Artist to Watch: Stanaj

I will never forget hearing Albert Stanaj sing for the first time at Archbishop Stepinac High School in my hometown of White Plains, NY in 2012. He played the lead role in “The Phantom of the Opera” and I remember thinking that I had never heard a more haunting voice.

After the show, I talked with Stanaj for a bit since my then-boyfriend went to Stepinac with him. I jokingly told Stanaj that I would marry him someday and he told me he would “have his agent get in touch with my agent” about the matter. Needless to say that never happened, but my love of his voice never wavered.

What started as high school productions and low-key performances quickly became something much bigger. After moving to California in 2014, Brandon Jennings of the New York Knicks uploaded a video of Stanaj singing online, which resulted in thousands of new followers on Stanaj’s Instagram. His Instagram account (@stanaj) has since been verified and boasts 374,000 followers.

In the aftermath of his newfound internet fame, Stanaj, who is the son of Albanian immigrants, has posted covers of songs like “All I Want Is You” by Miguel. He’s played piano for Drake at the YOLO mansion and sang with Chris Brown. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and Kim Zolciak have praised him on social media. Pictures and videos with Zendaya, Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Russell Simmons, Jamie Foxx, Justin Timberlake, Hailee Steinfeld and Kehlani also decorate his page.

In case you haven’t caught on, this kid is kind of a big deal. Stanaj sang on Dancing With the Stars in 2014. In 2015, Complex called him up-and-coming talent. And in October 2016 he appeared on an episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to promote his music.

The 22-year-old New York native signed a record deal with LAVA/REPUBLIC and has since released two EPs, The Preview and From A Distance.

The Preview, which was released in August 2016, reached number five on the iTunes charts following Adele’s 25. The album features four songs with R&B and pop vibes, including “Sleep Alone.”

If you’ve ever been in Urban Eatery, you may be familiar with the debut single “Ain’t Love Strange” since it was featured on NOW That’s What I Call Music!, Vol. 60, which just so happens to be one of very few Spotify playlists on loop in the dining hall. However, I’m not complaining since every time it comes on I get to brag about how I knew Stanaj before he made it big time.

On January 27, 2017 Stanaj released From A Distance with four more original songs and a pop remix of the soulful ballad “Romantic” from The Preview. If you like upbeat break up songs, then “Bad Woman” and “Changed” are for you. These songs about mysterious, man-eating women and men who have supposedly changed their ways will have you dancing to the beat. On the other hand, “Meant To Be” and “Find Me” are two slower ballads similar to the original version of “Romantic.”

R&B has been commonly referred to as “baby-making music” and Stanaj’s sultry sound is no different. He jokingly told Lava that his music is “going to get some people pregnant.” Even if that’s not the goal for you, you can still enjoy Stanaj’s music on iTunes or Spotify.

You can also see him perform live as the tour opener on the U.S. leg of JoJo’s Mad Love Tour from February 15 to May 3. The tour stops in Pennsylvania on April 22 at Stage AE in Pittsburgh and April 28 at The Trocadero Theatre in Philly.

Images via Stanaj's Instagram