Each month, Billboard Pride celebrates an LGBTQ act as its Artist of the Month. Our October selection: Daya.
Just a few days after celebrating her 22nd birthday, Daya is still shocked by both how fast and how slow the last year went. “It’s weird to be 22, because 21 just happened,” she tells Billboard over the phone with a laugh. “I went to maybe like three bars, and then quarantine happened. I feel like I never got to legally use my ID.”
Sitting on her sunlit patio in Los Angeles, the singer is looking back on her last year — the star took a short break from music, switched record labels, and is now preparing the release of her long-awaited sophomore project — and says that she’s glad to have gone through the changes she got to experience. “It feels like everything is a rebirth, and my reintroduction to the world.”
That reintroduction officially came in the form of “First Time,” Daya’s first official solo release in over a year, and her first since landing a new joint record deal with Sandlot Records and AWAL. The track, a sunkissed, tropical dance anthem, sees Daya fully embracing her sexuality, experimenting with her sound, and kicking off a new era of her recording career.
“It feels like I’m in a space where I’m more comfortable with myself,” she says. “I’ve gone through a lot of growth personally, and life, just experience-wise and relationship-wise. I’m in a place to kind of be more vulnerable, and talk about my feelings in a more vulnerable, personal way.”
Even her new music video for “First Time” sees Daya letting loose and getting creative — directed by the singer’s girlfriend Clyde Munroe, the video follows Daya on a roadtrip, where the star lets herself run free through massive fields, explore deserts, dive into an ocean, and even race on a dirt bike.
Daya says that she actually had never driven a dirt bike until the started shooting the video. “I was actually going to ride a proper motorcycle at first, but that obviously was not something that you can learn in 20 minutes,” she says with a nervous chuckle. “It was just super-organic and fun, and the first time that we’ve shot together as a couple, like our first proper music video, so it was super exciting.”
Having an organic work environment is part of the reason the star decided to make her switch from Interscope. The singer says that after collaborating over the years with producer Jacob Kasher (professionally known as J Kash), she decided she wanted to take control of her platform by signing an independent deal with his record label, Sandlot Records, in partnership with AWAL Recordings.
There are a lot of reasons Daya says she ultimately made the move. But the two most important to her were freedom and control. “It’s crazy how lucky I am to be in this situation. I’m not taking that for granted — the fact that I have this history and this career already built up for myself, and I already have this platform, I’m just excited that I can also have the freedom to do what I want with it,” she says, “It’s about ownership, about control, owning my message and owning my sound. I hope that people can connect with that and relate to that, because I feel like that’s something that’s unfortunately such a rarity in the industry.”
Freedom is something Daya’s been talking a lot about outside of her music career as of late — for the last few months, the 22-year-old has made a habit of regularly keeping her fans informed about the 2020 Presidential election. Whether it’s through informational graphics posted across her social media, or interviews with Vice President Joe Biden’s youth engagement team, the star has been making sure she goes out of her way to get her fans to the polls this November.
For Daya, having a platform means using it to make as much positive change as possible in the world immediately surrounding her. “It would be completely ignorant of me to disregard [politics], especially as someone who is followed by a lot of young people,” she says. “I want to show that this isn’t just about you as an individual, this is about our entire country and marginalized communities.”
The singer isn’t shy about her opinions — as we’re chatting just days after Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation, Daya immediately decries the Senate Republicans’ rushed confirmation process to put another conservative justice on the court. “That was a complete hypocrisy,” she says. “It’s just very representative of Trump, his whole administration and their agenda. It’s so sad to see, and hopefully this gives everyone the incentive to go out and vote locally, not just for president.”
Daya continues, saying that when talking to her fans online, she makes a concerted effort to push for empathy from her fans, along with information. “I hope I’m helping people to actually follow through on things and to look into how the Trump administration has disproportionately affected queer people and black people and women and minorities,” she says emphatically. “Like, this is not just about you, this is not about your family, this is about all of these marginalized communities that have been targeted these past four years. Trump has been making blatant, repeated attacks on the LGBTQ community, saying that trans people can’t join the military, allowing discrimination against them in the workplace and in healthcare, it’s just like … there are so many massive red flags that he’s shown to us.”
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That’s also why Daya has been specifically targeting her fans from Pennsylvania (her home state) — this year, Pennsylvania is one of the most contested battleground states in the election, and is considered by FiveThirtyEight to be the state that could “decide the 2020 election.”
The singer says she’s already mailed in her ballot, but is still actively encouraging her PA fans to vote. “It’s insanely important that people in PA, and especially young people, get out and vote. Especially because young people didn’t turn out in huge numbers in 2016,” she says. “I hope that my people do what’s right.”
Luckily, Daya doesn’t feel like campaigning to her fans is entirely necessary — over the last few months, the star says that she’s been impressed with her generation in how quickly they’ve responded to injustice, and how active they’ve become in the political landscape of the election. “It definitely is possible for us to achieve the future that we want — young people are finally holding the older generation accountable, which is making me really happy,” she says. “We have the empathy it takes to carry us into the next few years of everything. That’s giving me a lot of hope.”
That hope is what is propelling Daya forward now, into a future career rife with nothing but possibility. “I feel like this is the first time that I’m confronting a lot of things, feelings, emotions, and digging into the more vulnerable parts of me to express to everyone,” she says. “It’s kinda scary… but it’s also really exciting.”