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Dinah Jane returns to the music scene as sure of herself as ever, and it shows.

After releasing singles “Lottery,” “1501,” and “Missed a Spot” in the early days of the pandemic, the former Fifth Harmony member, like most of us, took the time in lockdown to self-reflect and inspire a greater version of herself—both as a human and as an artist.

Now, Dinah is back, kicking off a new era of music reflecting that growth, one that shows her at peak confidence. The powerhouse vocalist tells Pop Crave that this new era, starting with the tropical-infused single “Ya Ya,” is inspired by something she has learned not to shy away from: transparent storytelling. “The best part of being human is just being honest within your personal life and your work life. I’ve learned to merge the two worlds together, in a sense, where it makes sense for me to not have to sugarcoat anything,” she says.

With this storytelling comes an emphasis on the influence that her Polynesian culture has had on her life. “Ya Ya” in itself serves as a celebration of Dinah Jane’s identity as a whole, which she says will continue to be front and center in future music, from visuals to vocal production. “I’m just glad that I’ve honed into that more so than ever this time around, and I’m very proud of where I come from and not listening to what was told to me before,” she tells Pop Crave.

Luckily enough, fans won’t have to wait much longer for even more new music from the Polynesian superstar. Dinah reveals that she has much more coming down the pipeline, including a collaboration with JKING out later this week, followed by the release of her next single, “Tell Me,” feat. Tone Stith. All of this new music, though, is building up to one main event: the release of a brand-new EP this fall.

While chatting with Pop Crave, Dinah Jane opened up about her new single, “Ya Ya,” her fast-approaching EP, and the importance of representing her identity through her artistry. Keep reading for the full interview!

Hey Dinah, I’m so happy to be chatting with you today! Thank you so much for speaking with me, especially to celebrate your new era! It’s been a three-year break since you last released music. What have you been inspired by musically over the course of your break that has inspired your artistry for this new era?

Yeah, so I haven’t been in the industry for about three years. I think what’s inspired me and this new era of music, I would say, is storytelling, just being honest with myself, and not sugarcoating anything. I’ve lived this lifestyle where I didn’t… I was protecting people from not airing out things that were really affecting me behind closed doors, so I think that’s what’s really inspired me: telling my truth and living my truth. The best part of being human is just being honest within your personal life and your work life. I’ve learned to merge the two worlds together, in a sense, where it makes sense for me to not have to sugarcoat anything.

Also, my culture has played a huge influence. I’ve been advised by people in the industry to kind of tuck that piece of me away just to fit in. I remember it like yesterday, being on set for one of my music videos, “Bottled Up,” and I remember just feeling like there’s something missing. Everything’s here, but the core thing that’s missing is my identity. And I’m just glad that I’ve honed into that more so than ever this time around, and I’m very proud of where I come from and not listening to what was told to me before.

Did you feel a different kind of energy while being in the studio for this new era compared to when you first started out with your solo career?

Yeah, I think it’s more storytelling-driven. The space I’m in, people allow me to embrace my scars, my wounds, and letting me feel that freedom of whatever I’m feeling in the room. I think I’m just surrounded by a wonderful team who understands me. I think that was very important, where they understood my vision and were accepting of that. I guess we get caught up in this industry of just wanting to keep it pop, keep it clean, and what is typically seen in the public eye. Me becoming my true self, it hasn’t really been done before in the mainstream world of just being of Polynesian descent. Putting that into my craft is so beautiful, and adding certain elements into my songs. I’m even saying certain Polynesian words in my music, which is beautiful. Just embracing it a little bit more and introducing the world into our culture is the most beautiful, heartwarming part about this whole journey.

“Ya Ya” is such an incredible track! I love everything about it. What made you choose this song as the lead single, and what would you say the track personally means to you?

So technically, this song was supposed to be my follow up. I actually had a ballad that I was going to release first. I was like, “Oh, I’m in a space where I just want to cry and let my heart out,” and things happen for a reason. When it was told that this one was actually going to be the follow up, I was actually really excited! I’ve been crying for the past three years. I’ve been in my feelings, depressed and all that. Like I said, everything happens for a reason. Swinging out with [“Ya Ya”], I think, was a blessing in disguise. Just coming out, having fun, and letting people see that glow in me that I’m super happy to be back in my element, and embracing the new curvy body that I have gained in these past three years!

I mean, I went through a really trying time in these past three years where I not only was dealing with things internally, but it was showing through my figure. I’ve learned to accept my new figure and love her for who she is, and loving her in every season that she’s in. “Ya Ya” is just about loving your curves, loving you for who you are, and it’s just a naughty girl, naughty island vibe [laughs]! It’s just giving some naughty island girl vibes. I hope everyone resonates with it too, that your body is nice! Big purr!

You also released a music visualizer for “Ya Ya.” How fun was it getting back into the music video space and getting to shoot that for your new single?

Oh my gosh, I was so nervous! I was super scared, honestly. I forgot the preparation that goes into a music video or visualizer. Tapping back into it, I was like, “Oh my gosh, I forgot! You have to go do your hair, get your hair dyed, do your nails, get everything prepped like a week before!” I did choreography for like two days – technically one, because in total, it’s about six to eight hours that I had to learn it. Going back into the dance studio, even, it felt new to me again. Just trying to figure out my body, my movements, trying to tap into that again and realizing, “Damn, girl, you still got it!” Like, three years where [laughs]? The last time I dropped a visual was for “Heard It All Before,” one of my records. Coming back into this era of visuals, it was new, and it felt new to me all over again in the best way. I just felt this freeing spirit overcome me. Just realizing, “You got this!” I just felt this voice saying, “It’s time.”

A new era and rebirth really has begun. I’ve really tapped into that in this music video. I remember being on set, and each scene, I had different styles. It was really cool just to embrace different beautiful versions of me. Like, the slicked back pony and embracing, you know, my facial [laughs]. I really don’t like pulling my hair back. If I do, it’s on my casual days, but on camera I was like, “Okay, this is new!” Trying new hairstyles, incorporating Polynesian accessories… A really good friend of mine, I’m actually wearing his family’s top in the island tropical Barbie vibe. They even helped me with that, putting together the island girl flavor and making it come to life. The untamed hair, even so, I love that they allowed me to get so Polynesian with this visually with my looks. It was really fun, and I’m very proud of it.

Along with that, how fun has it been getting to see everyone replicating your dance for “Ya Ya” on TikTok and social media? People are loving the choreo!

It’s so cute! I mean, while we were in the studio, we were trying to figure out what to do. Like, “What type of dance movement could we give to share with the world a piece of the culture?” Just seeing people do it makes me so proud. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, they’re doing it!” It makes me very happy to see them tapping into it. It’s giving the island girl flair, flavor, or whatever they can do to it, so it’s really sweet! I see it blowing up on TikTok, and like I said, I’m very proud of it!

My friend mentioned to me yesterday that “Ya Ya” kind of has an “All in My Head (Flex)” vibe, which is definitely a fan favorite Fifth Harmony track! It’s one of my favorites too. What would you say is currently your favorite song from the Fifth Harmony discography?

That’s my favorite too. Current fave… Obviously, it changes. I will say “Reflection” is like a classic. Like, I’ll never let that one go. I just love how clever the lyrics are. I love the vibe to it. To me, it’s timeless, personally. That one is like my ultimate fave up against “All in My Head,” but yeah [laughs].

From the Fifth Harmony era, what would you say has been your biggest takeaway from that overall experience as an artist that you’re applying to your solo career and new music?

Biggest takeaway… there’s so many. For this new era, I would say it’s just being unapologetically yourself. Also, we came from a pretty ethnic group, so just embracing where you come from and not shying away from it. That’s something I had to learn to really tap into this era. I remember us being there for each other, and just loving each other’s culture of where we come from, and embracing that. Me being the only Polynesian girl or island girl in the group, I still have in the back of my head when they would all be so proud of where I came from. Like, encouraging me of how I was raised or my family dynamic, and I’m really tapping into that this era as well.

Yeah, being unapologetically yourself and being fierce with everything you do. Being fierce but kind. Just having that balance of being very dominant with what you create and being confident. Be very confident with what you create and not backing down from it, and creating a space where people understand. It’s definitely something I took away from my experience with the girls, and I’m merging that into this era now too.

Are there any Polynesian artists you’d like to give a shoutout to? I’d love to add your recommendations to my playlist!

I really love Bina Butta. Her music took off as well on TikTok, and she’s actually Samoan. She’s from Australia. She’s one of my favorite artists. Aaradhna, she is Samoan-Indian. I’ve always looked up to her music ever since I could remember.

And I have a record coming out next week! I’m featuring on a record with this guy named JKING. He’s an artist from Australia. We just shot the music video, did the whole visual and everything last week. I just came back from Australia, so that was super fun! This is the first official collaboration I’m doing with a Polynesian that’s coming out, so it’s really exciting! It’s exciting times, and I’m so inspired by my own people as well. Doing this, I’m just so proud, and I’m really excited about this one!

You would really love Aaradhna, I think. Growing up for me, I looked up to, obviously, the best of the best vocalists: Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Leona Lewis, Whitney Houston, and all. But looking up to them, I felt like I couldn’t really identify myself with them, being Polynesian until I heard Aaradhna. She’s really, really amazing. She still has music to this day. If there’s a song I would recommend you to listen to, it’s called “I’m Not the Same” by her.

I also love the “Ya Ya” cover art! What was the inspiration behind the cover and overall aesthetic for the track?

So actually, I was really nervous about the cover art! I was like, “Oh my gosh, too much booty!” But thankfully, I have such a wonderful team. They’re like, “Girl, it’s island girl vibes! You got this! Embrace it!” So this era, like I said, I’m just embracing my curves and being proud of it. I love the cover art. Thank you to Carlos – shout out to Carlos for coming up with this idea – and obviously to my team, but the whole vibe of this track is definitely naughty island girl vibes.

The background of the cover art, it’s giving those palm trees. Obviously, I’m from Orange County. I’m from Orange County, California. Coming from this side of town, this side of California, I was embracing where I come from as well. Being an Orange County girl, a lot of people say, “Oh, are you from LA?” No, I’m from Orange County. People don’t understand what that means. I have to say, “Oh, I’m from like… you know where Disneyland is? That’s where I’m at!” So yeah, just owning everything, where I come from, where I live, and who I represent is what I’m embracing with this era. “Ya Ya” definitely embodies that.

You have a collaboration with Tone Stith on the way, which is so exciting! What was it like working with him on the upcoming track?

Oh, so amazing! I remember this was our second track we were doing. The day before, we did another record. But then this one, I just wanted some bass. I remember starting off with the bass, and as he’s playing, I was helping him with finding the rhythm that I wanted. He was just so open to my ideas, and just being in a space where nothing is wrong was really beautiful. I remember it like yesterday. The bass is where it started, and then I just came up with a concept. I wasn’t even in a relationship at that time, but I like to create stories in my head. “Tell Me” is about a girl with her mans. Obviously, they’re in a really good place in the relationship, but one of those days, she felt like being toxic. While they’re laughing and giggling, in the middle of it, she just starts being drama. Like, throwing a fit, throwing a tantrum out of nowhere, just because she wanted some and wanted a good time real quick.

Just a teaser, but it’s like, “Oh, he hits it best when he’s mad, so let me make him mad.” And he’s like, “Tell me, tell me how you want it because I’m sick of this.” Like, “You like me angry? This is what you’re gonna get!” But other than the concept, I think what’s really beautiful about this record is just showcasing my range and vocal ability. We’re really singing around the bridge, I would say, so just showing variety of what I’m able to do is really beautiful. I think Tone was really great at bringing that out of me.

Do you have any words for your fans in Brazil?

Shout out to my Brazilian fans! I love them so much. They’ve been, obviously, a huge part of my journey ever since I can remember with the girls. Shout out to them. Thank you for streaming, thank you for being so active! They’re blowing up my feed almost every day, almost every hour, coming up with great ideas with their editing skills on every picture I post. It’s amazing just to see them excited for this era with me!

People who became massive fans of yours over a decade ago are now interviewing you for your solo career! This includes myself, as well as your recent Rolling Stone article with fellow Harmonizer Tomás Mier. How full circle does it feel to now be getting interviewed by your own stans all these years later?

It’s beautiful! I mean, talking to Tomás was such a full circle moment. I remember him coming to a lot of our shows in the very beginning, and just riding out the wave with us ever since then. It’s beautiful just to see our fans still having that glow in their eyes or that excitement in their eyes. Like, “Wow, I used to be such a huge fan of you guys during that time, and I’ll still be a fan!” Understanding our stories now as individual artists and getting to know us is really beautiful. It’s so wholesome. I will say [with] our fandom, most of them started off mainly as our friends before it became fans. Having that is a special part of our journey, I will say.

Now, I know an EP is on the way for this fall. Is there anything you can tease to fans about what they can expect from the upcoming project?

Like I said, I’m very big on storytelling. With this EP, I think they’ll hear the influences of what I grew up on. I will say I’ve merged a couple of my favorite sounds, genres, and artists together. I think they will definitely take away the vocal ability, the range, the storytelling from this, and definitely the island vibes. I’m so excited for this era! I’m just glad I’m finally releasing music [laughs]. It was a long time coming. I think, like I said, everything happens for a reason. Everything’s honestly in God’s timing.

To now finally release music is just so freeing. I’m so glad to finally be in this position I’m in, and releasing music that I’m proud of where I feel like it speaks to me. Not going for the big bangers. I’m not going for, you know, “Oh, we need a big single! We need this and that!” I’m kind of over that phase. That’s always been the thing in my career. It’s been advised to me to just go for the big dogs, right? This time around, I love that I’m in a space, like I said, where I can just release how I feel, how Dinah feels, what speaks to her, and not having that pressure of wanting a number one or wanting to release the biggest [record]. Not having that pressure on my shoulder, it’s just releasing things that I’m proud of. What speaks to me in the moment is really beautiful, and that’s the best part about being an artist: releasing what you love.

Dinah Jane’s new song, “Ya Ya,” is out now.