And the story behind her viral TikTok turned Juno-nominated song.
by Gabby Sgherri Photographer: Kiana Tagabing
As I head over to the 1 Hotel in Toronto, the palpable energy of summer ‘22 is undeniable. The sun is shining, patios are packed with day drinkers, and the city is hosting the first in-person Juno awards weekend in three years. It was also the first award show for Aqyila, the Juno-nominated R&B artist I’m en route to meet while she gets red carpet ready.
Born in Toronto of Jamaican descent, Aqyila grew up surrounded by the sounds of gospel and R&B from artists such as Kirk Franklin, Whitney Houston, Ginuwine, and Nat King Cole. She began songwriting and singing covers in her bedroom in Grade 6 but it was her honey-dripped melodies about a bob-shaped wig years later that would go viral on TikTok and unequivocally launch her career. If you spent any time on the app in 2021 you’ll likely remember the trending earworm snippet “Baby it’s the bob for me / It’s the bob for me” used by the likes of Dixie D’Amelio, Lizzo, and Monica. 20 million views later, she released the official version titled “Vibe For Me” showcasing her impressive vocal range over a glassy guitar beat. The official song picked up a 2022 Juno nomination for Contemporary R&B Recording of the Year which is what led me to be seated across from Aqyila while her makeup artist applied glam meant to withstand the 80-degree Fahrenheit heat.
The Junos pre-ceremony dinner, the night before, was technically her first red carpet event which she attended in a stunning Hanifa dress but the televised awards ceremony called for a more glamorous look. Sitting in a robe while powder is carefully dusted on her nose, she tells me about her outfit for the evening. A sleeveless, open back, gold gown with a long train that glistens in the presence of light. Speaking about her choice she says, “there’s something about [an] open back with a lot of straps, it’s giving sexy but also glamour.” Paired with strappy Steve Madden gold sandals, and a mini sequined purse the overall look was very much gilded glamour.
Aqyila at the Junos Pre-Ceremony dinner.
It’s a milestone moment for Aqyila, “especially since this is the first time since 2019 [the Junos are] in-person again, to have that come back and then for me to be nominated is dope,” she says of her pre-show excitement. Her drink of choice is non-alcoholic, she opts for tea, preferably rooibos vanilla or earl grey. It’s a habit she formed early in life, “my mom made me tea person because every morning when I was younger, me and my brother would have to drink tea—it’s just a thing now.” She admittedly doesn’t like the taste of alcohol but would go for a glass of rosé or sangria as her preferred drink.
Her playlist to set the vibe while getting ready includes Doja Cat, Jack Harlow, Nicki Minaj, and Masego but if she had to choose one artist to listen to pre-ceremony it would be fellow TikTok queen Doja. The success of Aqyila’s song “Vibe For Me” came as a surprise after she recorded the official version in her room, reworking bob to vibe and making the song more about empowerment than hair. It was the first song she ever released on streaming platforms and it quickly became a hit, racking up a million streams in the first month and over 10 million to date.
Aqyila leaving the 1 Hotel.
Aqyila on the Junos red carpet.
As we’re on the topic of the song’s origin story, her makeup artist carefully blends neutral and shimmering gold eyeshadow on her lids. “I feel like I manifested my career, I made a mood board in 2020 and I put down a mic and the TikTok logo. That’s also when covid happened so I was like I think I’m gonna try TikTok and I completely forgot about my mood board, I put it away and didn’t look at it for the rest of the year,” she recalls. So it’s fitting that her next release, “Effortlessly” slated for July, captures the sentiment of manifestation. “[The] song is all about empowering and allowing things to come to you in life. When you stress and focus on I want this it puts out needy energy but when you allow things to flow to you that’s when [things] work out best.” Aqyila embodies the sentiment she just described, remaining unnerved by the night ahead and enjoying the present as she changes into her gown, with the help of her glam team, and does one final outfit check before heading out.