Daya Reveals The Heartbreaking Reason Why She’s Helping THON Battle Childhood Cancer

What’s better than dancing? Dancing to end childhood cancer, and Daya tells us the personal reason why she’s kicking off THON’s 46-hour dance marathon while also giving a scoop on her new music.

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Image Credit: REX/Shutterstock

It’s time to shake, shimmy, groove, floss, and boogie for a good cause. On Feb. 21, thousands of students, volunteers, and Four Diamond families will fill Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center for the 46-hour, no-sitting, no-sleeping dance-a-THON. The event, held by THON, raises funds and awareness for the fight against childhood cancer, and kicking things off this year is Grammy Award-winning pop sensation Daya. The 21-year-old will perform during the first night of the near two-day event, and for her, it’s a chance to give back to those in need.

“I think it’s absolutely crucial that we continue to fund childhood cancer research to help identify the problem sooner,” she tells HollywoodLife in an EXCLUSIVE interview, “and have the right resources to treat it before it gets to be too late.” With that, she has partnered with THON. The organization’s sole beneficiary is Four Diamonds, which helps cover 100% of all medical expenses related to cancer care not covered by insurance for eligible families at the Penn State Children’s Hospital. The organization also supports childhood cancer research at the hospital, seeking improved treatments and cures to benefit kids around the world.

The dance-a-THON is the culmination of the organization’s year of work. To make it through the full 46-hours, everyone will need plenty of energy. Thankfully, Daya tells HollywoodLife that she’s prepared performance to hype everyone up. She tells us what fans can expect during her set – which can be viewed via the THON Live Stream here – as well as her upcoming new music, how’s she’s progressed since her Sit Still, Look Pretty debut, and the heartbreakingly personal connection she has to THON’s cause.

HollywoodLife: What motivated you to partner with THON for this 46-hour no-sitting, no-sleeping extravaganza? The goal is to raise millions in donations to combat childhood cancer – is it a cause that is close to your heart?

Daya: I hadn’t had any close encounters with childhood cancer until a few years ago when I was invited to a benefit and sat at a table with an 11-year-old cancer patient named Olivia and her twin sister Sabrina. I had the best time eating dinner with them. Olivia was well into chemo but so funny and lighthearted and optimistic about her situation. She sat right next to me, and we were laughing the whole time. A few months later, I got a note on Instagram from Sabrina that Olivia had died. It happened to Olivia so cruelly and unexpectedly, as it happens to millions of other kids who deserve it the least and haven’t had any sort of chance to make a dent in the world. Since then, I’ve been even more headstrong about it. I think it’s absolutely crucial that we continue to fund childhood cancer research to help identify the problem sooner and have the right resources to treat it before it gets to be too late.

You’re kicking off this nearly two-day marathon with your Friday night performance. Since they’re going to need the equivalent of an audible espresso shot, did you approach this gig with the mentality of ‘okay, let’s kick the energy up by about 10 notches’?

Yeah, I think that’s the goal. I took out nearly all the downtempo songs if that helps. I’ve been through events like this before when I was in high school, so I understand on some level what it can take out of you. So hopefully, yeah, I can be a Red Bull or an espresso shot, or if they’re already delusional, then some form of a second wind psychedelic rush.

We’re all eagerly anticipating your next album? Will you break out some new, never-before-heard songs for those taking part in this dance-a-THON?

I can’t tell you that you’ll have to come and see for yourself!

Doing anything for 46-hours is intense. What’s the longest you’ve ever done one particular thing?

Probably singing full shows when I’m touring. It’s not an intimidating amount of time, but it adds up on stage when you factor in all elements and definitely involves a lot of preparation and vocal care to do it right. Other than that, I have pretty intense ADD, so it’s hard for me to do something for a very long time all at once unless I‘m obligated to or there’s a good reason behind it.

To put it mildly, a lot has changed since Sit Still, Look Pretty. You’ve signed to Interscope, taken greater control in the songwriting process, relocated to LA, and began a significant relationship. Was there a particular moment when writing this album that you realized how far you’ve come from your debut? 

Well yeah, I think I was rapidly growing as an artist and person even when SSLP was made, and naturally, I’ve continued to evolve even more since. These are my formative years, and maybe selfishly, I wanted to live them a little instead of throwing together an album that I didn’t feel fully invested or confident in. And with growing and building new relationships, I’ve naturally found more inspiration to pull from. I feel like I have a more informed perspective and more “important” things to say.

For a while, I really didn’t feel like that. I felt uncomfortable being a 16-year-old girl singing about relationship problems, not having really experienced anything yet. So, the gap was definitely intentional, and in that time period, I experimented a lot with songwriting as well.  I’ve probably written and rewritten this album at least 3 times or so. I have a tendency to get bored with things that feel old and move on to whatever’s newer and more interesting fast. So, my challenge now is learning how to be able to capture a present and intimate moment while also making it feel like something I can constantly give new life or new meaning to as I get older.

You’ve said that the next album is going to be “all love songs,” but indicated that there are some “sad bangers” on it, too. Have you found, while songwriting, that love is the main course that comes with a cup of sadness on the side?

I might have said that prematurely, but to clarify, the album isn’t all love songs in terms of my relationship. It kind of hovers around an all-encompassing theme of love, which includes my love for my relationship but also self-love (or the struggle to self-love) as well as relationships with friends & the world. I don’t think love has to be sad by any means. Still, in terms of my experience, I was learning how to love another person as I was learning how to love myself, which is a difficult thing to manage for someone who’s also dealing with a lot of external pressures as well.

I think that’s why people encourage you to stray from long-term relationships until you’re a bit older and more grounded in who you are. On the other hand, I do appreciate how fast I was forced to grow into it and grow into myself. But it did have me confronting a lot of darker parts of myself early on, and I think that’s where the bits of melancholy comes from. I have pretty bad anxiety, so even if something is going textbook perfectly (and sometimes literally because it’s going textbook perfectly), my anxiety will seep through and have me anticipating the absolute worst thing possible to come out of the situation. It’s like I can’t really appreciate the start of things because I’m always dreading the end of them.

Will there be any features/collabs on this collection?

I can’t say right now, but I can say I’m always open to it if I feel there’s an artist that really fits a song conceptually and sonically. I’m just as precious with features as I am with my writing— I want everything to feel, look, and sound cohesive with the concept and feel of the song. That being said, there are some very talented people out there right now that I would be honored to work with. It’s cool that I even have the opportunity to present a song to an artist I admire and possibly have it liked by them to the point of them wanting to be on it. I’m very lucky for that.


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