Since making her debut with 2016’s double-platinum “Hide Away,” 19-year-old singer/songwriter Daya won her first ever Grammy Award for her smash collaboration with The Chainsmokers “Don’t Let Me Down,” released a gold-certified album, and headlined a national tour. Just months after debuting at #5 on Billboard’s 21 Under 21 list in 2016, the Pittsburgh-born artist emerged as the youngest honoree on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 music list in 2017. Newly signed to Interscope Records, Daya is set to deliver a sophomore album that finally shows the full depth of her talent and scope of her artistry.
“I’ve been writing songs since I was 12, but working on this record helped me to find my voice in a whole new way,” says Daya, who co-wrote every track on the album. “Being in the studio every day and experimenting with new sounds has opened up all these parts of me that I didn’t even know were there.”
Made with producers like Joel Little (Lorde, Tove Lo), Stargate (Sam Smith, Rihanna), and Oren Yoel (Miley Cyrus, Tori Kelly), the follow-up to 2016’s Sit Still, Look Pretty takes on a more expansive sound while further proving Daya’s gift for unforgettable melody. Along with bringing elements of urban and electronic music to her brightly arranged breed of pop, Daya embraces a soulful sensibility closely shaped by her lifelong love of R&B and her experience in studying jazz piano.
“Before this album I felt like I had to fit my songs into some kind of a mold, but now I’m less worried about keeping everything in a particular structure,” says Daya, a classically trained pianist who began playing at the age of three, and later picked up guitar, ukulele, saxophone, and flute. “The process feels much more free-flowing now, where I’m just trying out different ideas and seeing where they lead me.”
That richer sonic palette serves as the backdrop for Daya’s more emotionally complex lyrics, an element echoed by her stunning vocal range. While she notes that her songwriting has long been a conduit for self-discovery, she’s recently felt more compelled to explore emotions that tend to go ignored in pop. “Writing these new songs, I wanted to continue with the theme of empowerment from my older music, but also get even more real about things I’ve gone through and what’s in my heart,” Daya says.
On lead single “New”—a fantastically intense powerhouse offering up both intimate confession and massive beats—Daya sheds light on the struggle of owning up to your vulnerability. “I’m usually very closed off in relationships; I’ll make all these excuses about why a situation isn’t good for me or why I don’t need this person in my life,” she admits. “‘New’ is about accepting that you have real feelings for someone and learning how to let them in, which is definitely a new perspective for me.” Hailed by Billboard as a “dynamic, bass-thumping pop anthem that tugs at the heartstrings,” the track is accompanied by a gorgeously cinematic video conceptualized by Daya (who also played a key role in creating its chaotic choreography).
Throughout her second album, Daya also touches on fragile emotions like feeling unable to move on from past relationships (on catchy “Outta My Head”) and trying to explain her quick fuse (on the sharp story-telling “Temper”). On “Safe”—penned the day after the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas—Daya turns in a gently devastating vocal performance perfectly suited to her thoughtful meditation on innocence and disillusionment.
“I was thinking how sad and crazy it is that these things happen so often now, they don’t even affect us the same way anymore,” Daya says of “Safe.” “I wanted look at why we’re so numb and why we haven’t done more to stop this sort of violence, but I also wanted to address that on a very personal level. It ended up becoming a song that looks back on the past, and asks why we can’t all feel as safe as when we were younger.
Born Grace Tandon, she devoted much of her childhood to honing her own musical talents. Beginning with the piano (age 3), this Pittsburgh native picked up multiple instruments and later found her voice to accompany the songs she began writing. Her writing ability quickly garnered the attention of professionals in the music industry who invited to her to Los Angeles for her first co-writing sessions at age 16. It was during this first trip West that “Hide Away” was born. Shortly thereafter, she became an independent artist, “Hide Away” was released and she adopted the moniker of Daya — the Hindi translation of her first name, and a nod to her Indian heritage. The track made an instant splash and transformed her into a full-time singer-songwriter who took to the road promoting her songs while remotely finishing high school.
Premiering in April 2015, “Hide Away” shot to the top 10 on Billboard’s Pop Digital Songs chart and reached #23 on the Billboard Hot 100, with Daya landing on Rolling Stone’s list of “10 New Artists You Need to Know” the following January. With Sit Still, Look Pretty arriving in October 2016, Daya soon found her full-length debut climbing to the top 40 on the US Billboard 200 and achieved colossal success with “Don’t Let Me Down” (winner of the Best Dance Recording prize at the 2017 Grammys).
Each track on Daya’s new album comes with a raw emotional charge partly inspired by her love of artists like Amy Winehouse. “I’ve always been drawn to very strong female voices—singers who have something say and keep their music honest,” she says. In the making of her new album, Daya spent much of her time reflecting on the growth she’s undergone in recent years. “When I started out, people seemed to treat me as a young female artist who didn’t really have a voice of her own,” she says. “It took me a while to speak up for myself, but now I’m at the point where I’m finally taking the creative reins.” And with empowerment more vital to her message than ever, Daya hopes that newfound confidence might help to inspire others. “Self-love, self-respect—I don’t know if you can really be taught those things, but it’s important to me to talk about my experience of being a young woman in a male-dominated world,” she says. “My hope is that people see the changes that I’ve made for myself, and maybe feel more motivated about going out and getting whatever it is that they want for their own lives.”