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​Photo by Julien Mitchell. Photo illustration by Srikar Poruri for Okayplayer.
Photo by Julien Mitchell. Photo illustration by Srikar Poruri for Okayplayer.

First Look Friday: Chenayder’s Charting Her Own Path

At just 17, Chenayder's curious ear for music is leading her to new sounds and new collaborations.

Making any kind of art requires becoming a vessel. The person is the one creating, but the influences and history come from the beyond. This is evident in an artist like Chenayder, the 17-year-old Orlando singer with the throwback pop and Americana sound, making lo-fi music through the eyes of a Gen Z’er. Her songs, full of youthful angst, experiences and love, have been rising in popularity over the last year. No two songs sound alike and her songwriting is strong — skills that bode well for her future. Taking some downtime from working on her forthcoming summer EP, Chenayder shares her path to music, being nervous about her success, and balancing her career while still in high school.

The interview below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Okayplayer: Who did you grow up listening to?

Chenayder: Once I started listening to my own stuff and being able to find music on my own, I started listening to people like Billie Eilish, Melanie Martinez, a lot of stuff in that realm. And then also, a lot of musicals. too.

Where'd you pick that up from? You started listening to stuff like that on your own?

I started listneing to that stuff on my own, but one day, I was scrolling through YouTube and then I found "Dollhouse" by Melanie Martinez. Billie Eilish, this girl in my class, she kept singing "Lovely," at first it was kind of annoying, cause she would just break out into song and keep singing that, and then I looked up the lyrics, then I listened to the song myself and I instantly fell in love with Billie's discography.

So how did you start making music?

I started out with poems in elementary school, and then in sixth grade, I wanted to try producing and, I was also like singing and then I thought one day, why don't I put it together? During COVID, my mom had a whole bunch of mics to sell, I grabbed one of them and then I started posting on YouTube and SoundCloud.

What was your first song ever?

“Bethany.” I posted that on YouTube, somewhere around eighth grade and it was about elementary school, about this mean girl, I forgot her name, but Bethany wasn't her name, I just made that up. I posted it on TikTok, and people were really nice about it. It didn't blow up, but the few people that did comment, were like really nice, so I decided to continue with what I was doing.

What happened with your music from there?

I kept creating, and then one day, I started listening to '50s and '60s music, and I was inspired. I found an Earl Sweatshirt type beat on YouTube. I downloaded it and then I made "Fall," I think I finished it within an hour or two, I really fell in love with it, this is something that I know will blow up. I decided to post it the next day, and a week later, it blew up on TikTok.

Did you have a feeling “Fall” would become as big as it did?

I didn't think it would blow up that much. My friend sent me my Tik Tok, and she was like 'Look, you're blowing up Chenayder!' And then I had like 5,000 likes within 30 minutes, then I actually clicked on the video, and then it turned into 10,000 likes. My brother came into the room, and I was like, 'I'm scared.' Cause like, at that point, I don't think my brother knew I was making music, I was like I'm scared, ‘cause my TikTok is blowing up off my song.' And he was like, 'If it's meant to be, then it's meant to be.'

How did you decide on your current sound? It draws from multiple eras.

One day on TikTok, I was just scrolling, then I found this harmonizing group, and they were singing "Georgia On My Mind." I was like, oh my gosh, this sounds so beautiful. And then I started looking up more groups like that on YouTube. Usually, I try to capture one element that I really like, about the groups, or the harmonizing, that I really love. I harmonize a lot, and I usually do six stacks, eight stacks.

Your songs all sound really different from each other. “Goodbye” and “ For One Last Time” are like worlds apart. Is the versatility in your music something you’re consciously doing?

To me, that’s coming because I'm creating. I just really wanted to try something different for "For One Last Time," and for the summer I was in California, working with producers. I really wanted to try something poppy but use drum and bass inspired drums.

You recently got Mavi to jump on your song “Colors.” How was he such a perfect fit for it?

I was in the studio, I was gonna go to California, and I posted on my story 'Hey guys, I'm going to Cali!' And then Smino DM'd me and was like, 'Hey, you wanna come to the studio with me?' And I was like sure yeah, let's make something together. And then when I came in, I also saw Mavi. We all introduced each other. I heard him rapping and I was thinking to myself, he has this really old school vibe to him, that I really like. And then I showed him "Colors" he was like 'ooh, I mess with this.' Then I was like, 'You wanna be on it?' And he was like, 'Sure!' He recorded his verse and then we filmed a music video together.

How do you balance your success coming out of nowhere, at such a young age?

I keep it separate. In the mornings, when I wake up at like five in the morning, I'm not really thinking about music, I'm thinking about getting ready for school and catching up to the bus. After that, music is on my mind. I'd be looking for YouTube beats or producing stuff on my computer, or looking at reactions of my music. I'm able to balance because I keep it separate and I think I'm able to do that now, because it's not too busy.