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'This big group of friends': Tkay Maidza on why she loves performing live

By Ramon Ramirez
Special to the American-Statesman
Tkay Maidza performs Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, at the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

It wasn’t just Miley Cyrus covering “Where Is My Mind?” by the Pixies on Friday at Austin City Limits Music Festival. And Australian rapper and singer Tkay Maidza warped the blueprint more creatively.

The 25-year-old added hip-hop drums, swapped the famous guitar lick for synths, and basically turned it into a haunting piece of bedroom pop. She tells Austin360 that she’s an introvert, but after a year and a half of pandemic quarantines, and now five shows back into a tour, chasing that feeling of performing live fuels everything.

“It’s the reason why I make music,” Maidza says of performing. “I hop around and dance in the studio. I’m excited to show my friends.” Live, it’s the same vibe but on a grand scale: “When we play shows, we have this big group of friends that we’re showing our songs to.”

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It’s apparent at the T-Mobile stage. Saying that she’s no longer anxious about performing, she leads “Bitch, I’m good” chants and raps about beloved Disney sitcom “Kim Possible.” Her live show is anchored by live drums, bass and keys, all dialed-in and strongly punctuating the backing rap tracks. Maidza has a dry sense of humor that recalls early Doja Cat records. She’ll put on a house beat and suddenly lead Tag Team-era “Whoomp There It Is” chants ... and then rap about putting her phone on stealth mode but always being awake anyway.

“Feel free to get lit,” she deadpans to the crowd before a song.

Tkay Maidza performs Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, at the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

Maidza’s on a strong track to proven success, having worked with huge pop specialists like Charli XCX and Troy Sivan. Last year she signed to iconic British label 4AD, traditionally known for gloomy rock: Stereolab, Cocteau Twins, and yup, the Pixies. She says it’s a natural fit.

“They were excited to do something they haven’t done before,” she says of 4AD, adding that beyond loving the roster, the record label worked with her in earnest to “think outside the box in terms of how to make my project work.” 

Since, she’s released two sparkling mixtapes, “Last Year Was Weird” Parts 2 and 3, both put out amid the pandemic. The time stuck at home evolved her work and taught her to be more honest with herself in the studio.

“Don’t look too inward because you might hold yourself back and there’s nothing wrong with being big and bold and there’s nothing wrong with being sensitive,” Maidza says. “Embrace who you are because that’s what makes you different.

“I can do anything I want. I just have to believe in it.”

While she prefers to “let the music speak for itself,” she also handles the noise and unfair societal pressures of social media with deft handle, regularly tagging co-conspirators on Twitter and dropping fashion knowledge to her 128,000-plus Instagram followers.

“It’s part of the job,” she says, before acknowledging: “It’s unnatural.”

Her inward-gazing R&B in the key of SZA got her here (Maidza’s coming off a more downtempo project), but she says she’s ready to go high energy: loud, “trap”-inspired beats that still find harmony with her “smooth,” Glass Animals and Tame Impala leanings. Then again, she might be kidding.