Hear Zoya Reinvent Her Pop Artistry on ‘Bad Girls Dream’ with Rapper Jack Harlow
The Los Angeles-based Indian-American worked with Grammy-winning producer Mark Nilan Jr. on her forthcoming material
Wiping your Instagram account clean is among the things you have to do when you’re a pop artist who’s just got signed to a label and aiming to retool your sonic and visual identity. Zoya knows the dilemma it presents.
The Los Angeles-based Indian-American singer and songwriter has changed her sound (and identity) a few times over since she started as a teenager with pop dreams, but this is different. Based in Mumbai until April last year, Zoya says it was hard to erase all her Instagram photos and start over. “A lot of new people are going to find out about me now, but I want them to know about my history and India. This was too big and too good for me to not give this its own fresh platform of who I am now,” she says.
Turning away from the EDM-friendly pop tunes she was making up until last year, Zoya has now released a buoyant, bumping new earworm “Bad Girls Dream,” featuring a dizzying, quickfire verse from rapper Jack Harlow. The song is the first since she signed to Chicago music management company and label Propelr Music, produced by Mark Nilan Jr., who has previously worked with popstar Lady Gaga on 2016’s Joanne and the soundtrack to A Star Is Born in 2018. Zoya gushes about working with Nilan at a time when she was just obsessing over A Star Is Born (“I had watched it three times in a row”) and the music.
Once in the studio in October last year, Zoya says she was ready with close to 50 songs, of which three were finessed and crafted into her new material, including “Bad Girls Dream.” She says, “He would just rip me apart but it was good. He had asked me, ‘Do you want to make music that’s really cool on Spotify for one second or do you want to make timeless songs?’ He had to really simplify my writing. I rewrote a lot. ‘Bad Girls Dream’ was rewritten like eight times.” The song details the rebel version of Zoya when she was growing up in Orange County, seeking validation from everyone but herself. It’s something that she saw over the years as well, as she moved from being a folk singer-songwriter with world music influences to being influenced by electronic music and then producing her own material as well.
Zoya speaks about her Indian identity and now striving to be part of pop culture on the music front, “I just wanted to be a girl who makes music and wrote songs. It got to a point where I didn’t want to prove my authenticity or my ethnicity.” With videos coming up for the tracks, Zoya has taken inspiration from the film adaptation of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty to craft a story arch that narrates her past, present and an idealistic future version. She says, “With every single release, one door gets unlocked. I’m going through each door and exploring these universes and pop back out, because my validation jar always gets empty.”
It’s been a long road to finding the right fit for Zoya, who says she left India with a full experience of the growing independent music circuit and then spent four months building her confidence back up before signing with Propelr. She says, “Had India not happened, I don’t think I would have the confidence to leave and pursue what I actually wanted the whole time.”
Despite all the frank talk of validation, Zoya says she’s past trying to force fit any Indian elements in her music or even visual identity. The labels she had originally spoken to wanted a “crossover act” who included Indian sounds, but she’s now aiming for pop success on her own terms. “It’s about the music and your artistry and what people are going to hear first,” she says.