On Oct. 7, 2016, Daya released her debut album Sit Still, Look Pretty. Since then, the 18-year-old singer has had three more Pop Songs hits (following her 2015 top 10 breakout “Hide Away”), headlined a tour, and won a Grammy for her Chainsmokers collaboration “Don’t Let Me Down” — all before she was even signed to a major label; “Hide Away,” “Sit Still, Look Pretty” and “Words” were released on the indie Artbeatz label.
“It feels like it’s been so long since that release because I’ve just grown so much emotionally and mentally,” Daya tells Billboard. “But it’s crazy that only a year later, all of these changes are made and all of these new songs are ready, and I’m signed to a major label. It feels like I’ve lived 10 lives in the past year.”
As she mentioned, Daya’s achievements as an independent artist in the past year caught the attention of Interscope Geffen A&M Chairman and CEO John Janick, who reached out to her about six months ago and eventually signed her to the label. “Daya is a phenomenal talent,” he says. “She’s built her own audience from the ground up and we are excited to help her take her career to even greater heights.”
Although Daya says she would never take her years of being independent back, she admits that joining a major label felt like the best way to take her career to the next level. But above all, being noticed and signed by Interscope was validating for Daya: “It’s like I’ve kind of proven myself as an artist, and now they’re starting to realize, ‘oh, this girl could be something.’”
With a label and new team behind her, the “Words” singer is ready to kickoff the next era of Daya. Almost exactly one year since her debut LP, Daya releases her first post-SSLP single, “New,” a dynamic, bass-thumping pop anthem that tugs at the heartstrings more than the beat may indicate — but also serves as the introduction to the new-and-improved Daya, light years from the 16-year-old fans met with “Hide Away” two years ago.
Ahead of her much-anticipcated release, Daya chatted with Billboard about her excitement to join Interscope, how she’s grown in the past year, and the “plot-twist” story behind “New.” Check out what she had to say below.
What made Interscope feel like the right label home for you?
I think Interscope always puts the artist first, and they’re focusing on these artists’ development. I felt like that was a part of my career that I kind of needed to focus on after having come from the radio and getting exposure that way. I wanted to grow my brand and grow my fanbase, and they have proven to be the best fit for that.
Was it difficult to leave the team you had when you were independent?
My team was very small — it was literally just me and my mom and like two other people. I feel like we worked well with what we could, and it gave me such a good foundation to build on, so I wouldn’t ever take that back. But that structure didn’t really fit the level that I wanted to be at. I feel like adding on someone who’s working at digital, someone who’s working at all of these different areas for me was really important to my growth as an artist.
We filmed my first music video at my old manager’s house and in his pool. I never took hair and makeup on the road, I wore the same T-shirt probably three shows in a row [Laughs]. It was very rag-and-bones, just kind of scrapping up what we could. Now, it’s exciting to have all of these resources to pull from.
It’s great because my mom — she’s super smart, business-smart as a woman — she kind of helped me to just like realize what I need and what I didn’t. I’ve been really taking control creatively, and I think it’s because I know what I want now. Before, it was just me being thrown into this situation and kind of trying to stand my ground, find my footing. But now I’m the one that’s driving the train.
What made you want “New” to be your first major-label release?
I feel like “New” really is an all-encompassing term for what’s happening in my career right now. It’s a new beginning for me — and I don’t think people will be like, ‘Oh, she’s changed. She’s different.’ I think they’ll be expecting to come along with me on this journey, and they’ll realize that people do change. We’re all humans, we all go through phases.
I’ve just gained so much confidence in the booth since the Sit Still Look Pretty era. I’m working with really talented producers and songwriters who bring out the best in me. This song doesn’t really beat around the bush. It just tells you that I was hurt by this person and that I’m missing him. All of these emotions are kind of pouring out of this new song, and I think this new era is gonna represent just a more raw, real me.
Can you elaborate on the story behind the song?
It’s about a past relationship, and I kind of love how it’s a plot twist — you think it’s gonna be I’m onto something or someone new. But it’s a recognition that maybe you’ve tried to move on… it was actually me who ended it, and I’ve tried so many times where I’m like, ‘I don’t need this person and I just have to move past this.’ I’ve always just kind of been a single-minded person. So I moved on, and I thought emotionally I was gonna move on too. But everyone has those moments when they’re like, ‘oh, this wasn’t the right move.’ Like, ‘I shouldn’t have gone through this and now I have regrets about it.’
With “New,” I just want to acknowledge that it’s not weird to have feelings. We all miss someone at one point in our lives. We all have regrets, you know, love ourselves one day, don’t like ourselves the next day. I think it’s good to show other people that you should channel this. We all go through things and we should talk about it, not avoid the fact and just keep it all bottled up. I feel that [“New”] is a very vulnerable track and a powerful, emotional track that people will probably cry to.
It feels a little more production-heavy than your past releases — do you think your collaborations with The Chainsmokers and Gryffin [“Feel Good”] helped influence that?
I don’t even know if that was intentional. I think a lot of my songs do kind of lean electronic, but a lot of them also lean towards R&B, like soul, from this new collection of songs. And I think that’s just because I’ve always been influenced by powerful female R&B soul voices and I kind of wanted to bring that into this new era of music.
Stargate produced this one, and I think they really just nailed encompassing the message of the song in the track. “New” has that intensity in it and it’s not just like we’re just putting a drop in the song just to do it — it actually has meaning.
So now that you’re with Interscope and “New” is out, what are you hoping this new era brings?
Hopefully [being] more interactive with [fans]. I’m really just focused, and mentally I’m willing to give that time and space to my fans and more willing to have interactions and go meet them and go on tour and play shows for them. I feel like this is going to be a very fan-focused era because they’ve supported me and they gave me my start when I was independent and didn’t have any of this big machinery behind me. They’re worth a lot to me, and I want to show that to them.