Thrive Questionnaire: Daya

The Grammy award-winning singer on how her generation is changing the way we think about mental health.

Getty Images
Getty Images

When most of us were worrying about getting our license or what to wear to a school dance, Daya, at 16, was hitting Billboard charts. The Pittsburgh native released her first single, “Hide Away, in 2015 and then after a collaboration with The Chainsmokers for the EDM-pop track “Don’t Let Me Down,” things really soared for the star. In 2017, Daya (which is Hindi for “Grace,” her given name) won a Grammy for Best Dance Recording. Now at 20, her latest single “Left Me Yet” is reshaping her brand and using her voice to inspire others. 

In her Thrive Questionnaire, Daya opens up about how clearing her space clears her mind, why her generation brings her optimism, and the “unintentional” act of resilience that helped forge her career.

THRIVE GLOBAL: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?

Daya: Put on pants, go to the fridge and get a coffee.

TG: What gives you energy?

D: Hearing a song I wrote back for the first time.

TG: Tell us about your new song, “Forward Motion.” It is about resilience and self-empowerment. Why is that so important today?

D: “Forward Motion” is all about strong women pushing boundaries in their respective fields and raising each other up, and that’s exactly how the song came about. I’m honored to be part of something where POC and queer females are at the forefront. Nisha Ganatra, Diane Warren, and Mindy Kaling are all badass females that I admire and I’m grateful they gave me a chance on this. Songs that reference resilience and self-empowerment are always important, but especially in today’s political climate, where general respect for women and other marginalized groups is often lost or forgotten.

TG: Can you share an example of resilience in your own life?

D: I think simply being a young queer person and especially a young queer woman in the industry who is trying to play an active part in her writing/creative direction is an unintentional act of resilience on its own. I’ve come across a lot of people who aren’t comfortable with the level of autonomy I have in my career. I have had folks alternatively shush me and talk over me in studio, and I’ve had writers talk over me when I’m pitching an idea. It sucks in the moment when I have to explain or assert myself, but in the long run it’s taught me to stay the right amounts of cynical and motivated.

TG: What daily habit or practice helps you thrive?

D: I think cooking and cleaning, weirdly. A lot of what’s helped recently to clear my mind is to physically clear the space around me. I’ve always been a messy queen, so this is new for me.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.

D: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I just finished it and would absolutely recommend it. It gives a very human and firsthand perspective to the evolution of race relations and dives in on very present issues like racial profiling and culturally embedded racism.

TG: How do you deal with email?

D: I don’t usually check it unless someone texts me about an email they sent. 

TG:  How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do?

D: I make crazy lists that seem all over the place and wouldn’t make sense to anyone else. I write down absolutely everything in my iPhone Notes even if it’s just grabbing something from upstairs. 

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?

D: Write or nap or listen to music.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?

D: I got sick at the end of this mini tour I went on last month and couldn’t get rid of it for two weeks. Feeling that physically limited makes it hard to think and interact normally so everything just felt difficult and unnatural.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?

D: I failed on stage the other week when I was sick and really shouldn’t have been on stage in the first place, but thought I could manage. I got on and by the second song I was coughing from the second verse to the end of the song. It was supposed to be an hour set and I ended up cutting it down to around five songs. The crowd was amazingly so understanding, but I truly felt like I couldn’t have been more of a let-down in the moment. 

TG: What advice would you give your younger self?

D: Don’t be so scared of fucking things up all the time.

TG: What brings you optimism?

D: The drive of most people my age gives me hope. Destigmatizing things that have been stigmatized for too long, like mental health and weight and gender inequality and sexual orientation, is just one of the things my generation has played a big role in. I think kids are growing up in a more open-minded and aware state, and I think the world will highly benefit from that political and social activism because it’s gonna be what saves us. Also, smart women in power.

TG: Has there been something in your life that happened where you went from surviving to thriving? 

D: After the first few years of being on the road I was just going through the motions trying to survive whatever came at me next. I was exhausted and creatively stifled and just generally depressed. I think signing a new label deal that promised more creative freedom and then spending months in the studio refreshing both my voice and my image was both important and imperative for getting over that and moving on. Now I feel like I’m much more in ownership of myself and constantly inspired and excited by my work.

TG: How do you find time for yourself?

D: It’s hard. When I’m working I’m constantly surrounded by people and when I’m not, I wanna spend my time with the people I love. I think I just take really long bathroom breaks now just to be on my own. 

TG: Social media can be an amazing tool, but also really invasive. How do you handle criticism on social? 

D: Criticism on social media is inevitable regardless of who you are. I used to get triggered by specific comments, but over time I’ve realized that it probably took that one person 10 seconds to think of and write that comment before moving on to the next, and so I really shouldn’t be spending any mental energy on it at all. People who constantly troll social media live sad lives, and you just have to remember that they are doing it for attention in an attempt to distract from their own insecurities. Despite that, I look at social media as an amazing medium to connect with people and eventually contribute to change by either inspiring political activity on a particular issue or helping one person to change one thing in their life that they’re unhappy with.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.

D: “You look ridiculous if you dance. You look ridiculous if you don’t dance. So you might as well dance.” —Gertrude Stein

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