NOTilüfer Yanya may have grown up in Chelsea, but hers is not the world of Sloane Ranger 2.0: pristine Georgian townhouses and endless champagne brunches. Instead, it’s the manic, deafening and claustrophobic side of the city that radiates through her work: on the recent single Stabilize, the 26-year-old sings of endless skyscrapers filled with tiny apartments ” rotten to the core ”. “Gray concrete,” she said. “I see that immediately when the song starts. A literal gray but also an emotional gray.
Today we’re in London’s First Kind – a chic, shiny, rose-accented cafe in Bayswater – discussing Yanya’s upcoming second album, Painless, a collection of tangy, sometimes jazzy and always eye-catching post-punk that lands somewhere between Joy Division, King Krule and PJ Harvey. It is the critically acclaimed 2019 sequel to Miss Universe, a record that featured the unpretentious smiling woman as one of Britain’s most exciting new rock stars.
And yet, despite her consistently excellent production, Yanya’s rise seems highly unusual. Not because it was sparked by an unexpected moment of internet-fueled hype, but because it wasn’t. Instead, it was nothing new than performing in London throughout her teens and early twenties, signing to an independent label and, then, the same. Granted, she was offered (questionable) shortcuts along the way, like the time she avoided getting involved in a doomed manufactured girl group with ties to One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson, an industry approach. which Yanya sums up as follows: young people, tell them that we are going to make a very successful group but that we are obviously going to make a lot more money than them. It is a very selfish thing to do. Especially since she heard that the whole project had been abandoned bluntly a year later.
Either way, being a pop star has never been on Yanya’s radar. You don’t make craggy, thorny, impressionistic rock songs if you want to top the charts, or indeed if you want to ride the zeitgeist: Painless doesn’t exactly match the current sound of young London. Do his friends listen to the guitar? “Not overwhelmingly,” she admits. It is also not the music that some people expected from her, according to her name (her father is Turkish) and her appearance (she is mixed race). “Some people have [described it as] R&B and it’s like: where did you get that from? There is a very small element of that in all the music that I have released.
These are boys with guitars who shaped his musical ambitions from the start. A talented pianist as a child, she was drawn to “pop-rock, skater-punk and the Strokes” by her older sister. “It was weird because I didn’t really listen to female singers; the only music that was “believable” was that of the guys. Obviously, I never realized it, I just thought it was cool. I didn’t think “I feel left out”.
Without seeing any woman do it, how did she know she could? “I just wanted to try. I guess I wasn’t worried about its commercial success; I wasn’t thinking: how am I going to make this a TikTok hit. It is not that she is totally unhooked: she is now encouraged by her team to promote her products on the platform: “It’s a young thing; I feel like I got past that. Can’t I be an adult now ?! “
For Yanya, adulthood hasn’t just implied a rampant ambivalence towards social media; it also turned his attention to his Turkish heritage. Painless has a know, the string instrument her father used to play at home, and she has recently started taking Turkish lessons. His younger self shared none of that enthusiasm. “When you grow up here and your parents come from other countries, you want to dissociate yourself somehow,” 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.'” She always feels like she’s just starting to understand Turkish culture. : really don’t know anything My mom is Irish and Bajana 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 track record in a reductive and flattening way. “‘You are Turkish, great, we have what you need” or “You are mixed race, cool, it works. 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 the industry’s cynicism is to surround yourself with people who truly care about your best interests – and Yanya has managed to make her career a family affair. At 16, she recorded her first song in her uncle’s Cornwall studio, a tradition she continued with Painless. Her younger sister, Elif, sometimes joins her on tour as a backing vocalist, while her older sister Molly directs her music videos.
Along with Molly, she also set up an initiative called Artists in Transit which offers creative workshops for refugee children, first in Greece and now in London. “You just talk to people, do nice things,” Yanya explains. “Their parents just want them to have a good time, no matter where they are, so we play on that. I don’t know how to help people out of this situation, [but] I think the first step is to get to know people and bridge some kind of gap. “
As the child of two visual artists, creativity has been a constant in Yanya’s life. But the arts, she notes, seem increasingly undervalued in the UK. An example: She attended Pimlico School, known for fostering musical talent (alumni include Elly Jackson of La Roux, Roots Manuva and Dave Okumu of Invisible, who also taught Yanya’s music there). Halfway through his studies, the school was converted into an academy and the teaching of music reduced by half.
She despairs of how creativity has become “a luxury.” It shouldn’t be something for people who have the money or the extra time. Why can’t everyone participate? ”. Music lessons at school, giving young refugees a creative outlet: the arts are not just fun, says Yanya, they are essential. “It’s a way of communicating, it crosses cultures. When you stop people from doing that, it’s like cutting off an arm. It’s not hard to agree – and if anyone remains skeptical of the benefits of fostering creativity in childhood, an encounter with Yanya’s uplifting music is sure to change their mind.
Painless releases March 4.