Tyla Seamlessly Marries Pop With Amapiano on Luminous Self-Titled Debut: Album Review

Last year, Tyla established herself as a promising star with “Water,” her career-launching Top 10 single that earned her a Grammy long before she had a complete body of work in hand. But the song was proof of a working formula: “popiano,” a twist on South African amapiano that she uses to describe her blend of the genre’s piano-driven, tech-house beats and the progressive tempos of pop and R&B. On her self-titled debut, Tyla, born Tyla Laura Seethal, builds a world anchored by this formula, making for an enthralling first record that distinguishes her from her Afrobeats peers on a quest to pop crossover.

On “Tyla,” much of the album’s success is indebted to Tyla herself, whose delivery adds a new layer of intrigue to the quickly evolving South African genre. When Tyla sings, she’s not necessarily riffing but knows when to accentuate her delivery. On “Jump,” featuring Gunna and Jamaican dancehall DJ and rapper, Skillibeng, Tyla unlocks a new level of self-assurance, something you can distinctly hear in the way she phrases “prefer” in the first verse. “Jump” has the most potential to catch on as a party anthem that could easily make for another viral dance trend, something that helped propel “Water” off TikTok and onto the charts.

More from Variety

Tyla is nimble when it comes to her vocals. She knows when to fall back in an effortless-sounding whisper and refines her demure vocal style with quiet burning emotion. “Priorities” is probably as traditional pop as the record gets, though she marries the conventions of the genre with hallmarks of South African music, namely with a wall of basslines. Under the helm of Grammy-winning producer Sammy Soso, some of Tyla’s vocals are isolated during the middle of the song to create a haunting loop of rhythms and inflections. “No. 1,” her collaboration with Nigerian songstress Tems, fortifies Tyla’s place as an entertainer. They engage in a playful back-and-forth about putting yourself first (“I gotta put me No. 1 / No compromise”) over a polished and catchy beat where their opposing vocal ranges — Tems’ deep, velvety register juxtaposes Tyla’s breathy harmonies — work well together.

Afrobeats has become a global juggernaut over the last few years, with artists like Rema and Burna Boy breaking the barriers to mainstream success. But “Tyla” offers a different wrinkle in Afrobeats’ worldwide ascent, bringing it to the forefront of pop music. The 22-year-old singer described this album’s recording process as an “experimentation” — “Every weekend I was in the studio recording music, trying all different types of things, from rap to straight pop music, to R&B, dance music, everything,” she told Variety last year — but her ultimate goal was to “properly introduce myself.” Tyla never abandons her sound in her debut. Instead, she makes her boldest stylistic choices as subtle as possible, cementing her growing status as a pop star.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.