Film Music

Four Years Ago, Multihyphenate Entertainer Teyana Taylor Retired. She’s Never Been Busier

Teyana Taylor wears a full look by Alaïa.

It comes as no surprise that when I catch up with Teyana Taylor, she is multitasking. She’s in a gray T-shirt and bandana, hooked up to an IV drip (full of “all the things that are needed for me to continue to do amazing work”), and speaking to me over Zoom on a rare day off in Los Angeles, where she’s shooting an untitled Paul Thomas Anderson film. Even through a computer screen, Taylor’s star power is unmistakable—she has the glow of fame around her, and it’s not just the hydration drip.

I rattle off the top notes in her long list of accomplishments: three studio albums and collaborations with the likes of Missy Elliott, Kanye West, and Lauryn Hill; choreography for Beyoncé and appearances in Jay-Z music videos; a monumental entrée into leading dramatic roles with A Thousand and One (2023); and a directorial debut slated to release before she turns 35. Taylor smiles patiently, unfazed. “I’m a Renaissance woman. A lot of people tell me that, and I love it,” she says. 

Teyana wears a vintage coat, vest, and shoes by Prada, pants by Replika. Sunglasses stylist’s own.

Like many people, my first encounter with Taylor was through her appearance on MTV’s early-aughts reality series My Super Sweet 16. Taylor, who describes herself early in the episode as the uncontested “Queen of New York,” pulls up to her birthday extravaganza dressed as a Barbie in a box, accepting a brand-new Range Rover and custom bike with the regal serenity befitting her station. The party was so buzzy that Pharrell, who had signed Taylor to his Star Trak label earlier that year, crashed it. The year prior, Beyoncé tapped her to choreograph the “Ring the Alarm” music video. Taylor, now 33, shrugs these early exploits off as no big thing: “I was already popular in the neighborhood for dancing.” 

She credits Harlem for laying the foundation for her many creative inclinations. “It’s very small and very family-oriented. A$AP Rocky, A$AP Ferg, Young B—these were the people I came up with. It’s dope to see all of us doing our thing,” she says. The city played its part, but so did life at home. “I was always a character. I dressed in my mom’s clothes, and I loved movies. When me and my friends would play in the hallway and my mom would put on her great ’90s records, I stood ear-to-the-door singing my heart out,” she recalls with a laugh. “Like I knew what those words meant.” (Taylor still has a place in New York not far from her native Harlem, although these days she spends most of her time in Atlanta and Miami.)

Throughout our conversation, Taylor keeps looping back to “the power of go, the power of faith, and the power of prayer.” These tenets might seem cribbed from a self-help book, but they illustrate three qualities that have helped the star prime the world for her ascendance: timing, instinct, and self-belief. Her overachieving mindset doesn’t come from a fear of not being good enough at any one thing, but rather a deep-rooted assurance that she can be great at many. 

The 21st century has witnessed the rise of Build-A-Bear-like patchworks of vocations that beg the question, “What do you really do?” At the same time, the moment’s receptiveness to nonlinear career paths has also reminded us that few culture-shifters ever allowed themselves to be confined to a “day job.” As Taylor cements herself as a household name from Harlem to Hollywood, she’s expanding our idea of who she is—and our expectations of what an artist can be. And although she knows the cost of curtailing her own ambitions, she’s also willing to walk away when the work starts to feel uninspiring. 

Teyana Taylor wears a vintage coat by Gianni Versace from Aralda Vintage.

In fact, in 2020, Taylor did just that. “I retired,” she says, pithily, of her decision to leave the music industry. The move didn’t go over well, but she held strong. "The day before my announcement, all my people backed me into a corner and told me what a mistake it would be. If I hadn’t followed my heart, we probably wouldn’t be here talking today."

It wasn’t long before opportunity knocked. Last year, Taylor made her feature film debut in A Thousand and One, A.V. Rockwell’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning drama. She plays Inez, a single mom struggling to raise her son while navigating everything from the New York carceral system to foster care to gentrification. Taylor had dabbled in comic roles before, but nothing as deep as this. “Inez is so many of the women in my life. She’s my mom, who was a single parent,” Taylor says, referencing her mother turned manager, Nikki. “Our stories may be different, but she’s even within me.” When the reviews praising Taylor’s performance flowed in, the budding actor took it as confirmation of what she already knew: “I am ready for the world to take me seriously.” 

More dreams are coming true each day. Earlier this year, she announced she’d be playing the singer Dionne Warwick, a lifelong idol of hers, in a forthcoming biopic. “I am excited to spend time with her, to study her,” Taylor says. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.” She’s also getting to work on her directorial debut. Get Lite—the story of a bookish New York teen who is tempted to forego his academic promise when a mesmerizing young woman offers him the chance to return to his roots as a dancer—is currently in development with Paramount Pictures.

Then there’s the role she plays daily: mother to two young daughters who are already gearing up to follow in her footsteps. “I have two mini-me’s,” she notes. “Wish me luck.” On Taylor’s last tour in 2022, Junie, her oldest, came along for the ride. “And my three-year-old recently told me, ‘Mommy, on your next tour, I need the microphone and two dancers,’” she says. 

But how does she see herself, beyond the titles bestowed upon her? “I don’t have to do anything,” she says adamantly. "I would never trap myself in a box. You just have to follow your heart."

Hair by Ray Christopher
Makeup by Yeika
Set Design by Daniel Horowitz
Photography Assistance by Patrick Molina, Justin Brooks, and Jolson Diaz
Styling Assistance by McKenna Matus, Kat Cook, and Cassidy Mamula 
Set Assistance by Jordan Odom