'You’re Unique. You Have to Stop Comparing': Tanika Charles Soars on 'Papillon de Nuit'

Toronto soul singer Tanika Charles tells us about shedding her imposter syndrome on her powerful new album 'Papillon de Nuit: The Night Butterfly.'

Tanika Charles

Image via May Truong

Tanika Charles

On the chorus of “Gin and Wine,” Tanika Charles will shock you by singing about envying another woman. That’s despite the Toronto soul singer’s vocal delivery being relatable and distinctive enough to make anyone jealous of her. Yes, the string-laden track from her new album Papillon de Nuit: The Night Butterfly, out now, shouldn’t just be interpreted romantically—it also captures the brutally competitive essence of her profession.  

“I’ll look at other artists constantly grinding, and wonder if I should be doing it at all. Because I don’t work that way,” Charles tells Complex Canada, before revealing the breakthrough that bolstered her mental health: “You have to recognize: you’re unique. You have to stop comparing.” 

And that’s not the only Night Butterfly track with such duality. “Hold Me (Like a Grudge)” initially evokes an exhilarating, yet volatile, relationship. But it also sounds like Charles’ tryst with the music biz that turned toxic. That was especially true during pandemic lockdowns that deprived her of the joys of her job, leaving only the pressures.   

Below, Charles tells us about shedding those issues like a cocoon to release Papillon de Nuit: The Night Butterfly.  

You’ve talked about having crises of confidence and bouts of imposter syndrome in the past. How do you deal with that now?  
Yeah, I’ve often thought about quitting music. Navigating this pretty challenging career choice, maintaining positivity when hustling and doing xyz, can all break me down. But I can’t see myself doing anything else. The challenges and hard times of this career are highs in and of themselves. Even when I’m breaking down every other day, I wouldn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything if I wasn’t doing music. 

I’ll look at other artists constantly grinding, then wonder if I should be doing it at all. Because I don’t work that way. But you have to recognize: you’re unique. You have to stop comparing. I have to be comfortable with another singer having more technical vocal skills than me. It is a beautiful but challenging career choice for sure.  

What gets you through those challenging times? 
I just love to sing, and love to entertain, and love the interaction with the audience. Having that taken away during the pandemic was really hard. But I came out stronger and wiser.  

I had gone from feeling like I was everywhere, as a performer, to only being in one place during lockdown. From seeing so many new faces, to only my own, in the mirror, everyday. And having to face that. Getting back to work on music allowed me to explore these feelings. 

Tanika Charles
“I’m trying to figure out who I am, and how to navigate this existence as an artist. I think daily about the future, and it takes a bit of a toll on me mentally. But I’ll eventually get strong.”

Just how tough did that get? 
I didn’t practice singing at all during lockdown, I just didn’t have the energy. So it’s been a battle after not singing for a few years. But I just got off a tour, and my heart would beat so much before getting onstage I thought I’d pass out. I was rejuvenated while I was up there.  

But there’s still a lot of work in progress. I’m trying to figure out who I am, and how to navigate this existence as an artist. I think daily about the future, and it takes a bit of a toll on me mentally. But I’ll eventually get strong. It just takes time.  

It also takes time to learn how to be patient and kind to yourself.  
Yes. And it’s exciting getting back on the road, but it’s also a matter of remembering… [Pauses.] Sorry, I lost my train of thought.  

You were about to say “it’s a matter of remembering.” 
Right. Everyone’s better at putting sentences together than me! [Laughs.] So many things were in place before the pandemic. Now, it feels like starting from the bottom. Even creating this album— I had to do it remotely. That was just something I’d never done before. We wrote a lot of the music via Zoom, and had to get into a studio with pandemic restrictions despite having deadlines to meet. It was really something. Just going through so many experiences. I’m still trying to compartmentalize it.  


You compartmentalized a number of nuances and shades on the new song “Paintbrush and a Palette.”  
[Laughs.] I wrote that with Robert Bolton, who I’ve been working with since day one. He came up with this idea: “Let’s write a song that imitates creativity, and you being your most authentic self, and use colours as the metaphor. And express the kaleidoscopic beauty of life.” That’s how that song came about. He’s such a prolific writer, his ideas are insane. It was a joy writing it with him—he understands me in a way that makes the music come out beautifully. We’d Zoom and talk about the way the music made me feel, then he’d soak details up from that here and there and come up with amazing ideas. It was an interesting way to write, because he’d take what I had and add these adjectives or other ideas, and make it just sound beautiful.  

I wanted to write about things like that for this album. So I didn’t write about the pandemic, didn’t want to be reminded of it. Folks want to be entertained, and want to experience something that’s positive instead of everything else that’s going on that is so depressing.  

And how has it felt to be spreading that positivity at post-pandemic shows?  
I love cracking jokes and telling stories onstage. It allows me to connect with an audience. And it’s even more exciting when people are talking back and nobody’s shy, just feeling free. Every show, people were vocal and excited to communicate. Like we were building something. That’s what I love the most about entertaining.  

So sometimes I’m struggling. But I’m also super grateful. 

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