O ver the past few months, Hope Tala has been partying like there’s no tomorrow. The London-based artist’s latest single, the sparkling and luminescent ‘Party Sickness’, speaks to her desire to unshackle herself from the trappings of lockdown by letting loose like never before: “Dancing, drinking and causing mischief,” to be precise. For Tala, who lost out on nearly two years of formative experiences due to the pandemic, the return of social events – festivals, parties and late, late nights – has been an all-or-nothing opportunity. The song’s one million streams suggest that many young listeners can relate to that way of thinking.
As Tala hops on a Zoom call with NME, it appears that she’s still committed to this outlook on life: she chooses to keep her camera off during our chat due to “tiredness” from revelling in a “post-gig high” (the evening before our interview she played her biggest headline show to date at London’s Village Underground). “When it comes to parties and gigs now, I’m a little bit reckless and free,” she says. “Remember the term YOLO [‘You only live once’]? That’s me right now!”
And fair enough, we say: the 24-year-old has waited a number of years to share her music in such a live setting. After teaching herself how to use music production software Logic at age 14, Tala began uploading freestyles – where she would deploy a winning mix of her caramel-smooth vocals and dexterous rapping skills – to SoundCloud. These demos paved the way for two EPs, 2018’s ‘Starry Ache’ and 2019’s ‘Sensitive Soul’, before 2020’s ‘Girl Eats Sun’ unleashed the bouncy pop-rap banger ‘All My Girls Like To Fight’.
Tala has since been building on the exploratory pop realised on the aforementioned releases, and recently teamed up with the renowned songwriter Tayla Parx [Ariana Grande, Haim]. As they begin work on her debut album, NME spoke with Tala about overcoming confidence issues, developing her writing skills and why she believes Kendrick Lamar is “the modern-day Shakespeare”.
NME: What does ‘Party Sickness’ represent for you?
“The song is about finally learning how to have fun, and not being afraid to be a bit messy. There’s a special type of magic in the air at any party which can be amplified when you’re drunk, and it can encourage you to be a little more crazy. I feel like I’ve gone quite gung-ho recently. I regretted all the nights out that I’d missed prior to lockdown, so I wanted to change my ways. I was also inspired by this astrology meme that showed the star signs’ various behaviours at parties, and it said water signs – I’m a Scorpio – always want to be the centre of attention!”
In what other ways are music and astrology interlinked for you?
“I have an interesting relationship with astrology because I have accidentally become someone that takes it really seriously. A lot of what is associated with my sign would indicate that I should be in a creative industry, and I like to think that I uphold that by being a musician. A lot of artists I listen to are Scorpios, such as Drake – surely that can’t be a coincidence…”
You turned down the chance to study for a Master’s Degree in English Literature at Cambridge University in order to pursue music. How did you come to that decision?
“It had been my dream to get into Cambridge, so it just felt crazy to turn it down. I’m also a mixed-race person and we are very underrepresented at these institutions, and that’s something I’m really passionate about changing. I didn’t want to let the side down; I wanted to stick my foot in the door and be part of a movement. But ultimately, I always try and go with my gut – I wouldn’t have ever got this far without trusting myself. I knew that I could reapply to Cambridge, but there was no way I was going to miss the boat on this music thing. And you know what? I have never, ever regretted my decision.”
“Ultimately, I always try and go with my gut – I wouldn’t have ever got this far without trusting myself”
How have you developed your confidence as a rapper?
“With ‘All My Girls Like To Fight’, a lot of my friends tried to humble me by saying, ‘You can’t call yourself a rapper – that [song] is spoken word’. Sometimes, when I write songs, it feels very natural to put a rap verse in there and change up the texture and flow of the verse. I think rap in particular is so poetic, and I definitely consider myself to be a poet. Rap is also a very male-dominated industry and creative space. I just want to get stuck in and shake things up a bit.”
Who are some other rappers that you consider to be poets?
“Lauryn Hill is both an incredible rapper and singer. I was listening to ‘Everything Is Everything’ the other day, and that second verse is just one of the best rap verses I’ve ever heard. Kendrick Lamar is another big favourite of mine – I think he’s the modern-day Shakespeare. He’s just the best storyteller around. I wouldn’t just compare anyone to my beloved Shakespeare for the sake of it!”
How does your love of Shakespeare inform your own songwriting?
“The main thing that I love about Shakespeare is the enduring importance and impact of his work. In fact, I can see his influence in every single TV show I watch and every book I read. His work always inspires me to create something new that can last as long as some of his storylines have. I always go back to his characters and the inner turmoil that they grapple with. Shakespeare wrote about what every single human being feels over the course of their life, but in different circumstances.”
Could you see yourself becoming a published author one day?
“I definitely have dreams of writing books, though I’m not sure if I’ve got a novel in me. But I would love to publish a book that’s a mishmash of short stories, poems and essays in the near future. I’ve started sowing the seeds, and, alongside my songwriting, I’ve been really getting into writing prose over the past few months. Hopefully one day I’ll get there – [a book] is definitely on the cards.”
Does writing fiction give you the freedom to explore themes and emotions that you are perhaps unable to condense into a pop song?
“Definitely, but to an extent – I try to think that there’s nothing I can’t explore in proper detail in a song. Every art form has their limit in some way, and over the past few months [since] I’ve started writing prose I’ve realised how amazing it is to be able to go into so much detail. But I think the reason I initially chose songwriting is because I can’t go into a lot of detail about some things, and I think there’s something beautiful about the things we choose to leave out. I think it’s very important to sometimes leave your lyrics open to interpretation from others. My transition into more long-form styles of writing is offering me another form of creative expression. The more outlets I have to express myself, the better.”
You’re currently working on your debut album. What themes are you exploring?
“I’m really not holding back – my heart is being pulled out through these songs. In my writing I’m exploring friendship and family, and my main mission is just to be as vulnerable as possible – and I think that’s let me get to some music that has become very special to me. The album isn’t finished yet, but I’m very excited for it to come out at some point in the near future.
“Honestly, the one thing I hope to achieve with the album is to be able to listen to it and not want to skip any of the songs! I do have all sorts of goals in terms of streaming numbers and awards – every artist does, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t – but my priorities have really changed recently. I don’t know if lockdown triggered it, but I think I’ve been focusing more on how much I love the music and can connect to it. If I feel like I’ve done my best [with this album], then there’s no way it’s not going to do the best it can do.”
Hope Tala’s new single ‘Party Sickness’ is out now