Tyla – ‘Tyla’ review: on the path to superstardom 

South Africa’s breakout star follows up viral hit ‘Water’ with an inventive, infectious debut album


In the lead-up to her debut album, Tyla hasn’t been shy about her ambitions. In interviews, she speaks of wanting to be the first global African pop star. That’s not where her sights end, though – she’s also aiming to be the biggest pop star of her generation. Although it’s too early to call whether those dreams will become reality for her, she’s certainly been putting the work in to get her on the right path. 

For many, the Johannesburg singer might seem like she’s become an overnight sensation, thanks to viral hit ‘Water’, but Tyla’s been plugging away for far longer than that one suggests. She released her debut single ‘Getting Late’ in 2019 and began building up a following online during the pandemic. After signing with Epic Records in 2021, she spent two years toiling away on her self-titled debut album, building it piece by piece until it felt worthy of someone with her lofty goals. 

Across ‘Tyla’, the star takes us into her world. That means, of course, honouring her roots in South Africa – both in her lyrics and the sounds she uses to craft these heady jams. Afrobeats and amapiano – a South African sub-genre that pulls from house, kwaito and more – rule the roost here, and the commitment to their rhythms helps the album feel like a cohesive whole. The dubby boom of ‘Jump’ shouts out her hometown (“From Jozi to Ibiza, they say it doesn’t get sweeter”) while linking it closely to her beauty. “They ain’t never had a pretty girl from Joburg,” she explains in the opening lines. “See me now, and that’s what they prefer.” 


To make both of her dreams come true, though, Tyla has to take things further afield than Africa. She does that by weaving elements of pop and R&B through her amapiano beats – a sound she’s dubbed “popiano” – while the lilting ‘Butterflies’ breaks away from riding the rhythms entirely. Instead, it dips into fingerpicked indie-folk territory. Later, ‘Priorities’ seems like it’s going to make a similar move but instead blends the two worlds together, shuffling beats slinking back in slowly until they take over the piece once more. 

There are globally facing collaborations, too. The aforementioned ‘Jump’ stars US rapper Gunna and Jamaican DJ Skillibeng, while ‘On My Body’ features Becky G. In her verse, the Latina singer makes things brilliantly bilingual, flipping effortlessly between Spanish and English as she commands her cameo. 

All of this would mean nothing, though, if the music wasn’t up to scratch. Happily, it more than passes the bar, ensuring ‘Water’’s success should be no one-off. Throughout the record, Tyla is supremely confident and in control, whether she’s taking us to an all-nighter on ‘On And On’, or calling out someone only interested in her post-breakthrough on the melancholy ‘Truth Or Dare’. “Let’s play truth or dare / Dare you to forget that you used to treat me just like anyone,” she challenges. “Truth or dare / Is it true you care now that you can see the love from everyone?” 

There’s introspection and reflection present here, too. ‘Safer’, an addictive curtain-raiser, finds Tyla refusing to give in to the temptation of a dangerous new lover. On ‘Priorities’, meanwhile, she assesses how she’s moving in the world. “My first mistake / Thinking that I could be everything,” she sighs. “Look how spreading myself thin became / My priority again.” Later, she lists off the subconscious questions fuelling her decisions: “How many places can I be at once? / How many people can I be at once? / How many people can I please at once?” That last query isn’t one she needs to worry about too much anymore – with ‘Tyla’, she’s made something that will satisfy plenty and get her one step closer to reigning the pop world. 

tyla-tyla-album-reviewReleased March 22 2024