Zhavia on Working With Zayn, New Single ’17’ and ‘Not Being Placed in a Box’ (INTERVIEW)
17 isn't exactly the easiest age to navigate—but if you throw burgeoning fame and a cutthroat reality TV presence into the mix, things can get even more complicated. Fortunately for Zhavia Ward, the California born and bed singer seemingly had a firm sense of self-confidence when she competed in Season 1 of Fox's hit singing competition The Four: Battle for Stardom in 2018, during which she was just 16 and 17 years old.
During her first performance, she stunned judges and audience members alike with an inspired rework of Khalid's "Location," her inimitable and powerful vocal style taking center stage. Though she didn't take the crown (she made it to the Final Four, but contestant Evvie McKinney ultimately took the winning spot), Zhavia did come out of her experience with a pretty sweet consolation prize: a recording deal with Columbia Records.
Within months, she had teamed up with Diplo, French Montana and Lil Pump for "Welcome to the Party," a club smash off the Deadpool 2 soundtrack. But that was just the beginning: a string of introductory singles followed — including "Candlelight," a stunning, slow-burning R&B ballad — and, in May 2019, a gorgeous duet with Zayn Malik. The pair teamed up to sing the iconic Disney ballad "A Whole New World" off the soundtrack for the live-action Aladdin film.
In June, Zhavia will release 17, a 6-track debut EP packed with sparkling retro-flavored R&B songs; soulful, smoky ballads; and surefire rap bangers. Released May 31, the EP's titular single, "17," offered listeners a taste of the rich production, luxuriously textured vocals, and deeply introspective, emotional and personal lyrics to come.
Below, Zhavia opens up about working with Zayn, her love of Disney, the unique vocalists she looks up to and more.
How did you react when you found out you’d be covering "A Whole New World"?
I was very excited and I couldn’t believe that Zayn picked me to sing [it] with him. I have been a fan of his. He’s an amazing artist. I’m very honored to be part of history with this new version of “A Whole New World," it was an amazing experience.
Did you grow up watching Disney films?
I did grow up watching Disney films. I always loved them because the music was always so whimsical and really brought the movies to another level. My favorite Disney movie is probably Alice in Wonderland.
Your debut EP has a lot of retro, classic flavor, especially on tracks like “EZ” and “Deep Down.” Which sounds did you want to play with while creating the EP?
For me, it was more about the feeling. I think the feeling of each song is what brought me to the sound that they each have individually. I wrote about my experiences and a lot of the things that have been going on in my life within the past few years and even my story, which “17” is about.
Are there any albums or artists that had a firm influence over the creation of the EP?
There weren't any specific artists that influenced the EP. I think it was more influenced by what I was feeling. I didn’t know what songs I was going to create until I created them; they weren’t planned out.
You’re known for your incredibly unique vocal style. Who are some other artists whose signature vocal styles have been memorable or impactful to you as a listener?
Post Malone. Also, Teena Marie is lit. Her vocals and her tone are very unique and I haven’t heard anyone like her. She’s definitely an inspiration.
“17” is highly autobiographical. What sort of lyrical challenges did you face, if any, while working on the EP?
I did face a lyrical challenge when working on “17” because I wanted to tell my story but I didn’t want to do it in a way where it would come across as cheesy or over-telling. I still wanted to keep some parts of my story private, but I told enough to where you can get where I’m coming from and you can kind of see what I’ve gone through. I wanted to make it inspiring and have something my fans can relate to if they’re going through something similar.
The EP also seems very introspective (“17,” “All I Am”). How would you describe the themes of the EP?
Positivity and overcoming obstacles in your life. There’s also some love songs on there which have been a big part of my life the past two years.
What do you hope people will take away or learn about you by listening to the record?
I hope people can take away that I just want to be a positive influence to my fans and to give them something to relate to, be inspired by, and to get them through whatever they’re going through.
What sort of advice would you give to anyone considering trying out for a show like The Four?
The advice that I would give them is to make sure they are very sure of who they are as a person and what they want because people in the industry will try to tell you what you need and who you are. Always have that clear vision so you won’t get lost!
What's the most surprising thing you've learned about the music industry since signing to Columbia last year?
The most surprising thing that I’ve learned is that there are a lot of aspects to being an artist that you don’t know about besides the art itself.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced since first breaking out and how did you overcome it?
I think my biggest challenge [has been] letting fans and people know that I am who I am and I’m not trying to be anything else. With my music, each feeling has a different sound, so my songs might sound like all different genres. The challenge is letting people know that all these different genres are my style. I’m not one thing and I won’t be placed in a box.
2018-2019 was incredibly pivotal for you. What’s something you hope to accomplish over the next year?
This year I hope that the EP does really well! I'll continue [working] on my debut album — that should be coming soon. I also want to go on tour and I definitely want to get this next set of music out a lot faster than the first one.