Tkay Maidza: Life in colour
“My tennis coach used to always tell me, ‘If you don’t return the next shot, you won’t know what happens next, so always take the next shot’ and that rings true even today,” pronounces Tkay Maidza, dialling in from LA where she’s been based since the end of 2020. “The moments that define you in a match are the pressure points. So with enough practice and consistency, you know that even your most vulnerable moments will never fall before a certain standard of performance, right?” For the 25-year-old singer and rapper, that discipline is something she’s funnelled into her own creative practice. It’s proven a successful mantra; though a fairly fresh face on the scene, she’s gearing up to release her third EP in three years on revered indie label 4AD.
“As unhealthy as it sounds, I love being under pressure and working out of my comfort zone”
But Maidza’s path to success has been a long time in the making. Born in Harare, Zimbabwe to an industrial chemist mother and metallurgist father, Maidza relocated to Australia aged five, moving around small mining towns before eventually settling in Adelaide to pursue her dreams of playing professional tennis. A sporting prodigy on course to become a pro, she also graduated high school at 16, with prospects to train as an architect. Soon her gaze turned to her other passion, music, and at just 17, she signed to Universal Australia to release her debut EP Switch Tape, a colourful project that blended pop, rap and electronic music.
Knit one piece: Farradas Knits
Jewellery: Rare Romance
Shoes: Azalea Wang
Navigating the music industry as a teenager is no small feat but Maidza credits the experience with equipping her with the confidence to pursue a career on her own terms. “[When I began my career] I disassociated a lot. I was trying to just get through it and do my best, even while being pulled left, right and centre. I couldn’t think things through, I just had to do,” she remembers. Now, when she does, the result is an exhilarating fusion of sounds, aesthetics and moods. At her most energetic, she resembles an early-career Azealia Banks, her rhymes bouncing atop the swung beats of slinky house tune Monochrome. The JPEGMAFIA-assisted Awake squares up to a vicious trap beat as Maidza meditates on the restlessness of doom scrolling. On the reggae and indie-infused Big Things, it’s clear to hear the inspiration drawn from Philadelphian songwriter Santigold – an artist, alongside Nicki Minaj, Lorde and Major Lazer, that Maidza cites as an influence. Every inch a child of the internet age, this genre-blind approach and thirst for experimentation can perhaps be traced back to adolescent Limewire binges, sneaking on the family computer to download the Twilight soundtrack, or My Chemical Romance, or else combing Instagram for the near-anonymous producers who made her favourite beatpacks.
Star top: Heaven by Marc Jacobs
Hat: Rory Rockmore
Jewellery: Rory Rockmore
Shoes: Jackalope Land
Unlike many young artists who are ill-equipped to deal with the demands of the music industry, Maidza’s background in the high pressure world of sports helped her navigate the pitfalls. “My age was a great excuse, I would often hide behind that as a reason not to turn up to parties and events and get caught up in that scene or cycle of partying. It was just work, work, work.” Her focus has undoubtedly served her well, releasing two instalments of her Last Year Was Weird trilogy-to-be in two years, with the final entry landing this summer, to say nothing of the accompanying clothing line. Maidza, as she explains, is very much committed to world building, harnessing her platforms to construct a defined aesthetic that her fans can feel a part of. She points to stars such as Lady Gaga and Travis Scott who “bring people into their own world, even those who aren’t die-hard stans” and aspires to do the same, even if she isn’t quite sure what her fanbase should be called yet. She’s currently deciding between ‘grasshoppers’ – after her song – or ‘besties’.
The closing instalment of the (now depressingly) aptly-titled trilogy feels, in many ways, like the end of an era, the fitting culmination of a journey that has seen Maidza move from a young artist to, well, a young artist with a clarity of vision that feels all-encompassing. When asked about the journey, she is, predictably, a pro. “Growing up, I felt like I had to mould myself into whatever environment I found myself in. I went to four primary schools and three high schools, so reinventing myself seems like a natural progression.” Still, Maidza claims that Volume 3 is the most confident she has ever felt as an artist. “If I could symbolise it, I would point to a rising phoenix because I’ve honed my craft and I’m not masking my feelings. I’m 24 songs in since the first EP and touched on everything from pop to trap to R&B. If this trilogy was the last thing I ever released, I wouldn’t be angry because it’s so clearly a linear journey of my own evolution.”
Pink Suit: Phlemuns
Jewellery: Hannah Jewett
Shoes: Azalea Wang
If LYWW Vol. 1 was the sound of an artist trying on identities to see which fitted best, and LYWW Vol. 2 was Maidza flexing her rap chops, then Vol. 3 sees Maidza fully own her artistic versatility. “I wanted to curate the songs in a way that tells a story,” she says with a wink. This is best exemplified in lead single Kim, a trap power anthem that sees Maidza take on the identities of influential Kims across generations. “I really wanted to evoke that over-the-top production of noughties pop music videos, in a sort of parody way.” First she channels Lil’ Kim, the rap pioneer who made space for women in a male-dominated genre, whom Maidza pays tribute to by recreating her infamous 1999 MTV VMAs head-to-toe purple look. Then there’s Kim Possible, the determined cartoon Disney Channel spy who saves the world from her hidden lair. Finally, we see Kim Kardashian, arguably the most famous woman in the world, and whose role in Kanye West’s Bound 2 iconic visual lives on in this video. Over snarling snares and a chest-rattling bassline, Maidza sniggers: “I guess I’m the one to be wearin’ the pants/ Signin’ them papers, shakin’ them hands”. Recent single Syrup is similarly unapologetic, declaring “I want it all, can’t apologise/ I’ll take the cake and the kitchen knife”. It’s a fitting lyric for an ambitious artist that has spent her entire life tirelessly, and successfully, chasing excellence.
“[When I began my career] I disassociated a lot. I was trying to just get through it and do my best, even while being pulled left, right and centre. I couldn’t think things through, I just had to do”
Star top: Heaven by Marc Jacobs
Hat and jewellery: Rory Rockmore
Shoes: Jackalope Land
Towards the end of our chat, conversation turns to what comes next for Tkay Maidza. The answer is inevitable: “I’m working on an album!” she beams. “Now I know exactly what my sound is. I know what direction I want to go in and how I can make myself an artist that will be around for the next ten, 20 years.” I wonder if she ever feels the need to take a moment to just relax? “As unhealthy as it sounds, I love being under pressure and working out of my comfort zone. I’m always pleasantly surprised at what I’m able to do when I push myself,” she admits with a wry smile. “That’s why I identify with LA rather than Adelaide. There’s an urgency as everybody is here for a purpose, doing anything they can to make their dreams come true.”
Last Year Was Weird Vol.3 is out via 4AD in June