Interview: Daya talks career transitions, feminism and her Shanghai itinerary

The American pop star returns to China for a springtime gig at VAS Live

Photographs: courtesy 247tickets
Grace Martine Tandon, better known by her stage name Daya, emerged on the scene with such impact it almost felt criminal. The promising singer-songwriter and ace instrumentalist first turned heads after releasing her premier self-titled EP in 2015, which features honest, relatable lyrics alongside sharp, energetic melodies. Daya went on to cement her status in the pop star pantheon after lending her vocals to The Chainsmokers' viral dance anthem 'Don't Let Me Down'. Now in the throes of a sophomore album, she is docked to perform at VAS Live on Fri 17. In the rare purgatory between shows, she talks career transitions, feminism and her China itinerary.

You chose the moniker Daya (meaning 'grace' in Hindi) as an homage to your Indian grandfather and Punjabi heritage. Are there any other ways you have used music as a platform for cultural visibility?

I don't know that I've used it for cultural visibility, in terms of Hinduism, because I don’t know much about Hindu culture. I would love to know more. But in terms of the queer community and women’s rights, I try to use my standing as much as I can.

Your debut album, Sit Still, Look Pretty, is crash course on female empowerment. As a self-identified feminist, do you find fame has enhanced or subdued your politics?

I think fame has enhanced my desire to know more about politics, social issues and the state of the world – as well as just being in the industry and seeing how sexism directly impacts me and my female peers. I think it’s really important that we take the stance that we do to overcome that. That’s just one of the ways I’ve been more involved recently.


'Don’t Let Me Down', your collaboration with The Chainsmokers, peaked at number three on the US Billboard Hot 100 and won a Grammy for Best Dance Recording in 2016. When that track exploded, was there any fear of losing your independence as an artist or falling prey to the one-hit-wonder trope?

No, I don’t think so. I think it was equally intimidating and motivating. It’s stressful to now have the pressure of making something at that caliber, but at the same time, I think that I have the ability to do it and I’ve been working really hard in the studio, so I’m excited to share that.

By age 11 you had learned to play piano guitar, ukulele, saxophone and flute...jeez. Was your curiosity for music primarily self-motivated or was there a helicopter parent or mentor involved?

My parents played a big part in getting me interested in music. They had me taking lessons at like, three for piano. They were definitely part of my journey all along, but I think it was my drive and passion for it that kept me going and kept me intrigued about playing more instruments. Yeah, definitely a mix of both.

Have you been to or played in China before? What sort of things would you like to do during your stint in Shanghai?

I have played in China before. I played in Hong Kong and Beijing. That was probably one of my favourite festivals that I’ve ever played. But I’m really excited to go to Shanghai. I feel like the show is going to be great and super high energy. I’m excited to meet my Shanghai fans and maybe do a little shopping after the show to, you know, rock my bank account.

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