joining her will be two emerging artists specially selected from a Nike ‘Force is Female’ songwriting workshop.

We caught up with Tkay at the workshop to chat sneakers, being your best self and what it’s like to mentor up-and-coming artists.

Tell us a little about the workshop you’re doing today with Nike.

I’m so lucky to be working with Nike. We’re doing this ‘Force is Female’ workshop where we get to inspire 10 up-and-coming female musicians. KLP and I will talk about my career and my beginnings and what I’m up to now – and how to try and be your best self.

And then, after, I’ve brought along the instrumental for ‘Flexin’ and the girls get to write a verse. Whoever has the best verse will get to play the song with me on Sunday at Battle Force Melbourne.

How will you decide who gets to perform with you?

I think the song ‘Flexin’, it’s literally, it’s about celebrating yourself and just being confident. So, I think it’s whoever’s the most confident, being themselves and the best verse.

What would you say is the most rewarding part about mentoring up-and-coming artists?

You find out so much about yourself in the process and I get to learn that my position is very rare. It’s humbling to speak about yourself to other people and then realising, ‘wow, what I get to do is so different’. And then it inspires me even more. I think the whole experience is being inspired by inspiring other people.

A lot of people don’t understand how much work can go into being successful in the music industry. I think it’s great to have someone who just shows you the reality, because it’s a lot of information and if you’re doing something by yourself it can be really daunting and exhausting.

When I was starting out, I went to a lot of music seminars and the information that I heard from there, it opened my eyes. I didn’t expect things to happen. I just knew that’s not how it works and I think I was thankful for getting that information from other music industry people.

I think if I can just tell that to people, that not everything is a straight line, it’s literally like squiggles. You go up a hill and then you go under a bridge and then you’re on the road. But then you go into the grass. Just knowing that, it makes things real, you know?

What inspires you and helps you stay creative?

Everything. Honestly, I’m super competitive. When I hear music I’m always like ‘I wanna do that’. Or if I see something that’s really cool, I always wanna try and make my own version of everything. I think it’s just trying to be your better self every day. I just always want to improve. That’s what really inspires me to keep going.

Can you tell us a little bit about the sneakers you’re wearing today?

I’m wearing the Air Force 1 Sage Lows. They’re made by women for women. The difference between these and the original Air Force 1s is they’re slimmer and they have a higher heel, sole and are much more comfortable. It just looks more complementary on a female. It’s a better silhouette.

Your current EP is titled Last Year Was Weird Volume 1. What’s been so weird about the last year?

I almost came up with the concept before I wrote the music. I just had a lot of weird experiences, like finding myself and growing up into who I’m becoming. It’s just a summary of the whole experience.

It was just like when you realise that, ‘whoa, life can hit you really hard’ and just going through those growing pains. I think it was just a whole lot of inconveniences that I’d never faced before. I don’t wanna talk about exactly what happened, but it’s just some experiences that I didn’t really enjoy and I found really hard to get over and I had to really meditate and get through it.

What about your latest single ‘White Rose’? What’s the symbolism of the white rose and the narrative behind the video?

The whole song is about feeling under appreciated. So, it could be taken in any way. 

I think when I wrote it, it was more to a loved one and it was about when you start dating someone, you always do these small things. Like your significant other will get you chocolates, roses, flowers – or buy you presents when you don’t even expect them. I think when you get really comfortable, sometimes, that person can forget to give you those little special things and that means the relationship’s kind of dying.

It was like me asking where those special little things are that we used to do  that’s what a white rose is to me.

Moving forward into the new year, what’s next for you?

I’m making a Last Year Was Weird Volume Two and Three. I’m gonna start doing a lot more clothing – I started doing merch, but it’s gonna be its own thing. It’s going to be Last Year Was Weird as a clothing brand. So just launching that and writing more music and just growing.

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