Last summer, Kaya Stewart released her debut radio single “In Love With A Boy.” The song set the record for most opening week pop radio adds achieved by a debut single; leading pop stations like Z100 and 102.7 KIIS were among the early supporters. It ultimately peaked inside the Top 30 on Mediabase’s airplay chart.
This summer, the teen artist released her debut, self-titled album. The set reveals a tremendously gifted, versatile young artist who is not simply competent but compelling on all twelve tracks.
More importantly, she is honest. Her vocal talent may belie her age, but her energy and spirit are refreshingly youthful. “Kaya Stewart” is not a cutesy, bubblegum album, but it is very much reflective of a teenage artist comfortable being a teenage artist. She may be a better singer than the average sixteen-year-old artist, but she is not trying to seem older.
That honest, sincere acceptance of being young — and of the opportunities for growth and change that come with it — is a core part of Stewart’s artistry and personality. It is palpable when watching her perform, and it is palpable when conversing with her.
Headline Planet recently took part in such a conversation. Highlights from our interview with Kaya Stewart follow.
On what it means to be a young artist: I always say to people when you’re listening to my music or becoming a fan, it’s kind of like you’re growing up with me because I’m still so young and experiencing so many things. [Many of my fans are] around the same age, and we’re all kind of growing up together. Whenever I experience [something in life], I’m always writing. I don’t know where it’ll take me, but I’m sure I’ll have fun with it.
On whether she, as a young artist, faces pressure to fit a specific mold or pander to specific audiences: I never write music to see who’s going to react to it. I’m never writing my songs [thinking] “this will work for this fanbase, this will work for that fanbase” – I’m just writing it for myself, more than anything. I know there are so many people out there who can relate to what I’m saying. My fans are usually around my age or younger, but I’m always writing just for myself and what I’m feeling [without obsessing over] who gravitates toward it.
On radio’s instant reaction to In Love With A Boy: I wasn’t expecting it at all. I wrote that song and ended up just putting it on SoundCloud. It was so shocking, I was so young at the time…and I had a song on Z100 and KIIS FM. It was a pretty crazy experience.
On what that instant reaction meant for her career: It was a great place for me to start off and make my mark, but now I say I’m kind of building my career behind In Love With A Boy. I’m kind of establishing myself now that I’ve had something out that did so well.
On how she’s evolved since the debut of In Love With A Boy: I’m getting older…I’ve experienced more things. With my [current] single Sleepover, I kind of say it’s like the more grown up version of In Love With A Boy because I’ve [gained more life experience]. I’ve been in this world and I already know it so well, but I’m kind of coming back with something I think is a lot stronger and more grown up and has a better grasp. I’ve finished high school, and I focus full-time.
On the biggest challenge she’s faced: I was so young [when I signed with WB Records], and there were so many big conversations going on about my career…and I didn’t even know what I was going to do at school the next day. Being signed to a major label can be really complicated. There are so many legal things and things I didn’t understand. But I’ve noticed the more I dive into my music and my art, nobody can take that away from me, because I’m the artist. It was always difficult trying to get on the level of all these adults and what they were saying. But in the end, I was just like, “I just know how to write music. That’s what I’m good at.”
On how she’s working to get even better at performing live, which she calls her favorite part of being an artist: I always want to grow more as an artist. When it comes to performing live on stage, I love watching videos of icons. Yesterday, I was watching “Truth Or Dare” by Madonna, and I was just taking notes on how she performs on stage. More than anything, I want to learn how I can grow as a performer and how my live show can be more exciting and different.
On her new album: More than anything, it’s a big deal for myself. I wrote [the songs on] this album not thinking I was going to be a singer or songwriter or anything…[the songwriting] took three years, and it ended up becoming the reason I started playing music and wanting to do this career full time. It’s an album just representing young culture. I really hope teenagers [but also] anybody at any age can relate to it.
On working with her father – Dave Stewart of Eurythmics: It happened more naturally than anything. We just kind of started working together…[there] was never a moment where he was like “I’m your producer” [or I was like] “I’m your artist.” We get along so well. He’s always helping me and he always has the best intentions for me because I’m his daughter. I can really trust him.
On the song she would recommend to potential fans: Sixteen Dollars (featuring Brooke Candy). It’s one of my favorite songs on the album because it’s so much about young culture and it’s such a unique sound, and it’s all about being young and experiencing life.
On her vision of success: I kind of want to get to a point where I’m satisfied and happy. If that means I’m playing to hundreds of thousands of people or I’m happy just playing in a club in New York…as long as I’m happy.
On her biggest inspirations: With my dad in the Eurythmics, Annie Lennox was always such a huge influence to me as a strong female presence. I’m always looking up to that kind of power – some of my other [inspirations] are Gwen Stefani and Madonna. They’re so powerful within themselves, and they [were successful as young women].
On her favorite artist at the moment: If you ask anyone, my favorite artist is Kehlani. She’s like my new favorite, and she has that song from Suicide Squad called Gangsta. I’ve been listening to that non-stop.