Ayra Starr comes of age

Get a sneak peak of our upcoming cover story with the Benin-born singer, who approaches new milestones, including the release of her latest album, ‘The Year I Turned 21’. 
  • WriterChris Saunders
  • Photographer Rankin
  • Banner Image CreditAyra wears bralet, trousers and sunglasses by HUGO.

Ayra Starr is running about 35 minutes late to our scheduled Zoom call. I receive a rather panicked email from her PR, who can’t quite seem to locate her. I’m used to this, of course – artists are notoriously difficult to tie down. Around five minutes later, the singer-songwriter appears, though, sounding slightly dazed but apologetic. She reveals she just woke up in her home in Lagos, after returning from “the busiest few weeks” of her life. “It’s been an amazing time, I just really need to sleep,” she says, laughing. All is forgiven. Besides, at the time of speaking, Starr is around two weeks away from the release of her sophomore album The Year I Turned 21, and a whole lot more press and commitments are about to come her way. 

Starr, who was born in Benin, finally found her home in Lagos at the age of 13, although at the time, she despised the idea of leaving her friends and comfort behind. Lagos, though, is where the talent would thrive. The work started in 2018, when Starr was signed to Quove Models, an agency in Lagos. A year later, she began posting song covers by artists like 2Baba and Andra Day, and then modelled in campaigns and music videos for other artists before becoming a musician. She uploaded a few videos of herself covering songs by other artists before deciding to pen and post her own original song – ‘Beggie Beggie’ – in December 2019. It garnered thousands of views prior to reaching Mavin Records founder and producer Don Jazzy, who’d eventually sign her to his label. 

In 2021, she’d release her debut album, 19 & Dangerous, introducing her confidence-oozing blend of afrobeats, R&B and pop to the world. But it was a year later that Starr’s career would really begin to reach a fever-pitch, thanks to the infectious, viral anthem, ‘Rush’ – a track that reached number one on Nigeria’s TurnTable Top 50 chart, and number 24 in the UK charts. The name Ayra Starr quickly became a bellwether for a burgeoning crop of African artists, and in 2024, her name would go down in history, as she was nominated for Best African Music Performance at the Grammys – a new category that finally recognises the artistry and growing popularity of African music. “There’s been so many artists that have been working so hard for this moment right here,” says Starr.

But it’s her latest album that is perhaps the most exciting of all those achievements. ‘The Year I Turned 21’ is Starr’s coming-of-age story – an autobiographical piece that for all its introspection, doesn’t sacrifice that infectious confidence we’ve all known to come and love about her music. She may still be young, but her tracks are much more focused, personable,  and mature in comparison to her early work. Tracks like ‘21’ detail some of the turmoil that comes with growing old (“I’m counting on myself now / Crying by myself now”) while ‘Woman Commando’ sees Starr putting the power of femininity at the forefront in the form of an afrobeats/amapiano banger. 

As the singer’s star (excuse the terrible pun) begins to shine even brighter, we sit down with Starr to discuss her journey from Benin to the Grammys, the stories behind The Year I Turned 21, and performing at Glastonbury this summer…

This excerpt was taken from HUNGER Issue 31: The Dreamers. Full story is available in stores worldwide now! 

  • StylistSachin Gogna
  • Beauty DirectorMarco Antonio using Chanel summer 2024 make-up collection and Hydra Beauty Micro Sérum Lèvres
  • Hair StylistLauraine Bailey at Evolved Artists using Innersense and This Hair Of Mine
  • Photography AssistantsDerrick Kakembo, Harrison Phillips
  • ProducerKay Riley
  • Production Co-ordinatorAbby Rothwell
  • RetouchingTrue Black Studio