INTERVIEW: Stacey Ryan a pop artist who wants to bring jazz to the masses
Stacey Ryan wasn’t expecting to become a TikTok star, but these days she’s known as “the queen of JazzTok.” Ryan, who’s only 23, studied jazz in her hometown of Montreal. She’d hoped to make music her career, but never imagined that going viral on TikTok would lead to a record deal with Island Records.
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“I was ready to take whatever life threw at me,” she said in a video call last week. “This was probably the best possible outcome of actually ‘making it.’”
Ryan brings a fresh sound to pop music with her jazzy meters and flourishes, and listeners are liking what they’re hearing.
“Don’t Text Me When You’re Drunk,” a collaboration with rapper Zai1k, has racked up 19 million plays on the big streaming services, but Ryan says the collab almost didn’t happen. The song wasn’t even fully written when she uploaded a video of herself performing a portion of it on TikTok. It had gotten roughly 100,000 views, which was a lot more than any of her other original music. Then, when she re-uploaded it for an open verse challenge, it really took off. People everywhere were filming and uploading their duets with their ideas for the song. Zai1k was one of these early duettists, and thousands commented that they wanted to hear the full version. Zai1k DM’d Ryan to see if the song could be released as a single.
“We already had plans in motion for it to be just me on the single,” she said.
But the more she thought about it, the more she didn’t want to let the opportunity go. So everyone on both teams scrambled to get it recorded and released right away. She worked online from Montreal with her producers in L.A. Ryan said she’s pleased with how it turned out, and how it’s been received.
“His verse added such a cool hip-hop element to the song that would not be there if it was just me. … I thought the two styles blended so well,” she said. “I’m really glad that that was my first song that I ever released, and the fact that I got to do it with someone as talented as him is super cool.”
Ryan followed that up with “Fall in Love Alone.” It was doing well, but then its success was accelerated—literally. A TikTok user called SpedUpWonders uploaded a sped-up version that exploded in popularity. The second dose of serendipity also contributed to both the song’s and her own success, Ryan said. Not one to turn down an opportunity, Ryan released both an official sped-up version and an acoustic version of the song.
“I just wanted everyone to be able to listen to whatever version they wanted,” she said.
Even though she’s gaining popularity as a pop artist, Stacey Ryan is still a jazz musician at heart. She said TikTok has helped people who never even knew they liked jazz find her music.
“I think bringing jazz elements into pop music has just made it more accessible,” she said.
She lamented that jazz is often misunderstood or thought of as “elevator music.” She said she hopes people who like her music get inspired to seek out other jazz music. Her favorite artist is the late Al Jarreau. She praised his talent, innovative style and his ability to sneak scatting into pop music, which she says she hopes to do more of herself.
“I believe that he was doing what I’m doing now, which is making jazzy pop music,” she said.
Ryan is playing a residency this month at the Sun Rose in Los Angeles, before going out on the road. She’ll be opening for Jake Wesley Rogers in North America and Josh Bassett in Europe. Then she’s got an EP planned for release later this year. She said she still can’t believe how lucky she is to be where’s she’s at in her career. When she first left college early to pursue music, her expectations were a little lower.
“I thought I could be a studio musician, maybe do some background vocals,” she said. Her biggest dream was to sing backup for Adele. Now she has a band and is getting ready to go on tour. If you’re reading this story the day it runs, you may have just seen her perform “Fall in Love Alone” on “The Late Late Show With James Corden.”
Despite professing to be a homebody, Ryan is excited to hit the road.
“I didn’t expect for this to happen, and there are so many great things that have come out of this,” she said. “I get to travel the world for my job, and meet people, and sing. It’s pretty cool.”
Follow Rachel Alm at Twitter.com/thouzenfold and Instagram.com/thousandfold.