There are as many stories and paths to celebrity as there are celebrities, but in just two years time, Tila Tequila has possibly become THE symbol of the cult of personality that has developed in the digital age. The 25 year old striking, sexy siren has been on the cover and/or featured in numerous magazines - such as Time, Maxim, and Rolling Stone’s "Hot Issue" - for being the most "friended" person on the social networking site MySpace.com. Cast as a phenomenal "insta-star" of sorts, she’s already racked up nearly 2 million dedicated fans, and as the popular men’s magazine Stuff said, is now the "Web’s hottest Mama".
The phenomenon of Tila Tequila is a story of being an icon of the cultural zeitgeist where the lines of pop culture, personal technology and raw talent intertwine to yield a feisty, magnetic pop music star on the verge.
Tila’s popularity in today’s Web World is unparalleled and has helped earn the sultry Vietnamese ex-model recognition that most people would die for. But the charisma fans see in the glint of her eye, the curve of her hip and the mischief on her lips will soon be echoed as she begins to unleash her music and fulfill a dream she’s always harbored and, more importantly, is equipped to accomplish.
"People don’t know what to expect from me and, in a way, I like that," Tila says of her music career. "They’re shocked when they hear my music." A mix of hip-hop style, dance-club energy, and punk rock bravado, Tila’s music is unabashedly fiery, upbeat and, most importantly, fun. "I grew up listening to all types of music and have made a lot of musician friends from all sorts of genres along the way who encouraged me and helped me mold everything I like into my own sound."
If Tila’s music sounds like a cultural mash-up, it’s only fitting given her background. Born in Singapore to French-Vietnamese parents, Tila grew up in Houston, Texas in an environment that mimicked many immigrant families who moved from poorer countries to the United States. "It was me, my sister, brother, mom and dad in one room," she describes. "We only had one bed. There were flying roaches everywhere. We were very poor." If Tila’s childhood was economically challenged, her adolescence was more behaviorally challenged.
"Quite frankly, I was a bad kid," Tila says, admitting she was also a plain-Jane tomboy. "I was lost, truly lost. I had no good role models, no one to really look after me. I ran around doing my own thing without a set group of friends to lean on." Tila’s "me-against-the-world" destructive mentality also found her in a world of drug abuse (a topic she’s not shy to talk about now), a couple of run-ins with the police, and a three-month runaway detour to New York.
By 17, she had hit bottom and knew it was time to turn her life around. "I had friends dying and going to jail. My family life and my personal life were bad. I was lonely and lost. I knew that if I didn’t change, I was going to die."
Tila started to stay away from the things that were making her so self-destructive and take better care of herself. She had been writing a lot of poetry since she was a kid – "an outlet for my frustrations," she says – but now, her creative expression became a valuable stepping stone for her own salvation. "I’ve always loved music and singing and plays and acting; but when you’re a bad kid, it’s not considered even an option. I started to really focus on that side of me – and that saved me."
18-years old, re-energized and armed with the life experiences of someone much older, Tila started to break out of her shell. She accepted an invitation to model for a friend’s local Houston car show calendar, coming to grips with her own sexuality and maturation into a woman. "It was really strange for the people around me because they only knew me as this scrappy, tom boy kid," Tila says. A modeling agency scout from California soon saw her at a local car show and recruited her to work in Los Angeles. "I couldn’t grasp the concept of me being sexy. Soon after, I realized, ‘hey I have something people like’. People liked working with me and I’m very easy to get along with. After that, I just worked it."
Because of her balance of sex appeal and accessibility, Tila exploded in the urban modeling world, becoming a fixture on auto import magazine covers and layouts, pinup calendars, and car show events. She toured America with Hot Import Nights, a prominent car show exhibition company, and quickly became a fan favorite on the road. At 19 years old, Tila created her own website and smartly employed it as a way for the people she met on tour to keep in touch with her. Even then, she was a web phenomenon. "It was really easy for me to just meet people. Everything I didn’t have growing up, I was finding in this new experience on the web," she says.
Tila’s career started to extend beyond the urban modeling world. She was scouted by Playboy and, in the media empire’s expanding digital front, became a Playboy Cyber Girl, the first ever Asian woman to do so. She eventually was a star of the VH1 reality show "Surviving Nugent" and was a frequent host of Fuse TV’s popular show, "Pants Off Dance Off."
Around the same time, Tila was joining the burgeoning world of online communities. "I love the internet. Because my own website was so helpful to me, I was just getting addicted to these friend sites like Friendster and what not." Soon, she joined the start-up site MySpace after a personal invitation from the company’s owner, who recognized her strong web presence. "I mass emailed my mailing list of 40,000 people and told my fans to keep me company. And it just snowballed from there."
Tila’s modeling gigs and well-publicized MySpace popularity, though, have given her a big platform and set the stage for her true creative aspiration: music. "I realized I wanted to do this seriously and really get out there," she says. Driven by her own insatiable curiosity, she taught herself how to play guitar and keyboards. From the money she was making modeling, she eventually got together her own home studio piece by piece to start crafting her music. "It’s funny because people probably think I’m just this helpless little girl but I worked hard, man. I built a studio in my loft by myself, taught myself how to use Pro Tools and started demo-ing songs on my computer." What she didn’t teach herself, Tila found through support from her musician friends, who helped her develop the art of songwriting.
Tila’s attitude, fiery moxy and talent together create music that represents the cultural mash-up of today’s popular culture. Like Gwen Stefani, Fergie, M.I.A., Lady Sovereign and other hit-makers, Tila Tequila takes pleasure in referencing different genres of music, from hip-hop and electronic club beats to brash punk and deliciously pop.
Fans will not be surprised to find Tila Tequila unleashing her music on the world in a unique way. At a time when the business model of music is changing rapidly, Tila has chosen to take her own unique path over the traditional route of signing a major label deal (though she has been shown great interest by several).
Tila’s goal is not only to make a place for herself in the musical landscape, but to use her unique positioning as a web-created phenomenon to help change the entire music business.
The fearlessness harnessed from her past has given her enough strength and resolve to take a new route in her music career by turning down major record deals in favor of staying in control of her own rights and art, and allowing her to continue to chart a new course in how things are done in entertainment.
Part of that process will allow her to unleash her recordings on the public in unconventional ways. "I Love U", the first song to drop, produced by platinum crunkmaster Lil Jon, will be launched online and will only be available digitally. "The song’s the opposite of what it means. I have so many guy friends who go through so many problems with their jealous girlfriends, that I wrote a song from their girl’s perspective, the psycho stuff."
"I understand because of my background and how I got popular that many people won’t be sure if I’m for real or not. But I work so fucking hard, and I challenge anyone who is skeptical to check it out and see for themselves."