Since her 2014 debut, Tinashe's life has been a whirlwind. She’s been non-stop touring (she just finished a leg with Katy Perry), recording, and doing photo shoots, video shoots and fashion campaigns. The 22-year-old’s debut album, Aquarius, garnered her comparisons to Aaliyah, Ashanti and Janet Jackson, but her upcoming release (Joyride, due January 2016) has more pop undertones—likely the result of working with famed Britney Spears producer Max Martin.
In the midst of her growing fame, Tinashe has remained balanced: she still lives at home with her parents in L.A. and, even though her schedule is crazy, tries to make time for all the same things she did before you were dancing to “2 On.”
We chatted with Tinashe about being compared to Aaliyah, her choice to work with a controversial artist like Chris Brown, and how she’s carving out her place in the music industry.
You’ve really risen to fame over the past two years. What’s the biggest thing that’s changed in your life so far?
I think it’s just my day-to-day lifestyle. I think when things are happening for you just never get a break. You just keep going. It’s like a whirlwind. I just got back from touring in South America with Katy Perry and then went straight to New York and had photo shoots, video shoots and radio all in one day. It’s so crazy, but it’s exciting.
How will Joyride be different from your debut?
I’m in a different place in my life when I created this album than when I put out Aquarius. For me, it’s more of a snapshot of where I am now — being able to travel and experience all these new things and see these new places. I truly do feel like I’m on a “joyride” right now. That's why it was the perfect title for me — it’s really about being young, going through new things and enjoying yourself. For me, it’s a natural progression. I’m influenced by new things, and I’ve been through some stuff.
How do you feel about those comparisons to Aaliyah? Is there another musician or icon you aspire to be compared to?
I think I’ve been compared to some really amazing people. You can only take it as a compliment. I think I have something of my own to bring to the table. I think that’s more so the thing that’s important to me than being compared to other people. I want to create my own lane and my own iconic niche. I definitely appreciate [the comparisons]. Janet Jackson was a huge hero of mine, so to be compared to her is a big compliment.
I read awhile back that you were living with your parents even after the success of Aquarius. Are you still living with them?
I do. I’m still at home!
You seem like you haven’t been jaded by the music industry.
Yeah. I think that’s the demise of a lot of people when they start to get jaded and stop enjoying what they do. I really try to continue to be excited about it and live my life like I always have and have a level of normality when I go home and see my family. Even though everything has changed, nothing has changed. It’s important to stay grounded and have a home base.
Has being mainstream been all it’s cracked up to be for you? Or do you still wish you were an independent artist at times?
It’s cool to have moderation in everything you do. I think it’s cool to create the songs like I did when I was unsigned and independent and create the ones that are more radio-friendly. For me, I don’t feel the need to be stuck in one box or one zone, and that’s exciting for me because I can create a lot of different things.
Cool. In one of your previous interviews you said you finally feel respected as an artist. When was the first time you felt that way?
I think it started from the producer side of things. When I first was creating my album, I had to go through almost “auditions” when you work with new people. A lot of them weren’t familiar with who I was or what I do. They’d give me the worst beat and expect me to make something amazing out of it. I had to work to gain their respect as a songwriter, as a real artist and as a young woman. Now I feel like it’s different when I go into studio sessions, people approach it differently and they know that I am the creative voice behind my music and my project. I feel like it is always something I always struggle with— that I don’t get as much respect as I would like. I think it’s an underlying theme that I think a lot of women feel. A lot of people make it seem like just about your looks or discredit the hard work you put into things. That happens a lot. You have to remind people that there’s way more to it and that I’m super hard working underneath it all.
How have people tried to discredit you?
I think it’s just like people saying “oh she’s just a cute girl.” Or “she’s not creating her own stuff,” “she doesn’t have a real opinion” or “I shouldn’t listen to her perspective because I know better than she’d know what to do.” People just assume you’re dumb.
Have you been able to date? Are you able to have a personal life with your busy schedule?
Not really, but that’s more of a personal choice, as well as I don’t really have time in my schedule. I really want to dominate the music business first. That’s really my goal at this point. I’m not really focused on dating or relationships.
Do you miss acting or modeling? Do you see yourself traveling down those roads again?
Maybe in the future, but like I said, I’ve been really focused on music right now. I really want to takeover the music world right now. Maybe in the future I’ll get back into acting again.
You had Chris Brown appear on your track, “Player.” There’s obviously been a lot of controversy around him. Why did you choose to work with him knowing that? Why do you think artists continue to work with him knowing his reputation?
I think he obviously has a reputation and a controversial history, but for me, the music is the most important thing. It’s undeniable to me that he’s an exceptional entertainer and probably one of the greatest of this generation. For that reason alone I really wanted to work with him at some point. He loved the song, so I was just excited to have him involved.
Is there anything you regret in your career so far?
I think it’s important to not really regret things because it makes you cautious if you feel like you’ve made mistakes in the past. I think for the most part we’ve done a good job of following our instincts. I think if anything, it would be that I didn’t follow my instincts about something because they’re pretty accurate. I think it’s staying true to who you are as an artist.
Everyone thought you’d get nominated for a Grammy last year, but you didn’t. Were you surprised? Do you think you have it in the bag this year?
I wasn’t really surprised. I always set myself up for letdowns and disappointment. I dealt with rejection as a really young kid as far as acting or auditioning for parts goes. Even when you’re really, really hopeful, you can’t let yourself get down too low if it doesn’t work out because there’s always another opportunity and there’s always next year. As far as this year goes, obviously a Grammy is my number one goal and it’s a landmark that I hope to achieve. I hope I get nominated for some Grammys, but if not, there’s always next year. I’m still going to continue to create great records, and my time will come.
Photos by Smallz & Raskind