American R&B singer Tinashe on her secret to success: ‘Make things happen for yourself’

R&B star Tinashe on perserverance, songwriting, being bullied as a kid and following your dreams.

It is easy to want to be a star, but it is very hard to make it happen, says American R&B singer Tinashe. Getty Images
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Tinashe is on fire. You could track the ascent of this R&B star on a graph.

First there was last year's breakout hit 2 On. Then came the Kid Ink and Usher collaboration Body Language, followed by the critically acclaimed debut LP, Aquarius. This year, she upped the ante with the smash hit All Hands on Deck, featuring Iggy Azalea. Now that song looks set to reach an even wider audience thanks to a summer dance-floor remix, featuring Dej Loaf, that was released on June 9.

When her planned United States tour with Aussie rap queen Iggy was axed, Tinashe switched sides and is now on the road with Iggy’s arch-rival, Nicki Minaj.

There’s more to come – a recent internet leak revealed the 22-year-old has been in the studio with Drake. Then it emerged she has already recorded seven tunes for her next album with Swedish super-producer Max Martin (who has worked with Katy Perry and Britney Spears). With Dr Luke, Cirkut and Rock City also signed up for the project, her rise doesn’t look like it’s going to stall any time soon.

You started singing and dancing very young, when you were 4 years old. At what age did you decide you wanted to be a musician?

Honestly, as long as I can remember, I’ve known I want to do this. I think it was mainly because my parents never told me I couldn’t. They said: “Sure, you can do it,” and so I always believed that I could.

Where do you sit on the nature-nurture debate?

I think it’s 50/50 – you are 50 per cent born with natural talents. And the other 50 per cent people [often] miss out on is a work ethic and willpower, because it’s easy to want to be a star and it’s a lot harder to actually make it happen.

So what was your secret?

Never having a plan B, never thinking that I couldn’t do it, always being sure that somewhere, somehow, I was going to make it work.

There must have been moments when you thought about chucking in the towel.

Definitely not – absolutely, definitely not. There’s been moments of discouragement, where things haven’t gone my way, but I always knew that, deep down, I was going to figure things out one way or another. I wasn’t going to give up.

Do you know what a song’s about before you start writing it?

When I listen to a beat I feel particular emotions, so I know a general theme I want. That’s not necessarily super-specific, but it’s the general feeling that I want to portray. Then, from there I start making melodies for the track and then I go in and fill in lyrics.

Where do you write?

My favourite place to write is still in my room. I have a recording studio in my bedroom and that’s where I feel most comfortable, I feel I can be the most open as a writer. I feel relaxed, I can wear my pyjamas and just focus on the music and not anything else.

You still live with your parents, right? Time to get your own place, maybe?

Maybe – you would think so, right? But the thing is, I’m never home anyway, so who’s going to stay at my place? Right now, I don’t have a place rented anywhere or anything – hopefully when things settle down, I’ll find a place of my own.

Manhattan penthouse or Los Angeles villa?

I love LA, I’m definitely an LA girl. I love the sun and that’s why I think Dubai is so awesome – it’s sunny and beautiful. New York’s a little cold for me.

What did you listen to growing up?

My parents played a lot of 1990s R&B in the house – Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Sade, people like that.

So Janet would be your dream collaboration?

It would be awesome to work with her; I think that’s a long shot – but my dream collaboration is probably André 3000.

The story goes you were bullied as a kid.

Yeah, I was. From a very young age I knew what I wanted to do, and a lot of kids that age – 12, 13 – have absolutely no concept of what they want to do. Sometimes it’s hard for kids to relate to someone who is already working. So they were really mean to me because of that: they isolated me.

Where are those kids today?

Probably at stupid jobs – or at college still not knowing what they want to do.

Do you feel like a role model for kids who are picked on?

Definitely. I think the biggest thing you can learn from people in my situation is that if you want to achieve something in your life, you don’t have to sit and wait around to achieve it – you can go out there and make things happen for yourself.

Aquarius is out now on Sony Music Middle East