21 under 21

21 Under 21: Daya Explains Why Miley Cyrus Is a Role Model

Joel Barhamand

Daya photographed on Aug. 19, 2018 at Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, N.Y.

In 2016, Daya’s pop-leaning debut single, “Hide Away,” and follow-up hit “Sit Still, Look Pretty” both cracked the top 10 of Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40 chart, while her Chainsmokers collab, “Don’t Let Me Down,” hit No. 3 on the Hot 100 and earned the singer, now 19, her first Grammy. But while she has got as much right as any young pop artist in music to rest on her laurels, she insists, “I don’t ever want to get too comfortable.” The Pennsylvania native is trying on new genres -- she’d love to work with Anderson .Paak -- and making sure her music has a message. Recent downtempo single “Safe” launched with the #Safeis campaign, encouraging fans to use the hashtag on social media and share what makes them feel comfortable.

What challenges do you face in the industry because of your age?
It’s hard because you don’t know everything, and you’re aware that you don’t know everything. But at the same time, I do know enough to be where I am in the industry. The public can be patronizing sometimes, even people that I meet in the industry [sometimes] just treat me as if I haven’t experienced enough or haven’t done enough.

Which artist has set a good example of how to grow up in the spotlight?
Miley [Cyrus] is a great example. She was in the spotlight at a very young age with Hannah Montana, and did the younger, cuter Disney look, then went through a more rebellious stage. And then, ended up where she is now. That’s the most realistic interpretation of growing up in this day and age. I don’t think that anything should be sugar coated. It’s hard to grow up in the spotlight and maintain that kind of composure when you’re trying to figure yourself out at such a young age. Anyone who does it is a warrior.

How do you navigate your use of social media?
I don’t let it control me, which is key. I have a very different approach, I feel. I don’t want to give my life away on social media all of the time. I’ve grown up a more private person, and I’ve definitely become more public with my life since all of this started, but I definitely think that it should always be about the music, first and foremost. I obviously want my fans to get to know me, I want to start to making connections with them, so I do go on [social media] and I do engage with them a lot. But, I also think that there should be this barrier.

You’ve said your mom is a really business-minded woman. What lessons has she taught you that you apply to your career?
She’s really big on staying real and not letting anyone else control your fate but you. That’s the best lesson that I could have learned at a young age because going into the industry, you are making yourself to be vulnerable. And I’ve heard of a lot of really, really unfortunate situations of labels taking advantage [of greenness]. But as much as people might try to convince you that you’re inexperienced and you don’t know about the industry, there’s no standard to the industry. You control who you are, how you want to be seen to the world. That’s just the most powerful thing that I could have learned. It’s not like one person has this ability to make me an artist or make me into something. It’s all within me.

Joel Barhamand
Daya photographed on Aug. 19, 2018 at Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, N.Y.

Do you think it has gotten easier to know who you are the longer you’ve been doing this?
For sure. When I was younger, I didn’t write any of my songs and I didn’t really have much say in the visual side of things, either. I’ve always been an artist, I’ve always been into visuals, so that definitely was a shock to the system. I just thought that that was the way it had to go for a little bit. I went with it. But then, I wasn’t really feeling myself with anything. I had to get that back and take control in all areas. And that makes me feel so much more like myself. I’m working with the people I want to work with. I’m producing the songs I want to write. Everything feels a lot more together for me.

Looking back on your past year, why was important to take a step back?
This past year, in a way, has been about not slowing down but more about breathing. It has been about taking in everything, and I don’t think I gave myself time or the energy to do that before. It was just one thing after another after another, it was a race that I was in. I accomplished so much, but it was really, really nice this past year to take a minute and to be in studio and explore different sounds and styles and give myself the freedom to really reflect and be like, “OK, is this going where I want it to go? And if not, how do I change it to get there?”

What your first big splurge was on?
My Gucci purse. I still carry it around with me everywhere. It’s black with the red and green stripe, and the little gold lion door knob thing.

How do you want to spend your 21st birthday?
Basically, Kylie Jenner’s 21st, but even better and more bougie. Just going all of the way. I might need to start a Kickstarter or a GoFundMe, I don’t have that kind of pocket change right now, but maybe I will when I’m 21.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 13 issue of Billboard.