Even if you don’t know who Tayla Parx (real name Taylor Parks), you undoubtedly know her work. Parx’s ability to turn thoughts, emotions, and reactions of other artists into lyrics that comfortably reside at the top of Billboard charts is a rare type of songwriting alchemy. She is a prodigy with songwriting credits for Mariah Carey, Fifth Harmony, Chris Brown, Red Velvet, Christina Aguilera and Panic! at the Disco. In November 2018, she became the second female songwriter (shoutout to the first, Ashanti) to have three simultaneous top 10 singles with co-writing credits; Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next,” Khalid and Normani’s “Love Lies,” and Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes.” At the age of 25, and in an industry where female songwriters rarely reside at the top of the charts, her success is truly historic.
“I realized that once I got into the music industry I had to break out of the box of people seeing me as this little black girl from Texas who should stay in her R&B lane or her ‘urban’ lane,” Parx says with an air of defiance. “Those sort of perceptions of who I was supposed to be drove me to be the complete opposite. I wanted to prove that I was more than what people wanted me to be.”
But now comes the hard part: becoming an artist in her own right and vision. Her 2019 album We Need to Talk is a reflection of the trials and tribulations Parx has waded through for most of her creative life. It is an album of reimagination and rebellion, a perspective from the lofty plains of success onto a music industry landscape where old ways of thinking no longer apply. Luckily, Parx is a natural and her growth under the guidance of renown musical genius Babyface seeps through every word of confidence.
“I am so comfortable with where I am as a creative; knowing that I can write for other artists while still continuing to do a million other things. I choose to be an artist, and every single time I choose to put my own soul out there is what makes me unafraid,” Parx says. “Something in my heart makes me want to do artistry as a singer; I don’t do it out of obligation and that’s how I know that I love it.”
BrightestYoungThings (BYT): In an interview with the New York Times, you said that you constantly doubt yourself. That’s hard to really understand considering the success you’ve had at such a young age. I’m interested, when was the last time you truly doubted yourself?
Tayla Parx (TP): Hmmm. I think the last time I truly doubted myself was when I really started to hone my artistry. I’m at a place in my life where I’m just being genuine and not thinking twice about it. And I think that any time where I’ve doubted myself was probably when I was around 20-years-old. I remember that around that age every time I doubted myself I ended up regretting it. So at 20-years-old, that’s when that realization clicked for me.
It was also around that time when I started to come into my own as a songwriter and really took the time to perfect that craft.
BYT: How is self-reflection and inner perspective different when you’re writing a song for an artist compared to when you’re writing for yourself?
TP: Well you definitely become more vulnerable when you’re writing for yourself as compared to somebody else. You have little pieces of yourself when you’re writing for someone else, but my own music is all me 100%. I’ve also had to realize that I’ve had to get comfortable with the factors of knowing that people are going to feel whatever they decide to feel about [the songwriting]. And that’s okay… for better or worse. I just like that I’m adding my side of the story through my writing and the wonderful thing is that a lot of people relate to the story that I’m trying to tell.
BYT: You’ve had historic success as a songwriter, and I imagine that that has given you an understanding of what works and what doesn’t in pop music. How do you maintain a sense of risk as you make your own music, and especially on your most recent album?
TP: I think the songs that had the most success for me are songs that allowed myself, the producers, the songwriters and the artists to take risks to do our own artistry. For example, Ariana [Grande] took the risk of putting her own heart out completely to make a comeback. Some of my biggest successes with Ariana happened because we were all willing to say, “Hey, let’s just write music that we want to write and release it the way we want to release it.”
BYT: When I think about writing music for someone else, I think of how an actor prepares for a role. An actor tries to live in that role and tries to imagine how it feels to see the world from a different perspective. When you write music, how do you understand the perspective of the person you’re writing for? Do you have a process you go through before writing a song?
TP: It all starts with a conversation. I want to hear about the experience driving an artist’s song, and why they feel a certain way versus just the simple fact that they felt a particular emotional element. I want to get into the mind of who they are, and why they react to certain triggers. As you get to know an artist, you realize that we all go through the same thing, but what differentiates us is how we react to getting our heartbroken or receiving great news. When I’m writing for artists, I am essentially method acting and becoming a reflection of what the artist sees in themselves or what they would like to see in themselves.
It’s really fun game for me at this point to try to gauge how good I am understanding somebody else and being able to get the world to understand what you’ve learned after being in the studio with someone for hours.
BYT: How much of this duality as an established songwriter, and now as an artist, is influenced from working with Babyface? I know he played a large part early in your career, and I’m interested in how you helped you see your place in both worlds?
TP: It’s amazing, but Babyface laid the foundation for the singer, songwriter, executive; all these things that I never realized he did. Growing up, I liked him as an artist but then I realized he was writing his music, and not only that, but he was also writing for others.
I never imagined that I would meet him when I was 17-18, and literally decide at that moment that I was going to call myself a songwriter for real for real. He really perfected the craft of being a singer/songwriter in much the same way that Smokey Robinson or a Neil [Diamond] did. He showed that it’s possible for a multi-faceted person to exist and do it well.
BYT: You mentioned Babyface’s role as an executive. I read recently that you’re also moving into that role and signing your own artists and producers.
TP: Yep, yep, yep. I’m really taking the time to create what I feel the future of the music industry is going to be. We’re at a time right now where you can create your own rules in this industry, and through my experiences as singer/songwriter I understand what I can do to better the lives of singers, songwriters, and producers.
BYT: I’m fascinated how your executive endeavors are shaped by your unique perspective of not only being a woman, but a young black woman in an industry where top charting songs are rarely written by female songwriters. How is your experience in the music industry shaping how you’re structuring your own executive endeavors?
TP: I realized that once I got into the music industry I had to break out of the box of people seeing me as this little black girl from Texas who should stay in her R&B lane or her “urban” lane. Those sort of perceptions of who I was supposed to be drove me to be the complete opposite. I wanted to prove that I was more than what people wanted me to be. I then realized that same thing was happening within publishing companies and within [music] labels. I want to be one of the people who changes that.
I still have to overcome people having an old school mentality, because now that people see me as a certain thing it’s hard for them to imagine that I can be judged as something else. It’s not until people see artists like Madonna or Jay-Z that they can get past the idea that artists are somehow less than. I want to be part of the movement that denies that old way of thinking towards artists and businesswomen.
BYT: Your album [We Need to Talk] touches upon ideas of rebellion and taps into new ways of thinking about the world around you. You always hear from artists that you have your entire life to write your first album. But as someone who has been writing for others is that mentality different?
TP: I am so comfortable with where I am as a creative; knowing that I can write for other artists while still continuing to do a million other things. I choose to be an artist, and every single time I choose to put my own soul out there is what makes me unafraid. Something in my heart makes me want to do artistry as a singer; I don’t do it out of obligation and that’s how I know that I love it.
It’s humbling to be performing in front of strangers who may not know or realize all the things I’ve done up to that point. Some might not even care, and that’s why I still enjoy being an artist every single day. I feel like I’ve had to start again as an artist, and that’s been true throughout my career. When I was an actress, people only saw me as that and I had to change their minds to see my other side as a songwriter. Now I’m in my transition to becoming an artist, and I need to change their minds all over again. But the cool thing is, I’ve done it before and I’m excited to grow as I do it again.