SZA’s debut album, ‘Ctrl’, was one of 2017′s most critically acclaimed releases, and she’s showing no signs of slowing down. Ahead of her performance at this year’s Grammys, the singer spoke to us about what she plans to do differently second time around, and her new collaboration with Gap.
If you’re not up to speed with SZA, now would be the ideal time to catch up.
Having previously penned tracks for artists including Beyoncé, Travis Scott and Rihanna, last year saw the singer/songwriter release her much-awaited debut album ‘Ctrl’ which was met with universal critical acclaim, followed by an impressive five Grammy nominations (for perspective, that’s more than Ed Sheeran, Coldplay or any other female artist managed this year).
SZA’s 2018 is already off to an exciting start, with Gap having invited her to take part in their star-studded ‘Logo remix’ campaign, naming her as someone who is “remixing culture” with her musical contributions.
“I don’t think that I alone am remixing culture,” the singer - full name Solána Imani Rowe - says, when asked about the campaign, “It’s more like our culture is undergoing a transformation of its own.
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“I don’t know what the hell’s going on with our culture. It’s something bizarre. It’s weird it’s, like, digitising and becoming analogue at the same time.
“And I think people are a part of that change, and that shift and that feel... I’m just honoured to be considered anything, like, at all!”
I never imagined people would relate to my random thoughts... I'm just grateful to not be alone."
Though the woman herself is clearly reluctant to play up to the impact she’s already having on culture so early in her career, ‘Ctrl’ was one of 2017’s most celebrated debuts, largely thanks to SZA’s frank and confessional songwriting.
But while the honesty of her lyrics is something that has made her one of the most endearing new voices in music in recent years, SZA (pronounced like “sizza”, if you’re wondering) has admitted she “never imagined” people would relate to what she describes as her “random thoughts”.
“Honestly, I didn’t think this album would be well-received at all… I’m honestly just grateful to not be alone,” she reveals, “I’m just grateful that people don’t think I suck, or that my thoughts don’t make any sense.
“I thought I was being way more haphazard than I ended up being to other people. Which is wild.”
Still at an early stage in what looks to be a promising career, SZA’s so-called “random thoughts” have meant a legion of devoted fans are now looking to her as an influential voice, something she’s clearly not taking for granted.
Because of her newfound popularity, SZA says she now finds herself thinking more before she speaks, rather than giving “a hyper-emotional response to topics... which doesn’t really push anything forward”.
She explains: “Because I have a loud voice right now, it’s like, damn I have to be careful what kind of waves I create, or even my own thoughts. Because it’s selfish, you know, to be impulsive.
“And even though it’s also important to have carte blanche and be yourself, I just feel super-connected to to the people that… respect me.”
When we speak, SZA is gearing up for the Grammys, where she’s scheduled to perform for the first time (“I’m actually getting my hair and nails done for Grammys evening as I talk to you, and it’s just bizarre to even think about that happening at all”).
She’s reluctant to spill any gossip about what we should expect from her performance, other than she’s “trying something that I’ve always wanted to try, technologically”, but it’s apparent that this signifies a milestone moment in her career, and it’s something she’s determined not to take for granted.
And that’s without even factoring in that she has five chances to bag an award on the night.
“I would be deeply, deeply honoured,” she says, on the subject of winning, “It would mean that I was on the right track.
“I really think that my whole life I’ve always been checking for a sign that I was on the right track.
“But I feel like even being considered is that sign. So I’m happy already! Man, I’m so grateful. I’m so grateful.
“I feel like everything I’ve done until now has prepared me for this moment, this day, this performance, the experience. So… I don’t know what to tell people, because I don’t even know what to expect. I just... expect for it to be a culmination of all my experiences and everything I’ve learned.”
Still riding the wave of ‘Ctrl’, SZA is already looking ahead to her follow-up release, and outright dismisses the notion that the success of her debut has piled on the pressure over what comes next. In fact, the opposite seems to be true.
Because I have a loud voice right now... I have to be careful what kind of waves I create."
While SZA has spoken candidly in the past about how difficult she found the process of making ‘Ctrl’ thanks to her own insecurities and struggles with anxiety, it sounds as though she’s way more fired up this time around.
“I’m committed to making this album the best album of my life,” she says, “I know exactly what I did wrong on [‘Ctrl’] and... nobody knows exactly what they did wrong, but I know what I could have done better and I know exactly what I want to do [now].
“I’m not afraid of the kind of things that I was before, I’m way more excited to make an album than I could have ever been.”
And although it’s the personal nature of her lyrics that have helped launch her success, SZA says she’s taking a more outward approach with her follow-up music and writing from a “different perspective and stream of consciousness”.
“I definitely feel like it’s less [about] how I see what’s happened to me and more how I see what’s happening to the world,” she explains, “I’ve read so many crazy ass stories this year that just broke my heart, like things I just couldn’t believe were happening to people in the world. Kids in the world turning up dead with no addresses… just bizarre things.
“So I’m, like, writing from a perspective of… in and out of it. I have a lot of thoughts that I have to get out.”
But while SZA says that she’s definitely up for “taking more risks” with her music as she moves forward, she balks at the idea that this will be her chance to try and “change minds”.
“You can’t change anyone’s mind about anything,” she insists, “You just have to, like, magnify yourself so you can at least create a ripple.
“And then your ripple does what it’s supposed to do, it affects who it’s meant to affect, it connects, and then spreads to other people. But the idea is not to change anyone’s minds, that’s impossible.”
I’ve done the whole yell at other people to make them feel the way I feel about certain things... and it didn't really get me anywhere."
She continues: “I’ve done the whole yell at other people to make them feel the way I feel about certain things, and make them feel stupid about believing what they believe. And it didn’t really get me anywhere.
“I feel like the things that I feel passionately about, I’m down to feel passionately about, publicly, I’m down to be a face, or whatever it calls for, but I don’t feel like I need to design a purpose.
“I feel like everybody has a purpose designed already… you, me, everyone. You just have to really magnify yourself and have that confidence in yourself to really unlock your purpose. And I feel like I just figured out that’s what you’re even supposed to do.”
“So, I don’t even know where I’m supposed to go from here,” she concludes, “But we’ll see.”
Watch the GAP Logo Remix film below: