Photo: Lex Nikol

R&B Dynamo Parisalexa on ‘Songland’, Billboard and Ambition

Rising R&B songwriter Parisalexa talks about pitching a song on NBC's Songland, how she writes music, and what it takes to get to the top.

Parisalexa, the 21-year-old R&B songwriting dynamo from Seattle, by way of New Jersey, is already a rising star in the pop music world. That’s evidenced by her tens of thousands of streams on YouTube and her recent appearance on the popular NBC television show, Songland, during which she pitched a nearly perfect pop song to famed songwriter, Charlie Puth. And while Paris didn’t win, Billboard said after the episode that hers was not only the top song of the episode but of the entire season. With that in her back pocket, Paris continues to write and record and release new music, including this new jam of late. We caught up with the artist to ask her about her first-ever song, her experience on NBC, and what the word “ambition” means to her.

Do you remember the chorus of the first song you ever wrote?

Oh, that I ever wrote, ever in life?! It was something about a homeless man. I saw a homeless man outside of the hair shop, and I wrote a little song about it, and it was probably like this, “Homeless man, homeless man! I’m sad that you’re homeless, man!”

Wow. How old were you?

I think it was around four or five.

From watching your career grow from afar in Seattle, it seems like your parents have played an important role in your burgeoning career. Can you talk about their relationship to your music?

My parents are huge contributors to and supporters of my music career. Even more than that, I think that they’re really fans of just music, in general. That influenced the way that I was brought up. We always had music in the house. We had dinnertime every night; we would always have music. So, it just became a soundtrack to my life. The fact that I naturally wanted to do that with all my time, I don’t think it was too much of a disruption with our everyday lives. They were really excited because I made music that they enjoyed, as well.

You’ve talked about wanting to be a songwriter, perhaps first and foremost, over being a performer. Can you talk about the love or respect you have for the craft of songwriting?

I do have to say that I am a lover of songs more than I am a lover of a specific artist or a specific genre. I love the idea of capturing a story and having it emote feelings and translate to complete strangers. I think that is just magic. It’s just 3:20, standard. But you can have a completely different vibe or a completely different emotion in that time. I just fell in love with the fact that you can use imagery, and sonically you can paint the picture, and you can use metaphor. There are so many different ways that you can tell a story. You just have to get all you’re trying to say in this little 3:20 and also get the listener to repeat it back. Like I said, it’s magic to me.

Who are your favorite songwriters that we might not already know?

One of my favorite songwriters is Hitmaka. I think he really bangs them out, and he’s killing the charts right now. I’m really into artists that are also songwriters, as well. I think Summer Walker is really great, and Jazmine Sullivan, I think is a great songwriter. Tori Kelly, as well. She’s amazing. Another songwriter that’s killing it right now, her name is Amnesia. She’s done stuff for Beyoncé, she’s done stuff for Cardi B. We’re actually from the same state, we’re both from New Jersey, and she’s around the same age as me, and we’re friends, so she’s really inspiring!

I imagine when you hear a new idea for a song, like the phrase, “Pity Party”, your brain goes through machinations to determine if it can be a full song. What is that process like for you?

I definitely do that. For that specific song, it is like taking some common metaphor or something quirky and then trying to figure out if there is a whole storyline around that. I thought it was cool to play off the party idea and the pity party, like, you know, we can celebrate your feeling bad because you messed up. I liked that idea!

Are you constantly writing or do you write in bursts with breaks in between?

I think that certain ideas just come to me and certain ideas I just put myself in the environment. When I plan writing trips, when I plan to go to L.A., I work every day. I’m in the studio, and I’ll write at least a song a session. Every day, if not multiple times a day, at least two songs. But then when I come back home, I just let the natural ideas flow, and if I have something to say or if I think of something or if something happens in life, I can write a song about that, and I’ll just let it flow. Normally, I have to plan it out these days. But I’m trying to get back in the habit of writing every day just for me on my own.

The more a schedule fills up, it can be harder.

Yeah, it definitely gets harder.

You’ve played some large stages, but what was it like to start singing in front of the four Songland judges on TV?

That was amazing! They’re legends in their own right. I was excited to be there and to hear some songwriting advice. You hear a lot of advice about performance, but for them to critique the song and talk in this songwriting language was really, really dope. They did it on the fly, so that was really cool.

But, like, were you scared your voice wasn’t going to work?

We did it twice, and even after the first practice round, you feel this pit in your stomach. For me, I get hot all over. I don’t get nervous often, but I had some nerves there, for sure. And the fact that it’s taped, that’s another thing. Even though now it feels a little bit more intimate, at some point, I knew lots of people were going to see this.

Is there a message or social media moment that was especially remarkable – good or weird – that came after the show aired?

I didn’t expect Billboard to release an article. That was a shock for me. I mean, I’m happy that they said my song was, like, the best of the season. I was so grateful for that. With me not winning, I think it was cool to acknowledge that music is subjective at the end of the day, and it is based on people’s opinions. Some people have different opinions, and I thought it was cool to see different perspectives.

No, like, weird tag on Instagram or weird message on Facebook?

I mean, I always get weird messages, so it’s hard to pick one that was especially weird. It was just more weird people.

Songland also put your face front and center. That can be important for an artist, sometimes more than an audience hearing your music. When people see you, what do you want them to see?

I think that it’s interesting being a songwriter and not being so focused on, “Oh, I have to look like a star-type of energy.” But over the years, I’m coming more into that. I express who I am through color. I wear a lot of colors. I love really bright colors. I love lime green and neon and all that stuff. And my hair as well, I always change my hair all the time because I’m always trying to be, you know, not somebody new but I just want to see what I look like with different hair and different styles and push the boundaries. I love doing that. I want people to see who I am through my expression and push the vibe that I’m fun and colorful, that I celebrate my youth who I am, and I’m not afraid of it.

What does the word “ambition” mean to you?

Ambition, to me, means hustle. It means going and getting something regardless of other people’s opinions, whatever they might project onto you. If they say things like, “It’s not right for you” or “You can’t do it.” It’s really just about an undying hustle.