Get Familiar With The Queen Of Popiano: The Rise of Tyla

By @Atlehang Moloi & Sabelo Mkhabela on 10/12/2023 in Features

You hear Tyla’s single ‘Water’ everywhere; TikTok videos, Instagram stories, the radio, TV, all the biggest Spotify and Apple Music playlists and, as you read this right now, it’s most likely playing in your head. 

The song’s music video surpassed 3 million views in just three days which is a rare feat in South African music. Shortly after, ‘Water’ entered The Billboard Hot 100 at Number 67. Tyla now has more than 10 million monthly listeners on Spotify… The record-breaking stats and milestones are too many to mention. You see them on your TL everyday. 

Overnight success?

It seems Tyla came out nowhere and just shot straight to the top. But day-one Tyla fans have witnessed the life-changing role social media has played throughout her music journey. Before her breakthrough with ‘Getting Late’, Tyla Seethal, who was born and raised in Joburg, would host Instagram and TikTok live sessions where she would sing original songs and covers in her bedroom while playing her guitar a majority of the time.

Social media continues to have a positive impact on Tyla’s career. This is seen with the success of her globally-acclaimed single, ‘Water’ which gained popularity on TikTok following a viral dance challenge that was even joined by Nadia Nakaiand Uncle Waffles. The dance used in the challenge is the popular Bacardi dance that originated in Pretoria.

The 21-year-old musician has had an extraordinary ascent as she didn’t spend that many years at the bottom like most artists do in SA. Her debut single ‘Getting Late’ debuted on Metro FM on Oskido’s I Believe show in September 2019. 

A dance challenge naturally formed part of the song’s promotion. A music video followed in 2021, and it was a high-end video built on Pop music video tropes; a gang of dancers, stunning wardrobe and locations like a cheerleader dance scene in a sports field. In an interview with RealLyfe Productions in May, Tyla said at the time, she was just doing things on her own with her small team. “It was me, my best friend, my manager, he also shot the video, he’s a videographer as well,” she said. What the music video showed was that Tyla is a born star; she’s charismatic, beautiful and can sing and dance very well — she’s a fully developed artist. 

A Spotify RADAR Africa mini documentary revealed that Tyla has had interest in music and showbiz since her childhood. She started writing and singing at the age of 12. “I remember everywhere we went, Mommy put you on the spot,” Tyla’s brother said in the documentary. “Every opportunity, my mother would make me sing,” Tyla said in agreement. 

Throughout school, Tyla was entering auditions back to back. “I would always audition for the biggest role… I kept pushing, I kept auditioning for everything, all the soirees, the talent shows, I was there and I just loved it and in my last year of school, I ended up becoming head of culture for the school,” she said in the Spotify RADAR Africa mini doccie. 

Queen of Popiano 

‘Getting Late’, produced by experimental producer Kooldrink, was the perfect introduction to Tyla’s signature sound dubbed ‘Popiano’ (pronounced “pop piano”); a fusion of the Amapiano sound with airy R&B vocals and Pop music sensibilities. “I like to fuse different western genres with some African influences,” Tyla told IOL in March.

Today, she’s signed to Epic Records through a joint venture with Johannesburg/New York-based Fax Records, and co-managed by We Make Music and Africa Creative Agency, which is her wildest dream. “Initially,” she said in the interview mentioned above, “Labels weren’t on  my mind, it wasn’t something I thought was realistic so I never thought I could work towards it, I was literally just making music, and when I dropped the video for ‘Getting Late’, all the labels reached out, there was a bidding war, it was crazy, Epic is the one I went with.”

Tyla has managed to captivate fans with smash hits such as ‘Overdue’(2021), an amalgamation of Pop, EDM and Gqom which was part of the soundtrack for Netflix’s popular series ‘Blood And Water’; as well as ‘To Last’ (2022) for which she enlisted ‘Piano titans DJ Maphorisa and Young Stunna for the official remix. And it’s been big moves only as she appeared on Major League Djz and Major Lazer’s collaborative album ‘Piano Republik’ on the single ‘Ke Shy’.

Tyla is part of the wave of African wave of musicians who are interpreting the flexible Amapiano sound in their own way. Just like the likes of Nasty C and Elaine, she’s part of a lineage of English-speaking South African musicians who aren’t doing Afrobeats but have international appeal. 

International prominence 

2023 marks the beginning of Tyla’s rise to international prominence. She kickstarted this year with a bang when she released the single ‘Been Thinking’

She joined Chris Brown on the European leg of his Under The Influence Tour

“THANK YOU @Tyla for an amazing tour! Had so much fun with you and your crew. AMAZING PEOPLE ❤️????????. Take over the world shawty ⭐️,” Chris Brown said after the show in a since-deleted Instagram post.

“My first time out of South Africa has literally been amazing. Meeting Chris Brown, SZA, Miguel, all these people we literally listen to all the time. It’s literally crazy,” Tyla said in the RADAR mini doccie. 

Months later, Tyla dropped ‘Girl Next Door’, a collaborative single with Nigerian songstress and fellow Gen-Z Afro-Pop star Ayra Starr. ‘Girl Next Door’ is new age Aforbeats that contains Amapiano’s log drum. “She’s such a talented artist, and I feel like our energies really came together to create something special,” Ayrra Starr said in a press release at the time of the song’s release. 

Tyla makes a splash with ‘Water’

Two months later, Tyla released her highest ranking single to date, ‘Water’. ‘Water’ has shattered records. Last month, Tyla was announced as the most streamed South African artist on Spotify, surpassing 4.55 million monthly listeners on the platform. She’s approaching 11 million as of writing this article. ‘Water’ entered the top 40 on the global Spotify chart for with 1.96 million streams. Tyla is the first South African artist to have number one placement on the UK Afrobeats chart. She is also the first SA artist to be placed in Top 10 on UK Top 40 charts, surpassing Tems’ ‘Essence’ at number six. 

‘Water’ entered one of the most recognised music charts when it made her a Billboard Hot 100 first-timer this week with, Billboard reported, 6.4 million official streams (up 22%), 3.1 million radio airplay audience impressions (up 128%) and 1,000 downloads sold (up 9%) in the United States in the Sept. 29-Oct. 5 tracking week, according to Luminate. Additionally, earlier this week, Tyla sizzled with her first-ever live TV performance on Swedish television show, BIANCA

“Among Billboard’s other multi-metric charts, the single rises 7-6 on Hot R&B Songs and 36-22 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. Further on radio, “Water” debuts at No. 39 on Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay and No. 47 on R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay.” - Billboard

From singing covers in the comfort of her home on social media to dominating international charts globally, Tyla is destined to “take Africa to the world” on her journey to superstardom. Her rise is testament to good synergy between talent and strong management and PR. Tyla’s team has pulled all the right moves for her, thrusting her into the global music scene within a short period. 

Stream Tyla’s music on Spotify and Apple Music




What’s The Difference Between A Mixtape And An Album In 2023...

Tyson Sybateli’s latest mixtape ‘Present.’ always comes up in album of the year conversations. The argument is that ‘Present.’ sounds like an album. ...


10 Times M.anifest Collaborated With A South African Artist

Ghanaian lyricist M.anifest is featured on A-Reece’s new album ‘P2: THE BIG HEARTED BAD GUY’ on two songs. The two rappers’ relationship and collabora...


AKA’s Career In 30 Songs

We celebrate AKA’s extraordinary career in 30 songs from 2005 till 2023. Entity - ‘Touch & Go’ (2005) AKA’s early beginnings, teen rap group, En...

Register for Slikour On Life
Sign in for Slikour On Life