Joey James

The Emotional Evolution Of Tayla Parx's Coping Mechanisms

'It's a sneaky way of getting my emotions out to that person,' the singer-songwriter tells MTV News about writing her exploratory new album

By Alex Gonzalez

In the songs she’s co-written for Ariana Grande, Khalid and Normani, Troye Sivan, Janelle Monáe, and many others, Tayla Parx relies on emotion. On Grande’s “Needy,” she writes about the need for reassurance and validation, while Normani and Khalid’s “Love Lies” sees her diving into love while questioning the intentions of a potential partner. But as she often expresses her feelings through other people’s music, the 27-year-old’s own solo output as an artist allows her the chance to focus the spotlight on herself. On her sophomore album, Coping Mechanisms, out today (November 20), she confronts her inner self, leaning into what she’s learned since she first dove into love without any inhibitions on her 2019 debut.

“[I] started off Coping Mechanisms with, ‘How do you cope with that?’” Parx tells MTV News. “Now you have this whole new discovery of who you are, what you learned about love, what you need from love, and what you need from a partner. I went through that phase of saying, I'm gonna wild out and party in my early twenties,” a time that gave way to a more centered “Zen mode.” “I really wanted to make sure that this album showed that evolution emotionally.”

While her previous album, We Need to Talk, opens with the carefree “I Want You,” a song about wanting multiple people at once, the album’s closer “Easy” perhaps pointed the way toward the heartfelt explorations she mines on her follow-up. “Did something click off in your brain to help you not think of my name?” she sings. “Wish I could say the same.”

Indeed, the groovy lead single of Coping Mechanisms, “Dance Alone,” is inspired by Parx’s girlfriend. This past September, she identified as bisexual in The Advocate’s LGBTQ&A podcast. She tells MTV News that writing Coping Mechanisms allowed her to explore new parts of her queer identity.

“In my old old defense mechanism, [as] I call it, I used to push things away in order to not feel and to possibly not be hurt, which is a very normal thing to do,” Parx says. “With ‘Dance Alone’ in particular, it was that moment of saying, well, why not?”

“Maybe it's not the person that I fall in love with for the rest of my life, but why cut off my nose to spite my face? And then it eventually turned into something much, much more beautiful than I ever could have expected.”

Parx might’ve expected it growing up in Dallas playing basketball at the nearby rec center and living in a house full of music. Her parents weren’t musicians themselves, but they each had a “great ear” and helped foster her love of R&B by playing greats like Angie Stone, Erykah Badu, Brian McKnight, and Babyface.

“The thing that a lot of those people have in common is a really strong sense of melody, harmony, and vocal arrangement,” Parx says. “Those are things that, naturally, I drifted towards as a writer, once I discovered that.”

By nine years old, Parx was taking “intimidating” dance classes at Debbie Allen’s Dance Academy in Los Angeles, and five years later, she landed the role of Little Inez Stubbs in the 2007 big-screen adaptation of the musical Hairspray. She continued acting and nabbed a songwriting deal with Warner Chappell Music at 19. One of her first credits includes co-writing “Call Me Crazy” for R&B singer/songwriter Sevyn Streeter’s debut EP Call Me Crazy, But… in 2013.

Joey James

Growing up in the South, Parx’s parents raised her to cook, something that remains very important to her. In a particularly humorous line in Coping Mechanisms’s “Sad,” she rage-sings, “You can’t cook for shit, enjoy your Happy Meal tonight,” a lyric she says is inspired by bad culinary experiences with actual exes.

“One thing that [my parents] said was that they're not going to raise a child who doesn't know how to cook, and they didn't,” Parx says. “When you get into that moment when somebody is really wanting to show off what they made, and they're so proud of it, I love that person, so I just pretended that it was good. I just took it like a G for the both of us.”

That’s the kind of thing expected from the songwriter who penned “Residue,” a single Parx says refers to her own coping mechanism of being avoidant. “I guess I’m very used to writing things down and having people hear them in a different way. It's a sneaky way of getting my emotions out to that person,” she says. “I'm like, listen to this song. And I'm saying something that you might not like, but I'm gonna sing it in a pretty melody. And maybe that'll soften the blow.”

Parx says that the most difficult Coping Mechanisms track to write was the Tank and the Bangas-assisted “Justified,” as it came from a turning point during her healing process after a painful breakup. She says that she had to unpack her own selfishness and acknowledge that she may have hurt others while she was healing her own broken heart.

“‘Justified’ was a moment where I had to have an honest conversation and say, look, am I justified in treating this person in a way that they don't deserve?” Parx says. “And I think that a lot of people have to ask themselves that question. I think that was a little bit tough because you really have to take a look in the mirror and say, ‘What does it come down to?’”

At the time of the interview, Parx says she has written “about 60” songs while in quarantine at home in Los Angeles, where she’s been since March. She also used that time to star in the “Dance Alone” music video, produced by the female-owned Hyper x House visual storytelling collective, where Parx dances in pajamas throughout various rooms as different colored lights strike her face. Among the songs she’s penned this year are ideas for movie soundtracks and melodies for both herself and other artists. Five of those songs landed on Ariana Grande’s sixth studio album, Positions.

One of the songs is the album’s saccharine, vulnerable closer, “POV,” which Parx co-wrote with Grande, Tommy Brown, Oliver Frid, and Mr. Franks. It became an instant fan favorite. “The melodies take us through so many emotions alone,” Parx says of the song, “so just listening to that as the last song of the album is an experience."

Parx’s resume boasts several Billboard Hot 100 top 10s, including Grande’s “Thank U, Next” and Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes.” While her pen has extended its reach across various genres, she says that as a Black woman, some music industry figures have pigeonholed her solely into R&B and hip-hop categories.

“You hear it in words like, ‘OK, we're gonna put her in, we need an R&B writer for this session,’ and you see it in the sessions that you show up to that you're clearly there to add a specific thing to that session,” she says. “But one thing that [experience] also did was it allowed for me to be extremely confident and knowing, wow, I see that there is a problem here, and I see that I could also be a solution to changing that.”

In addition to songwriting, Parx has also recently become a “plant mom,” nursing a grapefruit tree back to health and seeing little green sprouts grow as the days pass.She has also spent a lot of time bike-riding, something she’s loved to do since she was a kid.But most importantly, she makes sure she takes time each day to relax and breathe.

“I think a lot of us are really mean to ourselves, and we forget that,” Parx says. Just be a little easy on yourself and accept yourself for what you are. That allows you to get down to the root of the issue, so you can cope.”