“First of all it’s a banger, like it’s a crazy song,” Tyla, 21, tells PEOPLE of her Afrobeat-tinged breakout about a steamy romance, which climbed to No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The tune has been an even bigger winner on social media, with thousands of fans using it over their own videos and testing their skills with the Water Dance Challenge based on the star’s impressive moves in her music video.
“Even before the challenge started, before the video went viral, people were loving the song. But I think what really took it to the edge was my performance of it,” says Tyla. “I worked with my choreographer in South Africa and we made that dance and when I performed on stage I just threw water, like I didn’t even think about it.”
Most recently she dazzled Jimmy Fallon and his studio audience, making her American television debut performing “Water” live on The Tonight Show. It’s been a whirlwind year for the young South African star and she’s just getting started.
Here are five things to know about Tyla:
She was born Tyla Laura Seethal in Johannesburg, South Africa
Tyla, pronounced TIE-Luh, “grew up listening to Afrobeats, amapiano, house Kwaito and all of that,” says the singer of popular genres in her home country. “But also a lot of R&B and pop also played in my house and I looked up to a lot of R&B and pop artists.”
As for her American influences, “I really looked up to Michael Jackson as a performer specifically. I also looked up to Rihanna and Aaliyah as well.” But when it came time to figure out her own sound, she says, “I knew that I wanted my culture in it. I made my first amapiano song ‘Getting Late’ and added pop and R&B melodies to it. With ‘Water’ I’d describe it as the perfect blend. Being from South Africa is the reason why my sound is what it is.”
In school she studied mining engineering before focusing on music
“Music was always the plan, but when I consciously started working towards it, I was in my last year of high school,” says Tyla, who kickstarted her career by posting singing videos to social media. “I was studying and writing my final exams but every weekend I made sure to go to the studio and just record, experiment, shoot pictures and just go for it.”
That said, her parents weren’t always going for it. “When I finished school my parents asked me what I’m going to study and I told them immediately I want to go into music,” she says. “After a lot of convincing they allowed me to do just that.”
She has over 6 million TikTok followers, and loads of admirers
Tyla isn’t new to social media, but she’s the first to admit things have changed. “I grew up on social media,” she says. “Like maybe at age 12 or 13 I would borrow my father’s phone to make social media accounts. I wasn’t supposed to be on it at that age but I just fell in love with pictures and making videos and musical.ly.”
These days, after going viral with both of her singles, “I am starting to feel the pressure of social media now because the numbers are rising much faster and I just understand the influence that I have now,” she says. “I have to be more careful and use my platform right.”
As for wishful suitors shooting their shot and expressing interest in the beautiful star on social media: “My DMs are always active honey! I’m telling you, there’s always someone in there that I wouldn’t expect, so yeah, it’s booming!”
The viral music video for “Water” almost didn’t happen
Tyla fans can thank themselves for bringing “Water” to life on camera. “We weren’t actually going to shoot a video, and then the song just went viral,” explains Tyla. “We were like ‘Oh my word!’ We ended up working with [music video director] Child and I’ve always wanted to work with her so that was exciting. It was a little bit stressful, but I had so much fun on set.”
That didn’t stop the rising star from having jitters ahead of the video’s release. “I was so nervous,” she says, “like I literally couldn’t sleep. I was just waiting for it to drop. But after I saw the response was good it was such a relief. I just felt so much better after all that.”
When she’s not singing and dancing, she loves lounging and scrolling
“I love to just lay down,” says the star, “close the curtain, maybe go on TikTok. Sometimes I watch TV or when I’m at home I love to just chill with my family.”
For Tyla, there’s no place like home, and especially a particular place in her home. “We do this thing where we just sit on our parents’ bed and we just talk about anything and everything. That’s something that I really enjoy doing. Basically, I just chill.”
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