A year full of uncertainty developed into an inspirational push for 20-year-old singer and Hyde Park native Mikayla Gilles, who released her debut single, "Away," on December 4. Writing and recording the four-minute-long alternative R&B track provided catharsis for Gilles during a time of isolation, she said.
“We didn't know we were gonna get locked up. It's all still very uncertain. So just using the time productively, I think, is a big message of my song,” said Gilles, who's currently enrolled at Howard University. Another important theme, she said, is using that time of uncertainty to work on yourself and to grow.
Parts of the video were filmed in Gilles’ Hyde Park home, Gilles says she was grateful to be able to do that because it ended up being a huge budget cut for her — she funded the entire video herself with money she had saved up. The entire recording process took about 3 days, with some days starting at 6 a.m. and not ending until 10 p.m.
Gilles also shot at her old high school, Saint Ignatius College Prep on the Near West Side, from which she graduated in 2018. Using her old high school stomping grounds was no problem for Gilles, who was a student-athlete and spent a lot of time in the theater department. That won her "cool points" with the theater director, who felt comfortable lending her the space.
Even though Gilles attended a private school in a different part of the city, she is still very connected to her community in Hyde Park. “I spent all my time in Hyde Park. Like I don't spend my time downtown. I never spent my time on the North Side with the people I knew there. Like all my friends, really all my Black friends lived south and I lived south.” Gilles said she receives support from her Hyde Park community and the community at St. Ignatius.
Gilles’ father wrote the script for the video and appears in the production himself about halfway through. Showing support for his daughter as he escorts her to a performance, he grabs her arm and says, “Yous about to blow up!”
The visuals for “Away” include drone shots of the beautiful Lake Shore Drive as Gilles drives a cherry red Dodge Challenger to her destination — she is determined not to remain stagnant in a world that wants us to sit still.
Gilles, who is majoring in finance, wears many hats: artist, student, model and personal trainer. Though it can seem like a lot, what really motivates her is the passion, she said, adding that she wants to use her platform to teach and inspire those who just want to be better, no matter where they may be in life.
“Whatever I'm putting out into the world, I want it to add value, it doesn't have to change the world necessarily, but it has to add some type of value no matter what,” says Gilles. She is determined to make the world a little brighter with her art and represent her community and city alike.