Have you heard of the expression “fake it until you make it”? It’s common for people to fake a smile, in hopes of becoming happy from the outside in.
But Tessa Kaye wonders if true happiness is about accepting how you’re feeling, not trying to change it. Her newest release, “Smile More,” deals with the expectation often placed on women to maintain a pleasant demeanor no matter what’s going on beneath the surface.
Her bubbly, upbeat soundscapes make for the perfect contrast to the song’s message. With “Smile More,” she is letting listeners know you can allow yourself to just be. Kaye displays herself honestly in all of her music and believes authenticity should be embraced, not buried. The singer told Popdust that she’s dealt with being told to “smile more” many times throughout her life, but she now refuses to put up a front just to please others.
The Los Angeles-based artist is known for her irresistible pop/ R&B sound. Through her colorful arrangements and silky vocals, the singer has concocted a wistful style soaked with so much soul.
We spoke with Kaye discussing her new tune, how to cope with other’s judgment, and more.
Your new soulful single “Smile More” details the expectations that are put on females to please others when really the only one you need to please is yourself. How has society placed this unfair standard on women and what inspired you to write this track?
Right, there’s always been such a huge double standard when it comes down to how men and women have been allowed to act, or express themselves in society. Every woman I know has stories of times they’ve been told to smile, mostly by men and often complete strangers. I’ve also experienced this myself since childhood, and it happens in so many scenarios. When a man has a straight face he’s usually perceived as strong, powerful, stern, deep in thought. For women, we’re said to be harsh, emotional, “bitchy,” cold or just “not nice to look at.” As if the reason we exist is to be pretty objects for someone else’s viewing pleasure. It’s completely bizarre. It’s been a conversation since I can remember, and I just needed to get it in a song for my own sanity.
Your upbeat offering showcases warm, honeyed vocals floating atop vibrant bouncing beats. How was the track developed sonically?
I’m always getting lyrics and melody ideas as I go about my days, and I stay writing things in notes and recording little voice memos etc. The intro and outro of this song is actually sampled from the voice message I sent my producers the day that idea came to my mind. It was a beautiful warm, sunny day and I was just chilling on a park bench. What I had sent my producers already felt warm and upbeat so that carried over to how the track was built. I definitely wanted a bright, strong sound on this one and my producers never fail to capture the feel I’m going for. We love stacking my vocals a bunch to add different textures and fullness too. I think it really lends to the overall feel of my tracks. Honestly though, I have to give so much credit to my producer, LaFrantz, for creating it to be what it is. He’s incredible.
In “Smile More” you stunningly sing, “why does my expression make you feel so threatened.” Can you share a time when you felt you were being judged for the way you were being perceived and how you dealt with it?
Aww, thank you! Oh for sure. This is an encounter that happened just the other day when I was walking to get boba. A man followed me for a solid 7 minutes or so just hammering me with questions. He even had the audacity to ask me to take my mask off, and what do you know, “give him a smile.” I was like sir… we are in a whole pandemic, can you not? Homeboy really said “Are you joking, I don’t have covid.” When my boba spot was approaching I had to stop because I didn’t want him following me in there. I told him I really didn’t feel like talking anymore and that I had to go. He was super upset, called me a couple names, and said I was acting like I was too good for him. I guess somehow he had decided I hurt his feelings. He threw his hands up in the air and stormed off. Wild. It’ll never cease to kinda blow my mind cause I just wouldn’t think to do that to a person, yet it’s happened to my friends and me more times than I can count.
Through your catchy pop/ R&B tunes you share relatable messages and express a deep vulnerability. What allows you to be so intimate with listeners?
This really means a lot. I write for myself in all honesty, but I know that there will probably be someone who can relate in one way or another. Even if they find a message different than the one I found for myself through writing the song, I have a deep appreciation for anyone’s ability to connect to me and my music. I don’t write with the intention to be intimate with my listeners necessarily, but I do write with the intention to be vulnerable and honest with myself. I think by keeping it real with myself no matter what that looks like in a moment, it’s seen in my songs too. I write to get out my own anger, frustrations, hurts and traumas, to make myself laugh, to express my happiness. I write to help myself heal, and when people tell me they share in these stories, it’s just a lovely feeling, y’know?
You were raised in Utah in a predominantly white neighborhood and were a member of the Mormon Church. How have your childhood experiences shaped who you are today?
I’m extremely happy to be on a spiritual journey that’s far better suited for my soul now that I’m no longer in the Mormon Church. As far as growing up a Black girl in Utah, that was an incredibly interesting experience to say the least. Being black in a predominantly white community comes with many challenges. It was difficult to always feel othered in most areas of my life. Dealing with racism and micro-aggressions in school, dating, etc. wasn’t easy either. Luckily I grew up with 4 siblings who are Black as well so of course that made things better! I’m not sure I would’ve survived without them. I knew they got what I was going through and there was always comfort found in that. I also have the most incredible parents in the world. They’ve always done everything possible to celebrate the beauty of Blackness. I think because I was always looked at as the odd one out and oftentimes in a negative way, it’s taken a lot of work to be comfortable in my skin. Now, I love the skin I’m in and am so proud to be a Black woman. Despite the difficulties of growing up Black in Utah, I had an incredible childhood filled to the brim with so much love, and I’ll always be grateful for that!
You moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. What was that transition like?
To my surprise, I actually think I transitioned from Utah to LA pretty well and fairly quickly. I think because I felt so ready to leave Utah and see what journey I was meant to be on next, I embraced every last change. And oh my there were so many changes. Comparing the two places is night and day. I’m in love with the diversity LA holds. I always talk about how refreshing it is even going grocery shopping and seeing people who look like me. I’m from a super conservative area of Utah so another difference I’ve loved is getting to meet more open minded, free spirited people. I think because of those things it’s made all of my experiences with music here that much better. Having so many refreshing changes will definitely show up in my inspiration for music as well. I have to say I do miss the simplicity of parking in Utah. I miss the mountains and changing seasons sometimes as well, but now I have the beach so I’m good.
Lastly, who are some artists that have influenced your musical sound?
This is always a tricky one for me to answer. I think it changes for me all the time because I listen to so much music, and I’m always finding new sounds and artists to be obsessed with. So for this moment, I would say: Tayla Parx, Astrid S, Jon Bellion, and Doja Cat.