Photos / Danielle DeFoe
Styling / Odessa Lu
Makeup / Robert Rumsey @ Cloutier Remix using Pat McGrath Labs
Hair /Johnny Stuntz @ Crosby Carter Management
story / Catherine Santino
When I speak with Daya, she tells me that she’s getting attacked by mosquitos on her back deck in California. Meanwhile, I’m watching the season’s first snowfall from an office building in New York City. But despite our opposing climates and three hours of the time difference, I feel like I’m in the same room as her, chatting as friends.
She has a way of instantly making me feel at ease like we’ve known each other for years and we’re catching up on life. It’s easy to understand why her music has inspired such a loyal and expansive fanbase.
In 2015, Daya, who was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and began playing instruments at an early age, released her first song, “Hide Away.” The track was well-received and remains a true testament to Daya’s unique vocals, fresh sound, and ultra-relatable lyrical sense. The following year, Daya released her first full-length album, Sit Still, Look Pretty, a satisfying follow-up to her break-out track.
Now, fans are hungry for her sophomore album, which Daya says will experiment with new sounds and production. “I get bored with things fairly quickly and I’m always trying to push the boundaries within my own creative thinking,” she explains. “So, this album branches out into different areas of my songwriting and voice and production without venturing too far from the sounds of Sit Still, Look Pretty.”
If her recent single, “Safe”, is any indication of the caliber of the album, we’re in for a treat. Not only does the song feature sleek production and sophisticated vocals, it also holds special meaning for Daya –an indication that she’s wise beyond her 20 years.
“’ Safe’ was written the day after the Vegas shooting at Route 91 Fest in September of last year. I wasn’t there so I can’t speak to how the victims or festival attendees or the friends and family of the victims felt, but I was affected by this tragedy as part of a community that’s continually dumbfounded by the accessibility of these types of weapons.”
In the song, Daya reflects on the blissful naïveté of childhood: “I remember the rush / We were running backyard to yard / I wasn’t scared of going too far / Staying out till it was too dark.” The refrain of “Back when we were safe” rings truer and louder than ever in the wake of the gun violence epidemic in the U.S.
“I wanted ‘Safe’ to potentially spark a dialogue in people about why we don’t feel safe going into seemingly universally safe spaces like churches, schools, festivals, and what we can do to actively change that,” Daya explains. “Instead of feeling passive or discouraged to engage in the issues we care about, I wanted it to open a door for conversation and action.”
The fact that Daya can create such an impactful song after such tragedies speak volumes of her empathy and intuition as a songwriter – and perhaps explains her choice in stage name: Daya, in Sanskrit, translates to “compassion.”
And she’s not just all talk. Throughout the 2018 midterm election season, Daya took full advantage of her platform to speak on the issues that matter to her and encourage her fans to get out and vote.
“I believe in an educated world and I believe in a democratic world where ideas are shared and that’s the best way to implement change,” she says of her activism. “I’ve been reading a lot, listening, campaigning, and engaging and encouraging everyone else who’s angry about the state of our country to turn that anger into action and do the same. I don’t ever see myself becoming more apathetic about this until we start to see a change.”
This past year, Daya also used social media to make another important statement. Though she had been posting subtly with her girlfriend, on October 11th, National Coming Out Day, Daya confirmed her relationship and spoke openly about her bisexuality for the first time.
When I ask why she chose to make such a declarative post, she says she wanted to have a real, honest moment with her fans, as well as address the stigma surrounding bisexuality. “Some people’s general attitudes towards bisexuality can be a bit off-putting, dismissing it as just a phase or a ‘trend’ instead of actual, real feelings,” she says.
“I’d been posting with [my girlfriend] and about her for months but I think it meant a lot to my followers to be direct and real about it for the moment. Discovering my sexuality and being in this relationship has been the best thing to happen in my life but it’s also come with a bit of baggage, so I think it shows my LGBTQ fans that their struggles don’t go unnoticed and that I’m going through a lot of the same. I’m honored to be able to have the platform I do and hope to use it to further normalize homosexual relationships and continue the fight for marginalized groups.”
And so, Daya’s presence, both in social media and in her music, remains to be a refreshingly genuine one. When I see her posts on my feed, they look just like something a friend would post; there’s nothing remotely contrived about them.
I tell her that between her new relationship and her dramatic haircut (we joke for a minute about how strong of a reaction the chop got from fans), she seems to be more at peace with herself than ever.
“When everything started, I got really in my head about other people’s expectations for me,” she says when I ask about the pressures to curate a certain image. “But now I don’t really give a fuck and it feels great. My brand is me and I’m constantly evolving as a person, so I’ve decided to do away with any unrealistic expectations.”
Though she’s already had enormous success as an artist, it’s clear to me that Daya is just getting started. Her talent is one thing, but talent will only take you so far. Daya’s assuredness, vulnerability, and willingness to grow in all directions make her an unstoppable force in pop music.
I think I can speak for all her fans when I say: I can’t wait to see what she does next.
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