She was given the name Temilade Openiyi at birth, but almost everyone now refers to her simply as Tems, which is just her first name shortened for fashion.
Stylistically? Sure. Tems does not only have style she has it in large quantities. And now almost everyone across the globe, old or young, rich or poor, big or small, fat or slim wants to identify with her.
In fact, whenever the Grammy Award-winning musician Tems is mentioned, people immediately think of him. Wherever the name is mentioned, it does not sound the death knell, but rather the birth of a star.
Everyone wants a piece of this sexy artiste with a cool, sultry, but sensual voice that can sing the hills to sleep and put men on “high alert”: a deep, piercing, but rich and resonant voice that’s a bit high pitched, like a mix of Lauryn Hill’s, Asa’s, and refined Anita Baker’s.
Everyone loves hearing Tems sing. Everyone enjoys watching her dance, taking those fancy steps and turn-arounds and exuding the kind of confidence that veterans are known for. And yet she is just 28.
Still, she has done duets with Wizkid and Beyonce and collaborated with Future and Drake. And she has an eye for the future. Little wonder she just won the Grammy at 28.
Adele and Barack Obama are her fans and her song has appeared on the former American President’s summer playlist.
Rihanna too couldn’t hide how thrilled she was when she met her at a Savage x Fenty show in Los Angeles last year. She instructed her to stop being so humble. “She was like, ‘You need to be that bitch you know you are,” Tems herself told British GQ.
Naturally, she evolved into the person she is now aware she is. Yet many do not know the pain behind the bitch current fame. They do not know the pain behind the gain, the story behind the glory.
They are not aware that this lady who she and her elder brother were simply known as Temi and Tunji in the Ilupeju, Lagos neighbourhood where they were raised by their mother once broke her family’s heart because of music.
“It was that type of community where everybody knew everyone. We were Temi and Tunji from down the street,” she said.
Her romance with music, which started early on in life when she learnt how to play the guitar her father had gifted them at home flowered while singing in her classroom at Dowen College in Lagos. She joined a choir as a teenager and reluctantly studied economics at Monash University South Africa.
When Tems got back to Lagos, she got herself an office job in digital marketing. But the job made her depressed. It gave her hell. “I was like, I can’t live a lie anymore,” she said.
Tired of living a lie, and with a nudge from a devotional, she quit her job in 2018 to pursue music full time. Her relatives were stunned. She had broken their hearts.
“You quit your job to sing?” Tems told British GQ, impersonating them, with raised eyebrows. “It was like, ‘You’re a woman. Do you want to sing at the bar?’” she continued.
Tems never sang at the bar. She never lost focus. Six months later, she produced and released her debut single, “Mr Rebel” – a stripped-back DIY production with no visuals.
“Eventually the song reached someone who got her an interview slot on radio and after a while started to get recognised both in Nigeria and abroad.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Yet, she started out on a clean slate. “The journey that I’ve been on, it’s very new. There are no blueprints I’m following,” she said.
“Think about it. I’m from Nigeria. I’m from Lagos. There’s nobody that I was like, Oh yes, she did this, so let me also go and do this,”
Still, according to British GQ, success didn’t come overnight. The year before she released “Mr Rebel” Tems was living alone and struggling financially.
She pressurized herself to help provide for her family, which was difficult without a stable job. Her leap of faith was yet to pay off.
“I couldn’t take care of anybody. There were times when I was not just broke – I was broke and hopeless. I used to steal food. I used to go to my aunty’s house just so she could give me food to take home,” she said.
“I just felt like, What is the point of me existing right now? You have to remember those times. Because that person does not exist anymore.”
In order to remove that off her mind and forge ahead, Tems had to change her state of mind. ‘The decision I made was to not wallow in sadness.’ She chose to stop seeing herself as “this person that can never be anything” and to give music a real shot.
“I didn’t have any self-esteem. I didn’t think I was pretty. I didn’t even think of my voice as anything. I just thought, There are so many people that can sing, I’m not a model, I don’t dance, but whatever chance I have, I’ll take it.
“Even if I end up singing under a bridge somewhere, I’ll be the best under-the-bridge singer ever, she told British GQ.
Six years on, Tems is not the best under the bridge but one of the best in the globe, thanks to her determination, strength of character and the courage of her convictions.