If you’ve walked around Melbourne’s CBD over the last year or two, missing PANIA‘s face on a billboard or shopfront has been nearly impossible. She’s one of the new faces of Australian R&B, and is fresh off opening for Giveon on his Australian tour, which just closed curtains at St Kilda’s Palais Theatre.
PANIA’s been very busy lately: her new EP, WE STILL YOUNG, arrived last month; she opened for Kehlani at the start of the year; she performed at the Sydney Opera House; she even earned an ARIA nomination. But when Rolling Stone AU/NZ catches up with her, she’s enjoying a quick moment of respite in the midst of the Giveon tour before she goes on her own national tour next month.
PANIA’s identity has always been fashion centric, perhaps a reflection of her upbringing in West Melbourne, one of many creative hotspots within Naarm. She’s always had a huge love for fashion, she says, and if you’ve seen her live over the last few years, you’d know how much attention to detail goes into her stylish stage fits.
Growing up and watching early 00’s R&B videos from icons like Missy Elliot and the late Aaliyah certainly helped, and fashion soon became something that was integral to her life. “I always say fashion was my first love before music. I was always into fashion as a kid, I’ve always been into dressing up and having my own style,” she reveals.
Now, she has fun with her own merch drops, and enjoys having themes for her outfits when she’s on the road (for the Giveon tour, for example, she sported a boxing themed attire).
Millions of streams down the road from when she first started, being busy is something PANIA’s well and truly used to – the life of an emerging artist calls for as much hustle as possible, something she knew early on would have to happen.
“It was difficult when I was working little jobs and then doing big shows and trying to balance that. That was really difficult for me,” she confides. After quitting traffic control after two weeks and working at a gym, she realises now that she was the “vibe hire”, someone at a workplace who boosts morale but doesn’t do that much work.
Nowadays, the former “vibe hire” is readily considered to be one of the best rising R&B artists in the country. Her new EP has been received extremely positively since its release, but that hasn’t stopped outside observers from still labelling her as “underrated”; it’s a tag that PANIA doesn’t see as negative, but one she definitely doesn’t want to have.
“It just pushes me. It just gives me more drive. I don’t want to be underrated, I want to be rated properly, you know?” she says firmly.
2023 has been PANIA’s biggest year yet, and just 10 months on since her last EP, burnt ur clothes & changed the addy, the level up within her music is undeniable. “That first EP was me learning how to make songs with structure,” she says. “I was still finding my voice. I didn’t grow up singing but when I wanted to write a song, I’d sing. So then whenever I was in the studio, I’d sing.”
Comparing her two records, she describes WE STILL YOUNG as having a more “organic” approach. Incorporating live instrumentation and a more stripped back approach production wise, her new EP fully sees her rise to the occasion. “You can really hear my voice in this one, which is what I wanted,” she says, showing a slight grin.
Listening to the EP, especially in comparison to her first, it feels like it’s definitely time for PANIA’s debut album, which she says will rely on striking the right mix of finding the right production while still letting her voice shine. But first, she’s thinking about a well-deserved vacation.
“I want to take a break. After my tour in November, I just want to travel and live, ’cause this year has been non-stop. I haven’t had time to breathe, so I think for a good album, I’ll need time.”