Ayra Starr

Photography
Sami Drasin
Styling
Apuje Kalu with Celestine Agency
Hair
Sean Christopher Fears with Opus Beauty
Makeup
Matthew Fishman

The last time EUPHORIA. spoke to Ayra Starr, she had just launched her music career with the 2021 self-titled EP. At age 18, she told us: “I am going to work as hard as I can to become as successful as I possibly can this year and I pray to God that it happens.” Clearly, manifesting works. In the three years that have passed, Starr has morphed into a global hitmaker with a bright future ahead of her. 

With over 1 billion streams to her name already, Starr’s breakthrough smash “Rush” allowed her to become the youngest African female artist to surpass 100 million YouTube views and secured Starr her first-ever Grammy Award nomination. As the song continues to reach new heights, she is now officially the first Nigerian female artist to have a music video watched over 300 million times. Taken from her critically successful debut album, 19 & Dangerous, Starr has since become the go-to vocalist for a fire collaboration. From Leigh-Anne’s “My Love” and Wizkid’s “2 Sugar,” to Stormzy’s “Need You” and more recently, “Santa” with Rvssian and Rauw Alejandro, it seems everyone has been wanting a slice of Ayra Starr, and we can hardly blame them.

ayra starr

On May 31, she will release her highly-anticipated second album, The Year I Turned 21. A month later, she will make her Glastonbury Festival debut in the UK after supporting Chris Brown across the US on his “11:11 Tour.” Preparing for what we can expect to be a whirlwind of a summer, how has Starr felt about her blossoming career so far? “I’m still very critical about myself, but I am also very grateful for how far I’ve come. It’s just grace. I feel like grace is a big part of my journey,” Starr says. “I’ve been working very hard and the last three years have been a dream, even the good and the bad parts.”

ayra starr

Starr is now 21 and is commemorating the milestone with what she considers a coming-of-age album. On the sophomore release, listeners will hear the singer get personal in her music for the very first time as The Year I Turned 21 focuses on themes of growth, love, heartbreak, and self-discovery. Despite its strong use of storytelling, some might be surprised to find out that her debut album, 19 & Dangerous, was in fact filled with stories from pure imagination. “With the first album, I was just making music,” Starr admits. “I wasn’t really making music from my experiences. Me and my brother loved writing fictional stories. I used to read a lot of books, so my music was inspired by that as well as movies and TV shows. I couldn’t write music about myself. I wasn’t vulnerable enough to put myself out there in my music. I just couldn’t see myself doing that. I would just pretend like, ‘Oh, no, no, no, I’m too much of a hard guy to feel this way about a certain situation.’ I didn’t like to acknowledge my own feelings. With this album, I knew I had to.”

ayra starr

Track eight of The Year I Turned 21, a ballad titled “21,” played a big part in Starr overcoming her discomfort of writing about herself. The song reflects on where Starr is in life as she sings about the lead-up to her 21st birthday. She questions what the future holds for her as she details what she was up to during previous ages. “It is a very weird thing because I try to live in the moment. That is my thing,” Starr says. “But, it is just very human of me to always think about what’s next and what’s in the future. I’m very grateful for where I’m now but that doesn’t mean I’m not nervous either.”

She recalls spending a lot of time in the studio with her writer friend Mason “Maesu” Tanner, who wrote the initial demo for the song. “I loved the way he wrote music,” Starr says. “Maesu would shadow me in the studio every time we would have a deep conversation. He would ask me questions as if he was writing a book about me. On my 21st birthday, he gave me a gift, which was the first demo of the song. He was like, ‘Oh, you know, you said you couldn’t write music about yourself, so this is what I noticed about you.’” Listening to the demo for the first time was a game-changing moment during the creative process and opened Starr’s mind to different possibilities. “It was then that I understood what I was doing with the album,” she adds.

ayra starr

The most personal song on the album, and of Starr’s career, is undoubtedly the final track, “The Kids Are Alright,” an emotional number dedicated to her father who died. Welcomed by a voice note from her mother, she tells Starr that she should enjoy and live life to the fullest, explaining that her father wasn’t able to do the same. Singing over an orchestral production, Starr expresses her best wishes before inviting her siblings to share messages to close the song. “My mom and my siblings cried when they first heard it,” Starr reveals. “My auntie and my older sister haven’t heard it yet. I want them to hear when the album drops.” 

ayra starr

Beautifully crafted and incredibly moving, the 3-minute ballad was the final touch Starr knew the album needed. “The album was already done and we had already picked what was going on it. I remember going back to Lagos and I was in my bed feeling as if something was missing from this album,” she says. “I wanted a song about a real feeling that people don’t like to talk about. I was looking on YouTube for beats and I found one that made me cry. I was like, ‘Okay, this is what is missing.’ I remember writing the song in my room at around 3 am and recording it the next day. It felt perfect as if that was what the album needed. I felt like the album was finished once I made that song.”

Of course, no Ayra Starr album is officially complete without some noteworthy collaborations. Recruiting CKay, Fousheé, and Kelly Rowland for her debut, Starr has stepped it up a notch for her sophomore release. Her latest single, “Bad Vibes,” features fellow Nigerian Seyi Vibez while Asake and Milar also make an appearance. For the female anthem “Woman Commando,” Starr called upon Brazillian superstar Anitta and US Grammy Award winner Coco Jones to both lay down a verse. “I knew from the first time I recorded it that I wanted two women on it,” she states. 

ayra starr

“I love both of them individually as I grew up listening to Coco and watching her on Disney Channel. Me and my team listen to Anitta non-stop. Listening to Anitta is like our pre-workout song or before we do anything crazy,” she says. Starr manifested a song that sounded like “The Return of Destiny’s Child” and she couldn’t be happier with the results, describing the song as “perfect.”

Giveon also features on the R&B love track “Last Heartbreak Song,” a sultry ballad she’s been sitting on for several years. “I remember I had the song before the first album but we were trying to keep it for the right time,” she reveals. “We sent it to Giveon last year and I had his verse on in the car and I just started crying because he just sounded so perfect. Giveon is an amazing, amazing musician. I just knew our voices would just click together.”

With many sought-after collaborations under her belt, who could possibly be next? Rihanna, naturally. As seen in footage from the mogul’s Fenty x Puma launch in London, the music icon told Starr to call her if she had any extra verses for her to appear on. It’s been over a month since the interaction, and still, the moment doesn’t feel real. “I feel like it’s still sinking in,” she says. “I know it’s huge, but it still feels like a dream in a way. In the back of my mind, I knew she loved me. I feel like there’s no way Rihanna doesn’t listen to me. I knew I was gonna meet her two weeks before and I asked my friend, ‘Do you think Rihanna listens to me?’ [laughs] They were like, ‘I don’t know.’ I said, ‘There’s no way. I lowkey make music for her to listen to it.’ The fact that she knew my songs, even the littlest details that people would never notice. She’s amazing!”

ayra starr

At the time of our interview, Starr was fresh from a visit to Brazil, where she performed at Parque do Ibirapuera in Sao Paulo. Not only was it her first visit to the country, she even debuted songs from the album during her set. “You know what I noticed?” she says. “For the song ‘Control,’ people were singing it on the second chorus. I didn’t even have to teach them, they were just singing it.” She loved the experience, so much that she’s already manifesting her return. “I definitely want to go back to Brazil in like two years just to see how much bigger I am by then,” she says. “I want to go to Japan or Korea. I really want to go to Asia. Those are my top two. But I want to come back to the places I’ve been already just to see my increased fanbase.”

Before completing the album, there was one mission Starr set herself. “I remember writing it down before the deluxe of 19 & Dangerous came out. I was like, ‘I wanna make one of the best Afrobeats albums.’ I wanted to be so good that even I myself would find it really hard to top. I want to give myself a challenge and I feel that’s what I did,” she says. Now that the mission is complete, she has set herself another goal, one that is long-lasting. “I want this album to be timeless and for it to be considered a classic album,” Starr adds. “I feel like every other thing will follow once it is a timeless album. I want people to listen to this album for years and years and I want it to get better with the more time that goes on. In 10 years, I want people to listen to it and be like, ‘Oh this album was way ahead of its time.’”