Kurdish teen Naaz is changing the face of pop

By
Photography Alice Neale

Published October 19, 2017

Naaz Mohammed is 19. Like all young artists, she spends a lot of time explaining herself—to producers, managers, stylists, photographers, and journalists. Without a clear scene or obvious genre to stand as shorthand for her music, those people have to rely on the usual combinations of industry buzzwords. She is a “bedroom artist” who makes “dream/quirk/electro/dance” pop. But all that really matters to Naaz is getting the vibrant and insightful music she hears in her head out into the world. It doesn’t seem to bother her what people decide to call it. She exudes a sort of easy-going creativity that would make any artist envious. This might be because her writing and singing are by some distance the simplest parts of a life that has not taken the conventional route to success.

“I couldn’t have a typical European teenage life,” the Amsterdam transplant tells me. “I am Kurdish and it’s really important to me to put myself in the position of my parents and their generation and always try to understand their morals. They aren’t my morals but I want to be able to always stay respectful of their point of view. It’s who I am.”

In this sense, the term “bedroom artist” takes on a much deeper meaning. Naaz has only just started living her “outside life.” “I meet so many new people now and see so many new places,” she gushes. “More happens in one day than would happen in a whole month before. Who would want to be a bedroom artist? The same four walls every day … How would you get inspiration from that?” Now she is recording and performing across Europe and refining the song-craft that flourished despite those four walls. Her soaring track “Words” has clocked over six million plays on Spotify and features a refrain which asks “to see the world through your eyes.” This, like a lot of Naaz’s lyrics, touches on her feelings towards her Kurdish background, but it’s also the type of wistful prayer echoed by countless teenagers who feel like their turn to experience the wider world might never come.

Choosing to pursue a music career is always a brave decision but coming from Naaz’s community it was an almost unprecedented act of determination. She was told, “People like us don’t do things like this.” Naaz has a lot of respect for these views. But it’s important to her that her creative life not be seen as part of a broader pattern of mere teenage rebellion. This way, she hopes, “It will make it easier for people like me to do things like this. When I was young I needed to hear people talk about being Kurdish and about their experience so I will do that now I can. I know how important it is to hear it.”

“Up to Something” is Naaz’s celebration of her breakthrough into what she calls “outside life.” Like all her songs it is immediate and hooky, rare qualities in a musical climate rife with overproduced ambience and meandering top-lines. But its most potent charms come from the frankness and simplicity of her lyrics. When she sings, “I don’t want to hurt them, but this is who I am. Chasing ambition, making my own mistakes,” all the challenges of being Naaz, and being 19 for that matter, are reduced to an honest but determined declaration of intent.