Payday is not your typical artist — she’s a 17-year-old rapper who uses dolphins just as well as toxic masculinity as input for her music. She may be young and unexpected, but Payday is not to be underestimated. She has released her third P.U.K.E mixtape — a clever acronym for Payday’s Unbelievably Killer EP — and has well over 300 unreleased songs pretty much ready to go. She raps, sings, dabbles in ukulele and is not afraid to go against the grain, as she effortlessly defies genres and expectations in her tracks. In other words, Payday’s a real spitfire and it’s time the world got to know her a little bit better.
Before Payday was Pay-day, she was Pay-ton — a kid who spent most of her childhood traveling state-to-state with her family. As a result, she often found herself to be the outsider and in need of distractions. “As I was growing up, I was always doing so many different things just to distract myself from being home and stuff, because it wasn’t always that great. I did sports — I did track, softball, basketball, played soccer for a little bit,” Payday says. “I literally did every sport out there just to not have to be at home and to be able to be doing something. It wasn’t until later that I realized music was just as good of an escape. I could lock myself away and say ‘nobody talk to me.’”
The catalyst to her discovery of music was a little Ben 10-themed radio that she got for free, because it seemed broken. Spoiler alert: It was not! “I somehow got it to work, and I’d listen to that all the time, as well as CDs,” she shares. “I had a tablet that I could play music on, but I liked the radio the most. I’d sing along to songs and think ‘oh, I wish that was me,’” Payday recalls. It wasn’t until she transitioned to listening to music on her phone that she started to develop more serious envy for the artists she loved. “I’d listen to Tyler, The Creator and think, he’s so cool and goes around with his friends, they’re so cool. I want to make music like that, they get to live that cool ass life!”
As her ambitions began to take shape, Payday started testing the waters with the people around her. “I’d tell people I knew that did make music, acting as if it was a joke, like, wouldn’t it be funny if I made music, anyways, what mic do you use?”
It also meant that she’d need to pick an artist name. Inspired by the fact that she eventually wants to be everyone’s favorite artist, Payton chose a name that’s only three letters different from her actual name. “Everyone loves payday, it’s the best day of the week,” she says. “Who doesn’t love getting paid? I want to be loved in the same way that everyone loves payday.”
With a new artist name picked out, a microphone from Walmart, and free software on her laptop, Payday started putting songs out on Soundcloud — without her family ever even knowing about it. In fact, they only really understood how serious she was when she was asked to fly out to LA for a session. “That’s when I had to tell them. I was 15, I couldn’t exactly run off to LA without letting them know,” she jokes, before turning serious again. “I think that the reason why my parents supported me so much is because they saw how much it meant to me. I feel like I didn’t really have anything else going for me. I hated school so much, was failing all my classes and wasn’t paying attention at all. The only thing I focused on at the time was music. I needed to do it and be successful at it. It was all I got.”
Thankfully, success arrived rather quickly. The first time Payday realized that she could make things work was when one of her songs hit 3,000 views on Soundcloud. “I was like, ‘Whoa, oh my god this is crazy. I need to start putting more stuff out on Spotify and Apple Music.’ My friend helped me, he’d send me beats and let me distribute my music via his DistroKid account. He even linked my PayPal so I’d get money if I were to make some. That’s when I realized we’re really stepping up and moving on up in the world. We’re on Apple Music now!”
Payday’s music is everywhere now, including TikTok, of course. There, she’s amassed millions of views. But when she looks at how much her career has grown in such a short amount of time, it’s not the numbers that stand out. Instead, it’s having people show support for her artistry. “When people started reaching out to me to say they wanted to collab, that’s when I realized that this was working out,” she says. “There’d be people with bigger numbers than I had, so they actually liked what I was doing, otherwise there’s no reason for them to reach out. It’s what made me see that I’m moving forward, people willing to help me and do favors without asking for money or a shoutout. They just want to be part of it all, and that makes me feel good. It definitely wasn’t like that in the beginning.”
Similarly, she loves to read people’s actual reactions to her music. “Sometimes I’ll go on Soundcloud to read the comments, but usually I don’t have to reach out to see these days. A lot of people DM me on Instagram now and will tell me why they relate to a particular song. My favorite ones are when people send me a video of them at work listening to my music. Stuff like that always makes me so happy,” she gushes.
Payday is very conscious of the fact that her music is not just a form of escapism for herself, but also for her fans. “Even if I don’t necessarily like a song because I don’t feel like that anymore as I did on the record, there might be someone out there who does feel like that and can identify with that track. It’s also why I try to stay away from using him or her in my songs, just so that it can reach more people and they can connect with it.”
In the same vein, Payday doesn’t ever regret songs that she’s released, even if she has outgrown them. Rather, it’s the opposite — her tracks capture memories and perspective, like a musical diary. “You can tell certain songs were made at a certain point in my life, because of what I’m saying in those songs. On my first mixtape, for example, I was making so many love songs, and then when that relationship ended I went back to making more rap stuff with traditional rap themes; stunting, clothes, money. And now with the third mixtape I’d say it’s different again. It’s like with Tyler, The Creator. You can listen to his first and latest album, and they sound like totally different artists.”
There’s a similar interesting dichotomy to Payday’s work, as there is indeed a wide variety in terms of vibes on the tracks. Yet there’s also a distinct common denominator thematically: music as saving grace. For example, the song “Dino” from her second mixtape. Payday says that “the whole song is about feeling down, but being able to work harder and push yourself, even though you feel like shit. You have to keep on making music.”
It’s something that Payday also encounters professionally. With her fast-paced flow and style, some might see her as an outlier in the genre she prefers: rap, a male-dominated part of the music industry. Her track “Big Boy” off of her latest mixtape tackles the subject with a large dose of satire.
“There’s so many different messages in the song. I just … just let me be your favorite artist, why do you have to go ‘this is pretty good for a girl, if your voice was deeper, I’d like it better, pretty great for a girl rapper,’ she lists. “Just shut up. That’s essentially the point of the song. It doesn’t matter, I don’t care. It’s not even like a joke song. There’s bits in it that are funny, but it’s easier to tackle things in a more light-hearted way than it is to be ‘the struggles of being a female rapper.’ It’s easier to make a joke of everything and say ‘you suck, you suck, you suck,’ you know what I mean?”
Besides, Payday doesn’t even necessarily want to be classified as a rap artist. “I just want to be an artist. I’m not big on labels. I don’t really care for being pinpointed as being a rapper or a pop star. It’s better to keep it broad; there’s so much music that people haven’t heard. I don’t want to already market myself as one thing, then people would be surprised at what I might release in the future and not even give it a try. The point is to just make music, at least for me.”
It’s what moved her to release a longer project in between her latest two P.U.K.E mixtapes, aptly titled It’s Just Music. “It was a good way to build suspense and to show what I can do. There are some songs on there that are just really true to rap – like ‘Hollywood Heights.’ It’s fast-paced and I switch the flow a lot. It was just good to make people anticipate more. And it was good to have people hear what all else I can do. There is pop, rap, ’90s-inspired stuff, and more current. It’s like on Instagram, like a photo dump? Except this is a music dump, like, here you go, enjoy!”
Her genre-defying ways make sense when Payday lists some of her favorite influences. “Whenever someone asks me this, I always say Paramore. But I like My Chemical Romance, Charli XCX, Tyler, The Creator, Schemaposse, The Sun God, Tierra Whack, Jack Stauber. I love him; he’s so creative and unique. I like how he mixes all media forms. He has videos, he does stop motion. He’s so cool, the coolest, that’s all,” she gushes. “I’d love to do something similar with multimedia formats.”
Perhaps it’s one of the things that stands out most about Payday aside from her quick wit, and that is her unrelenting creativity. P.U.K.E 3 includes a track called “Dolphin,” which started out as a random thought and 40 minutes later turned into a real song made with real dolphin sounds. “We were in the studio with my producer and he was playing sound effects and stuff,” Payday explains. “I just went, ‘Oh my gosh, what if we put a dolphin noise in the song as the beat?’ He went with it, said ‘Let’s do it!’ I asked if he could use all the sounds from the ocean he could find. In 20 minutes, he made a beat that featured the echo-location sound, seals, sea lions, seagulls, actual dolphin noises, the waves of the ocean, and more! It was the craziest thing ever, he literally made it in 20 minutes. Then I made a song over it, which took another 20 minutes. It was super spontaneous.”
It’s not how it normally goes, though. “Usually I’ll get a folder with beats and I’ll listen to it and see what sparks something, a melody or words, and then we make a song of it. But I do have producer sessions where I sit with the producer and tell them, like, ‘I want a sad guitar, can you play a sad guitar?’ and it’s more tailored to what I’ve asked for. I can’t really produce, I just micro-manage,” she jokes.
She doesn’t really play any instruments aside from the ukulele, so sometimes she’ll play reference songs instead. “I think it’s good to be able to know at least one instrument as an artist. I’m surrounded by people who sometimes play six instruments, and I’m like, well, I play not-great ukulele.” Part of her quarantine has been spent getting better at it, though. “There’s one song on which there’s ukulele, ‘Molang.’ It’s also the only song I produced myself. I would want to perfect it, so when I do perform one day I can play the first five strums of Molang myself before it goes into the beat.”
Hopefully, the time for performing will arrive sooner than later, as Payday hasn’t gotten a real chance to perform just yet. “At least we’ll have a lot of time to plan. And we have a lot of material now.”
What she’s most looking forward to aside from getting to play her first live show? “Big collaborations, I’m just so excited to get to work with people and stuff. You’ll see! Big things are coming!”