After blowing up on TikTok, alt-R&B artist Adanna Duru is finally releasing music on her own terms
Dubstep tends to be best enjoyed at a rave, usually helped by intoxication of some kind. That said, it is also a very meme-able genre. LA-based alt-R&B/Afro-pop singer Adanna Duru gets exactly what's inherently funny at the beat drop — and she's gone viral on TikTok because of it.
Duru is the creator of the TikTok series “music @ white clubs be like.” The formula is simple: Duru sings a recognizable song, makes chaotic dubstep transition noises, then starts singing a Top 40 hit or trending TikTok song that makes for an extremely shocking, and very funny, changeover. “I saw this video of this girl ranting online like, 'You know how you’ll be in a club and a song starts one way and then it goes dehnehnehnehneh and then it turns into something else,'" Duru explains about her initial inspiration for the video series. “She was like, 'I don't like that shit,' then I was like, 'Oh, my God, I say that shit all the time.'”
Read more: Are sped-up versions of songs ruining the way we listen to music?
What resulted was Duru’s first video, which she posted in August 2022 and has since garnered 6 million views. She sang “Love” by Keyshia Cole, the dubstep remix, and followed it up with a video that follows her current format, singing Doja Cat's "Woman" into warbled noises and Tove Lo's "Habits (Stay High)." That one has since raked in 19 million views.
The series has gone to the TikTok viral stratosphere, with her most popular videos getting above 70 million views. The concept works because it’s so relatable — but the delivery is equally as important. Duru does two things really well: not trying too hard and, most importantly, singing at a high level. Naturally, Duru is also a solo recording artist, and she just released her first EP Nappy Hour. She’s not just a content creator you need on your For You Page, though. She's a rising talent who knows how to game the algorithm. Duru's finally at a place in her career where she's allowing herself to have fun and "celebrate weirdness," which combined with her immaculate vocals, has resulted in a captivating first body of work.
She has been singing for her entire life, before she was ever even taught how to. As a small child, in the back of her parent’s car, Duru would sing along to ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits. “I had such an emotional reaction to all the harmonies and I would sing them in my car seat," she says. "My mom says it was all before I could speak or knew what anyone was saying. She would tell me, ‘You were just always making sounds as soon as you could.’”
As she advanced her musical appetite, Duru moved on to mimicking and harmonizing with Beyoncé and Alicia Keys, as well as Afro-pop artists like Flavour, Fela Kuti, and P-Square her parents, who are originally from Nigeria, listened to. Having grown up in Orange County, she begged her parents to take her to any and all singing show auditions, including America’s Got Talent at 9 and X Factor at 10. Eventually, after voice lessons and gigs performing at local restaurants around LA, she landed a place on Adam Levine’s team on The Voice at 15, and a few years later she got to the top 10 of American Idol at 18.
That said, Duru says the competition series were more of an enlightening experience of what she didn’t want for her music career. “Those were TV shows, not the music industry,” she explains. “The audience that I got were fans of the show, not fans of me, so I had nothing after them when it came to opportunities in music. … I had to think about what my goals were, and that's not what I wanted. I've always wanted to be a recording artist, that was always my passion.”
The other key element of the major network shows is that they cater to white American audiences. 12 out of the 20 winners of American Idol being white men is not just a coincidence. The overall experience made her feel like she had to try and fit within a mold that wasn’t set up for her to win. This dichotomy was one Duru was all too familiar with. “I grew up in an all-white neighborhood,” she says. “I was the only Black girl and everyone at my school was white. It was extremely isolating. People were very racist, overtly racist.”
[Photo by Dove Shore Photography]
In her time within The Voice and American Idol spheres, Duru realized she needed to find a space she had more agency in creating. She formed a vocal coaching business, which sustained her for around 10 years, and eventually forayed into TikTok to promote it. After meeting her now manager at a random studio session, she realized she could be using the app to promote what she really wanted to do. “He told me, ‘You're saying there are certain things that you want, if you want those things, you need to get eyes in front of you, period,” she says. “So I transitioned out of the teaching content into just being a person online.”
This allowed Duru to establish a following to then slowly leak her own music content into the mix. Her vocal run videos promoting her business turned into parody content, like making fun of different "types of singers," which led to 10 million views, around 400,000 followers, and brand deals that allowed her to quit her vocal coaching job. Then “music @ white clubs be like” took her to a whole other realm. TikTok allowed her to sing and exist as she always wanted to — on her own terms.
Duru is now able to make her own schedule and put more money in her pocket, resulting in more actual music creation, like Nappy Hour. On the opening track “Babies,” Duru’s layered vocal harmonies are front and center and drive the overall composition. Her afro-pop track “Pop” exemplifies bliss through embracing the fullness of oneself; and “Stay In” is a quintessential head-nodding R&B jam that provides a message of being free to move through love however the hell you please. It’s almost as if this new creative space has allowed her to reach back to the joy of the car seat where she discovered her passion.
“I feel so excited to release a project where half the songs are about joy, love, and happiness, and a Black girl doing whatever she wants,” Duru says. “I’m showcasing all these different genres and showing all the different sides of myself. I want to celebrate being weird. I want little Black girls to feel beautiful and accepted and seen.”