Like a Fish in Water: TYLA’s in Her Element

Written by on April 5, 2024

South African star Tyla recently released her self-titled debut album TYLA, March 22, 2024, containing her hit songs “Water” and “Truth or Dare”. One could argue that Tyla has been repopularizing afro-beats and amapiano, especially considering the newly added Grammy category, “Best African Music Performance”, which Tyla was awarded with just this past February. The young singer is obviously headed to even greater things, but first, she’s come to cement herself as the Princess of Amapiano.

Intro” is a very small taste of what’s to come in the project – the rhythm and sultriness of Tyla’s voice and overall aura. Kelvin Momo is credited as a collaborator as “Intro” includes a voice memo recorded by Tyla during a session. As far as intros go, it’s not the strongest and I don’t see it holding up much over time, but it does the job, especially for a debut. From here, we transition into “Safer”, which makes great use of the airy quality in Tyla’s voice. Though the beat is fairly consistent throughout the (short) duration of the song, there are clear cuts from verse to pre-chorus to chorus, made clear by the changes in melody. The gang vocals in the chorus help switch up the mood, making it simultaneously more forceful and playful. 

Official MV for “Water” by Tyla

With already half a billion streams on Spotify, “Water” is obviously the most popular due to the chorus going wildly viral via the TikTok Water Challenge. Personally, my favorite part is the outro- when it’s nothing but a soft synth, Tyla and the gang vocals, and when she ends the song in a captivating lower register that was sprinkled here and there and a cute little run. “Truth or Dare” was released just a few weeks prior to the release of TYLA, and also had its own dance challenge going around. The layered harmonies add a gorgeous effect to the chorus that turn the song into what I think is Tyla’s second best pre-release single. Unfortunately, “No.1 (feat Tems)” is in my bottom 3, and that is purely because of how unprepared I was for it to end. I was feeling the beat, I was excited about the collaboration, I enjoyed the lyrics, and then it was over in the blink of an eye. First listen, I had to replay it to make sure I hadn’t zoned out and missed something. I apologize if it sounds dramatic! However short songs are my number 1 pet peeve in music, and it takes a truly standout song for me to ignore such a short track. I gotta put me number 1, no compromising!

From this point forward, the album starts getting increasingly better. Tyla takes on a very grounded tone for a majority of the track, “Breathe Me”, but still incorporates those breathy elements I was expecting with a title like this. From the songs I’ve covered so far, “Breathe Me” has my favorite melody, and the airiness of the last two lines in the second chorus and post-chorus are easily the highlights of the song. “Butterflies” however, is my favorite track on TYLA. Diverting a little from the amapiano genre, there’s an intoxicating harp-like instrument I suspect is a computerized guitar and a soft piano. The layered harmonies and ad-libs make the listener feel like they’re a step closer to some sort of haven, and I felt myself get entranced as the song progressed. Luckily the shift back into afro-beats isn’t done abruptly, as “On and On” carries on the calm vibe of the past two tracks. While the lyrics may be her asking to party all night long, it’s a classy party! We’re here to dance all night and look cute with our friends, no distractions, just pure unrestricted serotonin.

Official MV for “ART” by Tyla

Jump” is also criminally short – especially since it contains features from two artists, Gunna and Skillibeng –  but it may be justified. Tyla’s fiercer side peeks out with this track, and her confidence is felt in every single lyric. I audibly gasped at “I don’t touch no wheel cause I got a chauffeur”, like I had to take a minute to recover from that hit! Add it to the hot girl summer playlists I know y’all have. At the tenth song, we finally get to what I’d consider to be the project’s title track, “ART”. I would consider “ART” to be the most similar to “Water”, as it is amapiano but is aimed to garner more fans from the general public, considering that the promotions for the song include another dance challenge. My one complaint is the absolute lack of a bridge, but I can’t say I minded hearing the chorus again. When the tracklist came out, I was most excited for Tyla and Becky G’s collaboration, “On My Body”, and I was not disappointed. I knew Becky G would be a perfect fit for the song since afro-beats, urbano and reggaeton have a similar sound. Her verse was a tantalizing twenty-five seconds, seamlessly going from English to Spanish. “On My Body” is so fun in the sense that I can see myself listening to this when getting ready with my friends or on a dance floor- either one!

There’s more vulnerability in “Priorities” and “To Last” compared to Tyla’s other releases. Even though she has had songs on love and romantic mistakes, these two have instrumentals that are slower, though still of the amapiano genre. There’s this one run in particular during the post-chorus in “Priorities” that is just one of the most gorgeous sounds I’ve heard and a real vocal standout.  Tyla’s vocal choices are very fitting for “To Last” and its lyrics, as she sings of first love and heartbreak. It takes a lot for me to like empty choruses, which though I think it fits in a story-telling view, I can’t really get behind it. Finally, “Water – Remix” features Houston rapper Travis Scott. The only real change was the addition of his verse, which I actually enjoyed. There was a mention of his hometown, which I obviously loved as a proud Houstonian.  Overall, it stuck to its original version.

Tyla for her 2023 single “Girl Next Door” featuring Ayra Starr

Though some may complain that TYLA was majority afro-beats and amapiano, I loved that she’s first doing what she’s been perfecting for so long before she ventures out into other genres. It’s only her debut album, and she’s already got her own sound and sort of authenticity you always hope to find in an artist. I am very excited to see how far Tyla goes, and until the next project, I will be streaming!

  • Mariana Hernandez

    Hi! I'm Mariana, a freshman studying Psychology here at UH. Currently stressing about finals and obsessing over AtLA. Talk to me on Instagram! @annqiram

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