For any musician transitioning from pop to R&B, Timbaland’s touch as a producer is as good as magic.
A force to be reckoned with, Timba almost single-handedly took Justin Timberlake from a squeaky clean boy bander to a suave, award-winning and, sort of, soulful artist.
So it’s no surprise people are excited to hear Zendaya’s upcoming record with the hitmaker.
Zendaya — a singer, dancer and Disney star (she played Rocky Blue on Shake It Up in 2009 and at present stars as K.C. on K.C. Undercover) — turns 19 on September 1, which explains why she describes her new-found musical taste as “more mature”.
She released her electropop-heavy debut two years ago, around the same time she gained fame for being the youngest celebrity to compete on Dancing with the Stars. The self-titled album debuted on the Billboard 200 at No 51, and its lead single, Replay, peaked at No 40 on the Billboard Hot 100.
As the young singer prepares for her Dubai Summer Surprises concert at Central Galleria, Mall of the Emirates, on Monday evening and a styling session at Debenhams the day before, she tells tabloid! that her sophomore record is shaping up to be a different beast altogether.
“When I put out my first album, I was 16 and I was recording at 14 and 15 ... You deal with stuff at that age, but you don’t necessarily deal with stuff until you get much older. This time around, I know what I’m talking about a bit more.
“I’m very lucky to have people such as Timbaland, who believe in that vision and want to be a part of it and a part of me growing as an artist ... They’re great songs, at least to me, [that] I love to listen to, and definitely my personal style. I’ve always been into R&B and that world.”
Despite the new sound, Zendaya doesn’t plan to alienate her fans who are thrilled about her new move. Her followers on Twitter erupted with excitement when she suggested that she might collaborate with One Direction former member Zayn Malik, another pop star known for his R&B leanings. Zendaya “favourited” a tweet saying they should work together, prompting an online meltdown.
“He’s dope,” she said. “I just go through my tweets, and I like people’s stuff. I didn’t know [the tweet] was what it was, and then people obviously got excited about that. Which is cool. He’s dope and he’s doing his thing — definitely trying to branch out.”
Is she a fan? Would she really collaborate with him? “I mean, absolutely, yeah.”
There’s no rush, though. The singer doesn’t plan to inundate people with features and collaborations anytime soon. Zendaya is working on being recognised as an artist in her own right.
“There’s nothing set in stone or down now, specifically. I think I definitely want more features and collaborations, but with something like this, I want to sound like me. Sometimes you can’t put too many people on there, because you hear too much of them and not enough of the person,” she said.
About her alleged romantic link-up with Malik, Zendaya says it was a case of gossips getting out of hand. Soon after our interview and after Malik and Zendaya began following each other on Twitter, overeager publications used the opportunity to suggest that the two might be romantically involved — especially when Malik broke up with his fiancé, Perrie Edwards. Zendaya nipped the rumours in the bud, tweeting that they had “literally NEVER met”.
One chart-topping pop star that the singer-dancer did meet was Taylor Swift. Zendaya played the ferocious “Cut-Throat” in Swift’s Bad Blood music video earlier this year, alongside Ellie Goulding, Cara Delevingne, Gigi Hadid, Karlie Kloss, Selena Gomez and Cindy Crawford.
“Literally, [Taylor] just texted me and asked me about it — I thought that was just a really dope and natural way to do it,” she laughed. “Like, ‘I think you’re dope, I want you to be a part of it’, and I was like, ‘yeah, I mean, of course’. It was a great opportunity. She’s just very sweet, very kind, and very real about it. [She] just asked me. It was cool, you know!”
“Cool” seems to be a good word to describe the year Zendaya’s been having, overall. She was announced as a guest star on the second season of the sitcom Black-ish. She became the first artist to sign a joint deal between Hollywood and Republic Records and she was nominated at the Teen Choice Awards.
But the star confronted the uglier side of the industry when she was subjected to racist commentary about her dreadlocks at the Oscars earlier in the year. Guiliana Rancic of Fashion Police said that Zendaya’s hair was “too boho” and she felt that she “smells like patchouli oil, or weed”.
Zendaya responded with an Instagram post calling out the E! news personality and cautioning against “outrageously offensive” stereotyping, which prompted Rancic to apologise for crossing a line. Since then Zendaya has joined the ranks of young celebrities such as 16-year-old Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg, who have spoken out against cultural appropriation.
“I think now is the time of change, you know what I mean?” she told tabloid!. “I’m not necessarily saying we are the strongest, most impactful people who are doing it because there are a lot of people that are speaking out and saying something. We are just part of the voice. We are part of the bigger voice of people that, I think, are now becoming a little more socially aware, a little more educated about the world around them.”
“I don’t know everything,” Zendaya added. “I don’t pretend to know anything. I try to learn, I try to grow and I try to share those experiences, at least on social media, to try and help somebody else learn them. It’s change. And a period and a movement where people are waking up a little bit.”
Another way she hopes to make positive ripples in the industry is through her co-production seat on Disney’s K.C. Undercover. The show, which premiered in January, features Zendaya as K.C. Cooper — a tech genius and a black belt in karate. She’s a typical teenager, except for the part where she’s recruited by her spy parents — Craig and Kira — to work for a secret government agency, The Organization. Not to mention, her younger sibling, Judy, is a humanoid robot.
“I want to make something that’s inspirational and interesting to them and keep that fan base, or whatever you call it, going,” she said. “This time around, I’m able to be a producer on the show and be involved in it even more. That was really it for me — being able to make something that I can be very hands-on with and create the show that I want to be a part of.”
Whether with the show or her album, Zendaya plans to have more than enough new material coming out in the next few months to keep her fans and her nearly six million Twitter followers happily occupied.
“I have so many different things going on — I head back to shoot the second season of K.C. Undercover, [I’ll be] finishing up music and starting to put stuff out, and obviously, travelling the world.”
Zendaya will hold a styling session at Debenhams, Mall of the Emirates, between 7-8.30pm on Sunday, and she will perform at Central Galleria, Mall of the Emirates, at 5pm on Monday.