By Dan Hyman
March 27, 2019 at 10:15 AM EDT
Madeleine Dalla

At some point during her live shows, Tayla Parx asks the audience a simple question: “Is it OK if I get in my feelings a little bit?” She’s been performing since she was a child — both on Broadway and as a television actress — and lately she’s written some of music’s biggest hits for artists including her friend Ariana Grande and Janelle Monáe. But now, being front and center as a solo act — and, to that end, making herself vulnerable each night by singing about emotional indecision or falling in love for the first time or simply being young and naïve — “it’s just so honest and really scary,” the 25-year old admits one recent afternoon. “Because nothing I’ve done before this moment matters.”

She’s being overly humble but there’s a truth to what Parx says: sure, she’s exploded as one of pop music’s go-to songwriters, having notched two No. 1 singles for Grande with “Thank U, Next” and “7 Rings,” and having written on Normani and Khalid’s “Love Lies” and Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes,” just to name a few. But striking out on her own with her debut album We Need To Talk (out April 5), promises to expose her to listeners like never before.

“It feels like I’m re-proving myself,” Parx says of her R&B-infected pop debut, which follows her 2017 mixtape Tayla Made. Equal parts swagger and vulnerability, the new project is fitting for this new and uncertain time in her life.  “I wanted to talk about that evolution honesty,” she notes of songs like the no-nonsense confessional “I Want You” and the brilliantly titled “Tomboys Have Feelings Too.”  “I’ve learned so much about myself in the past year and a half both in love and by myself. To let that story pour out on its own was therapy.”

She calls her album a “happy accident” in that every song emerged from spontaneous studio sessions, but the Dallas-born artist has been working towards this moment for practically her entire life. By age eight, Parx was a classically trained dancer working with famed choreographer Debbie Allen, and from ages nine to 11 she performed at the Kennedy Center in the show, Dancing in the Wings. She quickly booked the lead role in Hairspray, eventually making her way to TV and landing parts on Gilmore Girls and Everybody Hates Chris. Looking back, Parx says every artistic accomplishment was less a sign of progression than a reflection of where her heart was leading her. “It’s literally just a matter of saying, ‘OK, this is where I am right now in my life,’” she explains of her creative process. “This is honestly what I am and so right now I’m going to be that unapologetically.”

Parx started singing in church at age five, and by 17 moved to Los Angeles, where she quickly found a mentor in iconic songwriter-producer Babyface, before signing a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell. Soon she was writing songs for A-list artists including Grande (“My Everything”) and Jennifer Lopez (“So Good”), and has since worked with Demi Lovato, Christina Aguilera, and Quavo. “I’m really proud to be a songwriter,” she says, adding, “It’s not one of those things where I became a songwriter just so I could become an artist eventually.” Rather, Parx believes her ability to act as a vessel for other artists is just another expression of her artistry: “It’s almost method acting,” she offers.

She’s known Grande since their days as Nickelodeon actors — Parx starred in the Keke Palmer-led True Jackson, VP — but they reconnected in a major way when working on Thank U, Next. “We were literally getting to know each other again,” she recalls with a smile. Grande, she adds, “is one of the most supportive artists behind songwriters actually getting the acknowledgement that they deserve.”

Having recently toured with Anderson .Paak and set to join Lizzo on the road next month, Parx says she’s getting a near-daily master class in what it takes for her to bring her solo career to the next level. “Every day they go out onstage like their life depends on it.” Given her long-winding journey to the present she’s hardly stressing if this new phase takes longer to completely explode. “I’ve always had so many different hats that if somebody doesn’t get one at the moment I’m like, ‘That’s OK. I’ll come back around to it. I’ll see you again.’”

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