Mariah McManus, known by her stage name, Riah, is an up-and-coming pop artist who builds magical sonic worlds. With years of experience leading worship at her church in Los Angeles and making music when she was younger, I first became hooked on Riah’s music because of her ability to turn any sound into a delicate rendering of emotion. With dreamy lyrics and reflective visuals to match, the 26-year-old singer-songwriter has all of the tools necessary to create relevant and authentic pop music. With only four singles and one music video out, Riah has already been able to reach a devoted audience. I was so excited to be able to chat with her about her creative process and her work to come.

LAUREN TEPFER: What made you revisit your own personal work?
RIAH: It was more of an experiment at first and then I started to find the music that I loved to write and make. I think that sometimes, when you’re working a creative job, you always have this extra bit of creativity that’s being put to the side. I wanted to to use all of my creativity available and I wanted to feel like I had another outlet that didn’t come with any expectations. I wanted to find out what I loved and what kind of music I wanted to write by myself.

How has your musical style evolved as you’ve gotten older?
I love every genre and I’ve always felt that I didn’t totally fit in. One time when I was younger, I met with a person in the industry and he told me that I couldn’t merge genres and I couldn’t be more than one thing, and that made me so upset. I was so determined to prove him wrong. I think that’s the beautiful thing about life experiences–you get to bring them all to the table and create something unique.

You have four singles out now and one collaboration with Shallou. Out of all of your singles, why did you decide to make a video for “Prom”?
“Prom” is a very special song to me, and in my head when I was writing it, it was very cinematic. I just wanted to be able to show a new piece of it–not just a piece you can hear but one you can actually see. I wanted to be able to show more of the story, who I am, what the song is. That’s the best thing about art, there are so many different ways to express yourself. I wish I could do videos for every song!

What is your songwriting process like? Where do you draw your inspiration from?
All of the songs I’ve put out so far have come from different dreams. A lot of times when I’m writing, I’ll browse the internet and explore different things people post. There’s always a visual narrative going on in other people’s lives and it’s important for me to draw inspiration from not only myself, but from others, too. I love writing from song titles and just going from there. I get in the studio and I have a running list of ideas I want to explore. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t!

What advice would you give young people who are looking to pursue a career in a creative industry?
Someone said something to me recently that really stuck: “You have the permission to be exactly who you are, right now.” We’re on this journey to find out who we are or who we’re going to be and we often miss the beauty in the moments of where we are right now. I think that’s the beauty of creativity, that it’s an expression of who you are right now, and it doesn’t define you forever. I was always afraid of putting things out because I didn’t want people to define me by where I was in that moment. It was very scary for me. I finally realized that being able to let people see where you are is so special–you’re always evolving and people get to be on the journey with you. It’s very freeing.

What do you think the future of pop music is?
That’s a huge question! I find that my generation and younger generations see right through people and I think it’s a beautiful thing. The more authentic we can grow and become, that’s where we’ll go as a generation and as people. We gravitate towards people who we feel like we know and can connect to. It’s really exciting! It’ll be more stripped down, authentic, and true. I love that, because it creates so much room for people who haven’t been discovered yet.

What do you hope people get/take away from your music?
I know that my songs are pretty emotional for the most part, but I wanted to create an environment where people could have a good time and not feel like everything is so heavy all the time–that there is worth to what they’re feeling. That’s always been my hope for writing songs. I never wanted to just write for my own story, but for other people’s as well. I want people to be able to find a friend in the music. They can go, Hey, I’m going to be okay, too.