The Year I Turned 21

The Year I Turned 21

“In my head, I was looking at this album like a TV show,” Nigerian singer Ayra Starr tells Apple Music about her sophomore album The Year I Turned 21. “Every song is an episode.” Structured as a series of life’s key moments, the album features the sonic adventures and lyrical savvy that saw Starr’s debut album, 2021’s 19 & Dangerous, set Afropop streaming records. Brimming with self-confidence and unvarnished introspection, The Year I Turned 21 covers a range of topics, from the fear of failure, newfound love, growing fame and fortune, and gender positivity to parental loss, intimacy, and mental wellbeing. Starr blends R&B and Afropop with stylistic borrowings from Latin pop, Jamaican dancehall, Nigerian highlife, gospel, and more. “Dem never know I kala,” she sings on “Commas.” The phrase (a mixture of pidgin and Yoruba, which means being underestimated based on looks) shows a keenness for being accessible, a theme explored throughout the album. Combinations of languages and instrumentals abound, buoyed by disparate samples that include ’70s R&B, a field recording, and taped confessions from family members. Production was provided by notable hitmakers that include LONDON, P2J, P-Prime, and Starr’s brother and frequent songwriting collaborator, Milar. The main attraction, however, remains Starr’s singing voice, which has grown along with her stardom. “This album has made me who I am now,” she explains. “It was proper character development.” Here, she talks through the album, track by track. “Birds Sing of Money” “My brother, who is a music video director, paid a guy to just sing a Fuji song about me, which is in the beginning of ‘Birds Sing of Money.’ This was a day after I released my first EP, as a gift. And the guy was just hyping me up. That’s a very Yoruba thing.” “Goodbye (Warm Up)” (with Asake) “This is one of my favorite tracks I’ve ever recorded. Ever. Before I sent it to Asake, I wasn’t even sure if he was going to like the song. He was like, ‘OK Ayra, give me some time.’ He sent me his verse in two days. I was like, ‘Oh, this is sounding good.’” “Commas” “‘Commas’ is about how God has blessed me and I’m really grateful for where I am in life and where I’m about to go. I’m grateful for just even being present in this moment and being alive. I feel like that’s what has brought me here, my gratitude and the continuous hard work I will keep putting into this job. God is good.” “Woman Commando” (with Anitta & Coco Jones) “‘Woman Commando’ is such an Afrobeats/amapiano banger in a way, because of the log drums, and I wanted different perspectives. I’ve been watching Coco Jones since I was 12 on Disney’s Let It Shine. I sent her a different song, which she loved, but she was like, ‘Ayra, I want to be on your Afrobeats vibe,’ and I was like, ‘Say less.’ Anitta is such an amazing musician and I really just knew that I wanted to go for that Latin element. Her verse is perfect.” “Control” “Is relinquishing control the same as submission? It depends on how the listener, the audience wants to take it. The lyric goes: ‘I’m lit tonight/You know my lips lie.’ I want you to take control. I want you to be the man. Do your thing. It’s not really about submission, it’s more like I’m giving you hints—take control.” “Lagos Love Story” “‘Lagos Love Story’ is about being in a very happy state of mind. We have that moment where we are so happy, [that] it starts to feel wrong. It starts to feel like, ‘I feel guilty for being this happy.’ You kind of feel relieved when something bad happens, because you’re not used to that amount of happiness. That’s what the song is about: being in a very high state of happiness.” “Rhythm & Blues” “When I released ‘Rhythm & Blues’ [in 2023], I didn’t know if it was the right time. The headspace I was in was a lot of work. I remember recording this song for the first time and how beautiful it was. Also, there is a lyric that goes, ‘My jigga, my muse,’ which I wrote because you don’t expect girl singers to refer to a male love interest as a muse.” “21” “The first demo of ’21’ was a 21st birthday gift from a friend. Writing it, I was kind of stuck because I don’t really know how to write about myself. I’m really good at writing about other people and the TV shows I watch and movies I watch, but never myself. So this album was the first time I actually put myself out there and learned how to write by myself.” “Last Heartbreak Song” (with GIVĒON) “GIVĒON’s verse made me cry the first time I heard it; I was so happy. I’ve always wanted to see what we would sound like together, because we both have really low range. GIVĒON came with the most perfect perspective, because anybody that has been in an argument with a man, or any man that’s been arguing with a girl, would know [that] ‘Last Heartbreak Song’ is literally the dynamic.” “Bad Vibes” (with Seyi Vibez) “Translating Yoruba to English is so annoying sometimes because it doesn’t just hit the same in English. In the hook, the lyric in Yoruba means ‘Don’t poke me in my eye or don‘t hit me in my eye. I don’t break. I’m good.’ It’s an idiom, right? For the guest feature, I wanted a perspective from somebody that would understand what I was trying to do with the song. I felt like that with Seyi Vibez, we sound amazing together.” “Orun” “‘Orun’ is a highlife song and a juxtaposition of a puzzle of life. Highlife songs are usually known for being joyful and you want to dance to it. But with ‘Orun,’ it’s kind of different because I’m talking about mental health and depression.” “Jazzy’s Song” “I’ve been wanting to sample a Don Jazzy production [Wande Coal’s 2009 single ‘You Bad (feat. D’banj)’] for so long and I’m glad I did. The title ‘Jazzy’s Song’ shows my respect for him and how much I admire him as a person, as an artist, and as a musician.” “1942” (with Milar) “This song is introspective and so vulnerable. I’ve been working for so long, and for the first time in my life, I took a vacation on my birthday. I remember being in the pool with a bottle of 1942 tequila, and I was like, ‘Wow, this moment makes everything all worth it.’ After all the time we’ve put into this job, all the hard work, everything I’ve done, that moment of relaxing in that villa, overlooking the ocean, made everything worth it.” “The Kids Are Alright” “Turning 21 is a big [moment] and you start to notice things—like certain behavioral patterns are reflections of certain childhood trauma, or things that you’ve gone through in the past. I noticed that I had not really mourned the death and the loss of my father, and it was something I was holding at the back of my head.” “Santa” (with Rvssian & Rauw Alejandro) “I’ve been a big fan of Rvssian for so long, and we’ve been wanting to work [together] for so long. I recorded the verse and was made to sing in Spanish, literally. It’s so crazy that, once it drops, it becomes this global song, and I’m so happy.”

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