Taylor Parks, who goes by the stage name Tayla Parx, has one message: “Come as you are because, whatever that is, is acceptable.”
It’s a message that comes through all Parks’ work, whether that’s as a songwriter of chart-topping hits for a variety of musicians or through her own work on her debut LP We Need to Talk.
“I think that’s where everything truly, truly starts — you being your authentic self. It’s just you accepting being what you want for what you are and being confident in that,” the 25-year-old artist says from San Francisco, where’s she’s kicking off her U.S. tour opening for Lizzo, herself a powerhouse of female empowerment anthems.
From the beginning, Parks has worked with strong women, writing songs for everyone from the K-Pop all-female group Red Velvet in 2015, to earning a Grammy nomination as part of the writing team behind Janelle Monáe’s 2018 Dirty Computer, to Ariana Grande’s chart-topping “Thank U, Next” and “7 Rings” in 2019. (The list goes on, with writing credits for Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Fergie, Christina Aguilara, Demi Lovato…)
“They want to feel some sense of security in themselves. It doesn’t matter how popular they are to the rest of the world. … These women are strong and these are things that they want to talk about,” Parks says. “And I’m finding the perfect way to talk about it in their language, in their unique way.”
That’s not to say that Parks is defined by either genre or gender. Other writing credits include hits like “High Hopes” from American rock outfit Panic! At the Disco and songs for K-Pop sensation BTS. “Everyone wants to feel empowered [and] that goes beyond gender. That goes for boys, that goes for girls,” she says. “People like to sing music about feeling empowered even if they’re not quite there yet. They sing it so they believe it one day.”
This self-confidence, this sense of empowerment that Parks both personally exhibits and helps others express, finds it roots in the strong women who helped shape her. As a child, Parks grew up singing with her grandmother in church. And it continued as she became the protégé of actress, director and choreographer Debbie Allen of Fame recognition.
“Debbie is definitely one of the first just incredibly powerful women that I met,” Parks says.“She was really a pioneer, but it didn’t scare her from making that step towards the future that she saw for herself, you know, and that confidence that you have to have to believe that you could do something that maybe hasn’t been done before. Or it’s been done by a few.”
Parks met Allen while studying dance at her academy in Texas, drawing Allen’s attention with her ability to sing as well as dance. Soon after, Allen introduced Parks to the world of acting; Parks’ first role was as Little Inez in the 2007 remake of the musical Hairspray.
“She (Allen) introduced me to the thought that maybe I wasn’t just a singer. From then on, I just started becoming curious on my own,” Parks says.
Parks soon realized that songwriting was an actual job, and that producing records was also something she could do, despite the fact that not many women do it. According to a recent study published by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, only 12 percent of songwriters with credits on popular songs determined by both the Billboard 100 list and Grammy nominations from 2012-18, are female. Additionally, only 2 percent of producers are.
Since 2013, Parks has spent her time helping other artists explore their emotions to write songs that express their vulnerabilities. With We Need to Talk, Parks explores her own.
“I’ve been very patient with my artistry,” she says of her own music. “Growing up I was still discovering who I was and I’m still discovering it every day because it’s evolving. But now I’m bringing the world along for that evolution, and just being very open and vulnerable and honest about the journey.”
It was an interesting transition for Parks, who was used to holding the mirror up to others, seeing their stories with a clear head — a much easier task than exploring her own flaws and feelings, turning the mirror toward herself. In the end, it was an exciting process, Parks says, “another level of breaking down the ego and seeing your feelings for what they are versus what you wish they were.”
Parks has never been afraid of hard work, and over the past two years she challenged herself to not let fear stop her from being fragile.
“That was my challenge to myself and that’s what this album We Need to Talk is,” she says. “It’s me discovering the strength in vulnerability.”
With the album, Parks’ career has come full circle, moving from behind the scenes to center stage. But that doesn’t mean it’s where she’s stopping.
ON THE BILL: Tayla Parx opening for Lizzo. 8 p.m. Ogden Theatre, 935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver.