It may be quicker to just ask Chicago singer-songwriter and producer Tatiana Hazel what she can’t do when it comes to music. After all, she was singlehandedly capable of building a YouTube fan base off the strength of homemade performance recordings. The largely self-taught artist started posting videos of herself singing her catalog at the ripe age of 13, a solid two years after she began composing songs and playing the guitar.
Typically, these clips featured a soft-spoken yet sure-minded Tatiana, sitting on the floor of her living or bedroom, strumming a guitar and singing in a timbre somewhere between Kate Bush and Regina Spektor. Her songs are largely personal missives about crushes, introspection, and taking risks. She banters easily with the camera with the addictive kind of confidence of a kid who was raised to believe in herself.
If being able to amass 69,000 views singing about the art of conversation in a 2011 two-tone emo swoop isn’t proof enough of talent, at 21 years old, Tatiana (self-styled and now sporting a very 2017 head of peacock-colored waves) is adding still more skills to her bag of tricks. She conceptualized a gorgeous, animated video for the mental health-concerned ballad “Losing My Mind,” her most pro video yet. She is exploring the world of beat production, and recently left Chicago’s Columbia College when she realized she already had a handle on pretty much anything the school had to teach her about the music business.
Even her linguistics have gone through a recent expansion. With “Dímelo,” a neo-cumbia romp she dropped this summer with Remezcla, Tatiana delivered lyrics in Spanish, her first language. “The beat was just too much of a Latin vibe to not [sing it in Spanish],” she says. “It just naturally came out that way. I kind of have to think about the music first, then the words come naturally depending on the feeling of the music.”
The language shift was also inspired by the dearly departed Tejana queen Selena. Tatiana, whose family is from the Mexican state of Durango, says that she has always admired Selena’s música en español. Partly, this is about representation. On family trips back to their home in Durango, Tatiana couldn’t help but notice the proliferation of Anglo music. “It’s crazy ’cause I’d go into panaderías, or public places where a lot of people were hanging out, and the stuff on the TVs was all American music videos,” she says. “I’d see Rihanna, and it was just crazy to me because I’m like, there’s no representation of Hispanic people here.”
The young Chicana is open to changing that, but it will be on her own terms. Recently, she’s begun traveling further afield from the guitar vibe that served her so well as a YouTube teen, digging into beat production to incorporate her current musical tastes. Having grown up with an older sister that was heavy into Jay-Z — as well as another equally influential sibling who was a metalhead and parents who kicked back to duranguense — Tatiana has always been a hip-hop fan, in addition to a stan of singers like Joanna Newsom, CocoRosie, and the imperfectly perfect Kurt Cobain.
“I listen to a lot of R&B, stuff like SZA,” she says. “The production behind it just shows me how much more you can do than just instruments. I still incorporate the guitar, and start songs on guitar, but I want to expand and blend my genre with the things that I listen to.”
It’s no easy feat to come out of adolescent Internet fame with your priorities intact, but that seems to be what the singer has accomplished. In fact, working so hard on her craft from an early age has led Tatiana to accept idiosyncrasies that she initially saw as weaknesses. Take her noticeable vocal shiver, a vibrato easily heard on tracks like “Everything.” Tatiana hated it — until she noticed that Shakira had the same tremulous quality to her voice. “Her voice is so crazy — that shake,” says the young singer. Seen in the context of the Colombian diva, Tatiana realized that her voice, with all its distinctive qualities, was more than acceptable.
That self-awareness will serve her well in what’s to come, which for the full-throated, hardworking singer should be the climb up the music industry ladder if there’s any fairness in the world. Tatiana already knows the challenges this presents, and unfortunately has already come into contact with the forces that seek to reduce a young woman in music to her mere physicality. “That’s why I only work with friends, because it’s just hard when you’re a woman,” she says. “People just want different things from you and you can’t trust them.”
Luckily, she has a lot of friends. Chicago’s fertile music scene has been crucial in Tatiana’s development as a musician, from her roots in Logan Square where she grew up, as well as collaborations with fellow rising stars Kweku Collins and Melo Makes Music and a stint as the co-founder of her own, now-defunct music blog Crafted.
And she’s set on reciprocating to this community. Tatiana says a sign of success to her would be an ability to establish avenues to music for underprivileged young people on the West Side of the city. “It all starts with kids that are put in these environments and don’t have other outlets, so I want to give back. That being said, I feel like that all takes being in a position of influence.” Here’s hoping the future hometown heroine is on her way.