Northillüfer Yanya may have grown up in Chelsea, but his is not the world of Sloane Ranger 2.0: pristine Georgian houses and endless champagne lunches. Instead, it is the manic, numbing and claustrophobic side of the city that radiates through her work: In the recent single Stabilise, the 26-year-old sings about endless skyscrapers, filled with small apartments “rotten to the core.” “Gray concrete,” she says. “I see that immediately when the song starts. A literal gray but also an emotional gray ”.
Today we’re in London’s first guy, a sleek, glittery, pink-accented coffee shop in Bayswater, discussing Yanya’s upcoming second album, Painless, a collection of prickly, occasionally jazzy, and always catchy post-punk that lands somewhere in between. Joy Division, King Krule and PJ Harvey. It’s the sequel to 2019’s Miss Universe, to rave reviews, a record that heralded this smiling, unassuming woman as one of Britain’s most exciting new rock stars.
And yet, despite his uniformly excellent performance, Yanya’s rise seems highly unusual. Not because it was sparked by a casual moment of internet-fueled hype, but because it wasn’t. Instead, it involved nothing newer than playing London in his teens and early 20s, signing with an independent label, and then more of the same. Of course, she was offered some (questionable) shortcuts along the way, like the moment she dodged involvement in a doomed pre-made girl band with links to One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson, an industry approach that Yanya sums up as : Young people, tell them that we are going to make a really successful group but that obviously we are going to make a lot more money than they do. ‘ It’s a very selfish thing to do. ” Even more so considering that he heard that the entire project was unceremoniously abandoned a year later.
In any case, being a pop star was never on Yanya’s radar. You don’t make sour, spiky, impressionistic rock songs if you want to be at the top of the charts or indeed if you want to navigate the spirit of the age – Painless doesn’t exactly match the sound of London’s youth today. . Do your friends listen to guitar music? “Not massively,” he admits. It’s also not the music that some people expected her to make, based on her name (her father is Turkish) and her appearance (she’s mixed race). “Some people have [described it as] R&B and it’s like: where do you get that from? There is a very small element of that in any music that I have released.
It was the guys with guitars who shaped his musical ambitions from the start. A talented pianist as a child, her older sister turned her on with “pop-rock, skater-punk, and the Strokes.” “It was weird because I wasn’t really listening to any female singer; the only music that was ‘credible’ was that of the boys. Obviously I never realized that, I just thought this is cool. I didn’t think ‘I feel left out.’
Without seeing any women doing it, how did you know you could do it? “I just wanted to try. I guess I wasn’t worried about it being commercially successful; I wasn’t thinking: how am I going to make this a hit on TikTok? It’s not that she’s totally off the hook in that sense: now her team is encouraging her to promote her products on the platform: “It’s a young thing; I feel like I’m over that. Can’t I be an adult now ?! “
For Yanya, adulthood has not only implied a growing ambivalence towards social networks; he has also turned his attention to his Turkish heritage. Painless features a Rush, the string instrument his father used to play at home, and he recently started taking Turkish classes. His younger self shared none of this enthusiasm. “When you grow up here and your parents are from other countries, you want to disengage in some way,” she says. “You’re like, ‘No, I just want to be from London, I don’t want to have to deal with all these other things.’ He still feels like he’s just beginning to understand Turkish culture: “No. I don’t really know anything. My mother is Irish and from Bajan, so there is so much going on that I don’t really know myself most of the time.”
It doesn’t help that the music industry tends to treat its background in a flattening, reductionist way. “’You’re Turkish, great, we’ve got you covered’ or ‘You’re mixed race, great, we’ve got you marked.’ They’re like, ‘Well, we need people who aren’t just white now, but you still look white, so that’s even better.’
One weapon against industry cynicism is surrounding yourself with people who genuinely care about your best interests, and Yanya has managed to keep her career a family affair. At 16, he recorded his first song in his uncle’s Cornish studio, a tradition he has continued with Painless. Her younger sister, Elif, sometimes joins her on the tour as a showgirl, while her older sister, Molly, directs her music videos.
With Molly, he has also launched an initiative called Artists in Transit leading creative workshops to refugee children, initially in Greece and now in London. “You’re just talking to people, doing nice things,” explains Yanya. “Their parents just want them to have a good time no matter where they are, so we’re playing with that. I don’t know how to help people get out of that situation, [but] I think the first step is to meet the people and close some kind of gap ”.
As the daughter of two visual artists, creativity has been a constant in Yanya’s life. But the arts, he notes, seem increasingly undervalued in the UK. One such example: He attended Pimlico School, known for fostering musical talent (students include Elly Jackson from La Roux, Roots Manuva and Dave Okumu from Invisible, who also taught Yanya music there). Halfway through his education, the school was turned into an academy and music teaching was cut in half.
He despairs of the way creativity has become “a luxury. It shouldn’t be something for people who have extra money or overtime. Why can’t everyone participate? Music lessons at school, giving young refugees a creative outlet: The arts are not just something nice, says Yanya, they are essential. “It is a way of communicating, it crosses cultures. When you prevent people from doing that, it’s like cutting off an arm. ” It’s not hard to agree, and if someone remains skeptical about the benefits of fostering creativity in childhood, an encounter with Yanya’s stimulating music is sure to change their mind.
Painless opens on March 4.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism