Welcome to The Drop, Refinery29's home for music video premieres. We want to shine the spotlight on women artists whose music inspires, excites, and (literally) moves us. This is where we'll champion their voices.
A year ago, if you would have told iyla what was in store for her and the rest of the world, she probably wouldn't have believed you. After all, things were going great for her. In the weeks that followed the release of her EP Other Ways to Vent, the Los Angeles singer-songwriter had already booked a national tour, performing songs old and new to passionate fans in sold-out venues. Her career was on the up-and-up, and things could only get better.
When the novel coronavirus hit, it snatched iyla from the high of her recent successes back down to the startling reality of the pandemic. Like most of us, she's spent much of her time in quarantine "eating and watching Netflix," but the singer also has been hard at work trying to close out the very last chapter of Other Ways to Vent. The seven-track EP, a delightful marriage of R&B and alt-pop sounds, peers into the intimate recesses of iyla's mind. Each song on the project is deeply personal, as if taken from a page in her diary. In "Cash Rules," she and Method Man trade bars about a toxic relationship. In "Naked Girl," iyla lavishes praises on the feminine form. And in "Strings," the singer falls prey to the manipulation of her lover.
Almost exactly a year after dropping the EP and garnering critical acclaim, iyla is officially closing the book on the beloved project with one last final music video for fan favorite "Strings." In the vibrant visuals, premiering here on Refinery29, she comes to life as a literal puppet reluctantly playing to the someone else's whims despite her better judgement.
"So why do I feel like your puppet?" iyla sings in her signature ethereal lilt as she moves about mechanically like a stringed toy. "You pull my strings while you play me."
We caught up with the talented R&B songstress via Zoom to chat about her vision for the delayed final chapter of Other Ways to Vent and looked to the future, getting a glimpse into the next era of iyla.
Refinery29: You're sharing the music video for "Strings" almost a whole year after you released your EP. What made you want to make a video for the song after such a long time?
iyla: "'Strings' has always been a special song to me from the time it was first created, and it was always going to be the third video from the EP. Even after 2020 hit, it was still so important for me to shoot a video. Visuals are how I can tell my full story along with the music itself."
"It was quite the journey making 'Strings' during this time because I'm one of those people who cares so much about other people that I was terrified to get people on set and shoot safely. But I also felt so strongly about the song because the fans loved this song from the day it dropped, so I knew that I had to do this for everyone — myself included. And us coming up on the one year anniversary of the EP makes it all the more special."
You take the lyrics of "Strings" quite literally in the video — how did you ideate your transformation into a puppet?
"From the moment I wrote the song in the studio, I wanted the viewer to feel that heart and soul-aching feeling of feeling like you're under someone's control, under their strings. And the best way to do that was to put me in these doll-like scenarios and have me be pulled in all these different directions because of love."
Since you first hit the scene, all of your videos have been really creative. Did you feel any pressure with "Strings" to keep to that same high standard?
"I definitely felt the pressure, but more from myself. I always want to one-up myself, to put things out there that make people think and feel more than anything. Aesthetically, it's a little bit different; it leans more towards this Wizard of Oz, technicolor campy space, and that was new for us. So I did feel a pressure, but it was exciting, especially during this time, to create something that felt playful and colorful. It was refreshing to be able to change it up."
Your tour ended right before the pandemic virtually shut the world down. Looking back, what was it like to be able to connect with your fans face to face during your own show?
"It's the most special feeling in the whole world to express myself in that way. I'm super shy, but to connect with people right in front of me was the most amazing feeling of freedom. To receive all of that love and energy back is exactly why I do it. It's like you become one with every single person in that audience."
I know you've been working throughout the pandemic. How has this downtime affected your creative process, and what can iyla stans look forward to from you in the future?
"This quarantine forced me to look inward. Sometimes, as artists, we create things for other people so we can connect with them. But this time has shocked me into looking more at myself. That vulnerability that I've had to tap into is hopefully going to really translate to listeners and viewers. We've all had to go there during this time."
"I've also been in the studio for months, and I feel like this next thing that comes out — I don't know whether it's another EP or just a few singles yet — will be me, but new. After this year and everything that we've been through, how could it not be a little different? So there's definitely going to be a pandemic vibe of really focusing inward. I want to bring a light and a fun vibe to 2021 and my fans. I want us to be more connected than ever, and this next thing will hopefully do that."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.