When you see the Australian worship band Hillsong UNITED perform live, your eyes are immediately drawn to Taya Smith. And it’s not her distinctive hair or eclectic style that pulls you to her—it’s her awe-inspiring vocals and sheer vulnerability as she worships God.
Since the 28-year-old joined the Sydney worship outfit in 2013, the band has achieved three No. 1 albums on the Christian Billboard charts. And then there was the movie documentary, Let Hope Rise, about the band, which screened across the globe as well.
If it wasn’t official already, the small church band from Sydney had made it big. So how does Taya keep a level head?
Well, her bandmates help. Especially considering that up until the release of new album Wonder, she was the only female in the group.
“I didn’t grow up with any brothers, but I somehow inherited 14 brothers,” she told The Christian Post. “If I ever got a big head or thought I was bigger than I was, I would have someone pull me aside and say, ‘You’re actually not as good as you think you are. God is working through you.’”
As a staff member at Hillsong Church in Sydney, Taya follows a long tradition of strong female vocalists. Kiwi superstar Brooke Fraser was once a member of the UNITED band, and iconic vocalist Darlene Zschech put Hillsong on the map in the ’90s. Considering this, it could be easier to try to replicate her predecessors, but Taya’s strong Christian upbringing has taught her to embrace her own path.
“There’s definitely times when you feel inadequate, [but] very quickly I find the Holy Spirit reminds me of what my mum and dad said [to me],” she told Warcry. “[They said] ‘You don’t have to be the best, and you don’t have to be first. But we do want you to try your hardest and…do anything that Jesus asks you to do.’”
This is why Taya remains committed to being fearlessly authentic, both in worship and in her style. Sporting a new shaven hairdo earlier this year, Taya felt the backlash firsthand when she was criticised on social media for her decision (which, ironically, occurred because her famous curls had been bleached dead), but laughs off questions about it now.
“We want more than to be carbon copies of each other. There’s something beautiful when someone stands and is just being themselves and can be comfortable in that,” she says.
Taya’s arc to fame hasn’t been straightforward by any means. After moving to Sydney in 2010, she auditioned for The Voice unsuccessfully and worked in a retail job while singing for Hillsong’s younger worship band Young & Free. To Taya it was no coincidence that the door to secular success closed and she was invited to record with UNITED while on holidays.
“It was over the course of two to three days we recorded ‘A Million Suns’ on the Zion album and then we came in the next day and we recorded ‘Oceans’,” she explained to Scenes Media. “The rest is history.”
Taya is a wild spirit on stage, set a part by her exuberance and voice—but marked by her insatiable love for God. She is shaping a new generation by modelling what it means to be a brave, independent woman who prizes her own relationship with God and people above all else. And if you were to take anything at all from her time with UNITED, she would simply have it be this:
“We have an amazing God who does extraordinary things through very ordinary people,” she said to The Christian Post. “That’s our prayer—that people would see that and be encouraged…to dream the big dream. I don’t think we’re called to live a small life.”