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‘I have still got a lot to prove’: Singer-Songwriter Tanika On Going Solo With Her Debut Single, Bad 4 U

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It’s been a long time coming, but things are finally moving for south London-born singer Tanika. So fast, in fact, she’s already mapping out plans for world domination. “I want to be a huge, massive, successful superstar who tours around the world and inspires people,” says the 23-year old. “I want people to believe, to dream and to know that anything they want they can get it. It takes sacrifices but if you want it, you can have it as long as you work hard for it.”

She is also determined to be real and above all herself. With her brand new single reinforcing her position, Tanika may become a star in the next year, or she may not. But make no mistake; she is here to carve out her place. She says “I’m an underdog and I have still got a lot to prove. It’s going to take a lot of work for people to really understand me but I’m ready.”

When I met the singer-songwriter, who was recently supporting Naughty Boy on his UK tour, I didn’t really know who she was. Somehow she had bypassed my music collection. But at first sight, it was clear she was more than just another rising star. “My mum was a singer, pianist and saxophone player. My grandmother was a jazz singer and her great aunt taught classical music,” she says, answering a gentle query about her musical background.

Her songs are upbeat and mischievous—a little teen-girl wild, but more rebellious— and she has no time holding back for her own sake. “I don’t really have any boundaries when I write. There are no fairytales or butterflies. I’m just being me and I’m writing how I feel,” she says, with sincerity—not surprising, perhaps, coming from someone with such a solid musical upbringing. Tanika is now receiving a great deal of attention for her new single, Bad 4 U. But it’s well deserved. With touches of R&B, pop and dubstep, the hook alone makes one want to get up and skip. “A lot of people perceive it as having a lot of attitude because of the curse word in the chorus, but it’s really an honest song.”

You’re probably under the impression that Bad 4 U is more synonymous with disobedience, but it’s the opposite, as Tanika prefers playing with words—so much so that it’s easy to get carried away amongst all of her quick-wittedness. “It’s not about being bad in that sense,” she says, smiling at her own naïveté. “I found it hard being in a relationship with someone who’s not in the same industry as me and didn’t understand what I was doing. I was busy in my career and didn’t want to fall in love because I’d rather be having fun and creating music.”

The imageries displayed in music videos are limitless, but only a handful of artistic concepts become part of our collective memory. Tanika has produced one of them by transforming simplicity into a moment of rampant craze—dancing in front of an over-sized lorry, creating a new meaning of bewilderment. In the four minute-long clip, she appears possessed and confined. “It’s basically beauty and beast,” she laughs. “But I’m bad for the beast and always will be bad for the beast.” I then asked her about a line in Bad 4 U where she says, ‘I like strangers, frills with danger.’

That is further from the truth, she responds coyly. “I didn’t realise how daring the lyrics were when I was writing the song. It was only afterwards when everyone was like, ‘Oh my god, can you hear what she’s saying?’ I don’t know about anybody else, but I do love a bit of danger. I like to live on the wild side.” Perhaps it was this untamed naturalness that attracted producer Naughty Boy, who featured her on his chart-topping album Hotel Cabana. Their electrifying version of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky has extolled to become one of the most downloaded tracks from his critically acclaimed album. She says their good chemistry has much to do with their friendship. “We’ve now known each other for four years and he’s a really honest person. He keeps it real with me.”

If you ever meet Tanika, you should know a few things:  She does not like to be pigeonholed. “The thing that surprises me is that everyone is calling my music R&B, but just to clarify I do not make RnB music,” she explains. “I just make music. I am not an R&B artist. I think the phrase is just used to cover things up.” Tanika credits much of her strength to the musical foundation laid down by her family members: “It’s in my bloodline to be able to sing and play music.” She carries her potential lightly; she’s well raised, neurotically polite, and self-aware enough to know that in order to achieve her goals she has to work hard.

Bad 4 U is out now.