From Pop Princess To Pop Queen: The Rise Of Ayra Starr

Nigeria’s afro-pop sensation speaks to Clash…

Where one might find a valiant mob of Gen-Z movers and shakers, Ayra Starr is at the forefront of the crowd, equipped with a torch and sonic one-liners.

However, Ayra Starr has decided to approach music with a vigilant stance. Taking inspiration from her stern, long binges of Netflix series, her discography mimics a coming-of-age jukebox. Ayra, who is only 19, first released her debut self-titled EP under Mavin Records, following her internet run-in with the West African music mogul Don Jazzy (Rema, Tiwa Savage).

A child of quarantine success, her pot of talent was always set to runneth over once the world opened up. Increasing the heat, Ayra’s debut album 19 & Dangerous, released under Mavin Global Holdings, has bought her success to its all-time high. True to her Gen-Z nature, Ayra sits comfortably amongst the Tik Tok crowd, with the solid stamp of approval that is a viral dance routine to her ‘Bloody Samaritan’ track. Equipped with solid visuals, a so-called “way with words”, Ayra’s touch on her tracks is both infectious and sure to evoke a knee jerk in the sternest of listeners.

Already branded Africa’s fastest-rising new music star with over 23 million global streams. Apple Music’s Africa Rising artist 19 & Dangerous sits classically among West African pop babes. Ayra’s vulnerability, combined with the seamless weaving of Afro-pop, R&B, dancehall, trap and alté styles; a tailored voice for flexibility, Ayra cannot be boxed into one, but ticks all boxes.

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The last time we spoke, you had released the EP; how has life been since the drop and now the album?

Tee, like crazy. I thought maybe people knew me during the EP time; people either knew me or didn’t. But now, like, everywhere I go, as people know me. It’s crazy. I’m usually the most unbothered person. I still want to go to the grocery store; I still want to be chilling with the security guards at places I go to – I’m just a weird person like that. My manager always has to tell me, “stop it, you’re famous now”. It’s crazy – it’s so different. I have girls crying; they want pictures. Even guys! 

The last time we spoke, we discussed heartbreak because that was the theme of the EP. Have things changed? Are guys not so open to breaking THE Ayra Starr’s heart?

I’m looking for the right way to answer the question. My attention isn’t even there. I’m so focused on the album. I’m not even putting my eyes there.

Are you still on the journey to ultimate pop princess stardom?

Definitely, from pop princess to pop queen to the best to a legend. That’s what we’re doing.

What songs did you enjoy making on this project in particular?

I did enjoy making everything. But I had ones that were a bit harder to make than some ‘Bloody Samaritan’ was very hard to make. It was a very challenging song. But you know, when I think listening to it now you’re like, what did you do? Put crack in it? People are like, oh, Ayra did you put crack in this song?. There has to be crack in this song because I spent so much time, like, you didn’t have a choice.

One of the easiest songs I recorded on the album is ‘in between’. ‘in between’ was the easiest song because I didn’t write the song. I just was sleeping one day, and you know, I was like humming it in my sleep because I sleep sing. Very weird thing. I just you know, woke up and I recorded the whole thing from beginning to the end. Like I didn’t change any lyrics. I just restarted from beginning to the end and I went into the studio the next day did the same thing. But I didn’t go back to the song like twice. 

I know talent runs in the family. Did your brother have any production credits on this project?

No, he didn’t have production on this album but definitely the next because we have many songs that he has produced that you know are really good, but they’re definitely for the next project. But he does have writing credits on this album, like 40% 50% writing credits. We both wrote the album together like it was such a fun partnership.

You’re also a TikTok sensation; they love you on there.

I only did one, and it was just me having fun. I was trying not to do too much, and I didn’t know people will take it seriously like everyone is doing it now. Every company, every airline in Nigeria every bank has done their own version of this. It’s just been crazy.

I’m terrible with TikTok dances because I can’t remember them, so I just needed something simple.

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Let’s talk about the creative direction of the ‘Bloody Samaritan’ music video.

I wanted us to spend like, zero money on the video. Right? I just wanted that I felt like, all my videos have had like stories and you know, like this and that. And even before I wrote the song, or released the song I remember in the studio, I was writing the video concept down as I was making the song.

So I was writing the music video concept. I was like, I’m not going to spend money on this video. I’m going to direct myself and it’s just going to be my friends and me. I just want people to see my personality. No need for stories. No need for somebody to bring a knife and bring it like being bloody or being the vibe. I don’t want any literal meaning. Then there was also the Shakira [nod]. And I’ve always wanted to reference that in our music videos, and I got a chance to do that now.

What are the takeaways from this album for your Gen Z followers?

You know, it’s so lovely. When I go out, people are like, Oh, God, I love you, you know, your music changed my life. And I was just like, what, like, you know, that’s something I would tell someone like Rihanna or Beyonce, but people would tell me that. It was just crazy like how people get some confidence from the album and music. I was in this interview in a particular state in Nigeria and this 52-year-old Muslim man called in the radio interview.

He was like, you know, this ‘Cast’ song has changed the way he thinks in life. And the song is the Gen Z anthem. Like, I never expected it even to reach people like that. To think of a 52-year old Muslim man that lives in an Islamic dominated state. Like I did not expect that. He said it changed the way he thinks in life and he’s just so grateful for me. And I was just in shock. It’s just the most amazing thing ever.

Who are you currently binging at the moment?

Big Bang Theory, I didn’t know it even existed. Now I’m binging it. In terms of music, South African amapiano. I’m listening to ‘Donda’. ‘Donda’ is such an amazing album. 

Not many artists speak on songs that they hear that make them wish they’d have written. Do you have a song like that?

Omah Lay – ‘Understand’. You know that song? Oh, my gosh. Oh, my God, that song is just me. Like, this is what I would have been like; I wish I would have written it. It’s so beautiful.

What does art mean to you?

Undeniably just expressing yourself. That’s what it means to me. And that’s what I do through music and fashion.

Any last words?

All my fans, presume people that don’t know me, take this advice; Always just be yourself wherever you go to because there won’t be anyone like you there – just be yourself. When I was younger, people would tell me to “be calm” because I had ADHD. I always tried my best to be quiet and not smile too much. Now I can’t be bothered, and I make friends with everyone, and I’m sociable. I’m proud of found myself. And: stream the album!

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Words: Thandie Sibanda

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