Tkay Maidza knows what she wants, despite the weird year

Words by Jasmine Wallis

The Australian singer and rapper on her latest release, designing clothes and feeling self-assured in these strange times.

I call Tkay Maidza two days before volume two of her trilogy Last Year Was Weird is released. Although the ‘weird year’ she was originally referring to was 2016, the second volume’s title is very fitting for the weirdest year of all: 2020. 

Tkay tells me that today she’s doing interviews before going for a hike. Even though Adelaide, where she’s currently based, is no longer in strict lockdown, it seems that Tkay is doing what most of us are this year – working and doing our daily walks. 

And despite the challenges of releasing a new EP amidst a global pandemic, she isn’t letting this year’s events stop her flow. As a musician, you have to keep moving because if you’re not releasing during a pandemic then what are you doing?” she asks. “It’s been a cool challenge to keep the ball rolling and it’s good for the mental health to have that movement.” 

It’s been two years since Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 1 was released and since then Tkay tells me that not only has she grown as a musician but she’s also realised what she wants out of life, making Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2 her boldest release yet. 

“The first volume was me figuring out where I want to go and understanding the emotional situation that I was in. That whole existentialism of what does anything mean and is anything worth doing? This one is about accepting where you are, going ahead with it and asking what does the next level even feel like?”  

Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2 is a fusion of multiple styles and genres and each track is imbued with Tkay’s iconic energy. Don’t Call Again, featuring Kari Faux, is a chilled out, SZA-esque, soulful track while Shook has the tempo of a dance floor filler you might hear in an R&B club circa 2004. These reference points are no surprise considering what Tkay was listening to during the writing and recording process. 

“I was listening to a lot of Erykah Badu, SZA, OutKast, Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliot, Ski Mask The Slump Dog, a lot of grime. But the challenge for this was to still keep it in that world of soulful, euphoric vibes. I just wanted them to have the energy to be able to dance to it and sit down and do nothing to it. I think that’s a really good challenge to try and master,” she says.

This new release comes just two months after the Australian singer and rapper signed to British indie music label 4AD. With alternative artists such as Grimes, Purity Ring and The National also being represented by the label, Tkay tells me she’s feeling excited by the collaboration. 

“Even though I make pop music sometimes, I’m definitely not a pop artist so I need someone who understands that pushing me in a conventional way probably won’t work for me. A lot of the signed artists you never hear on commercial radio, you have to find other ways to make it happen and I think that’s really cool because it just brings more challenges and opportunities.”

Another challenge that Tkay has given herself lately is delving into the world of fashion design and production. She designed the Last Year Was Weird merch herself but tells me she still has a lot to learn before reaching her end goal of creating high-quality streetwear. 

“I definitely would love to branch out and work with other designers who know more about cutting and patterns. I want to make motorcycling pants and all those kinds of things. You need a lot more experience but that’s where I’d like to go eventually.” 

While this time last year she was being flown to Milan to collaborate on a campaign with fashion designer Stella McCartney, this year Tkay found herself in lockdown having to wear a number of hats to pull off creating the Don’t Call Again music video.

“Looking back now I realise how much work it was!” she laughs. “I was wearing four or five different outfits, I did my own makeup, I had the green screen up, I set up the lighting and I had to film it with my iPhone and upload the files to send to the editor and director. There were so many different steps.”

Filming the music video in her bedroom at home in Adelaide reminded her how resourceful artists can be with when times get tough (à la COVID-19 lockdown).

“I was literally in my room and you know when you get too close to something you can’t even see it? But when it came out I was like ‘Oh wait this is really sick.’ We did that. The context really changes when it’s out in the world and people are actually seeing it. I feel like artists can be really had on themselves because they’re like ‘Oh I wish I had a big green screen studio’, but other people are doing it!” 

While 2020 has definitely been one hell of a weird year, Tkay is focusing on her music – all facets of it, whether that’s fashion design or directing music videos. “It’s hard to tell what is going to happen with the pandemic so I think that’s all I can really focus on. Just improving professionally and as a person,” she tells me.

Now moving into her mid-twenties, exploring her creativity while focusing on personal growth is paying off for Tkay and at the end of our phone call, she tells me she’s feeling herself more than ever before. 

“I feel more assured in who I am in this volume. I feel like I’m moving forward and I’m happy to sit in that idea of I am who I am,” she says confidently. “It’s not really about what everyone wants from me anymore… it’s about what I want out of this whole life.”

Listen to Last Year Was Weird Vol. 2 here.


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