an intimate look inside the mind of sza
As the thunderous noise around CTRL starts to fade, and her energy is pointed to the future, we asked SZA to tell us, in her own words, what now?
Shirt, dress and trousers Balenciaga Prefall 18.
This article originally appeared in i-D's The New Fashion Rebels Issue, no. 352, Summer 2018.
A lot has happened to SZA since we last spoke in the summer of 2017. A platinum album. Five Grammy nominations. Zero Grammy wins. Her own hashtag (#JusticeForSZA). A sell-out tour. An endorsement from Barack Obama. Collaborations with Solange, Cardi B and, of course, Kendrick Lamar on the anthemic Black Panther soundtrack lead, All the Stars. But right now she’s only looking forward. A second album beckons, and with it comes all kinds of complexity, uncertainty and chaos. What could be more exciting? CTRL + ALT + DEL, SZA starts again.
"I feel empowered right now, but probably not in the way you imagine, or for the reasons you think. But I do. I feel empowered because I broke down my fears. I released an album, I did a tour and I was my honest self in front of a lot of people. These were really hard things for me at one point, now they seem so much easier. Every light, every show, every time, it blows my mind away. Every moment is an experience to learn from; a moment for growth and understanding.
Love is my religion right now. When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad (as Abraham Lincoln said, allegedly). When I’m an asshole, it’s not a good day. When I’m helping people that I don’t know, that’s the quickest way to get me out of a shit mood. I learn that more and more. I’m also learning that I don’t know anything. These thoughts accumulate and become something, and it connects you to this energy source that can act as momentum. I mean, I don’t know anything about this shit. I can only gather what little I know and try to make sense of it. Try and be a better person. Try and better serve the world. It’s all generated by yourself. I feel like you can’t really blame anybody else for the heaven and hell you create for yourself.
My relationship with my family is interesting. We’ve been having these really, really powerful transformative moments. We don’t see each other much, so when we do we just talk about everything. We’ll be, like, crying at breakfast. But it’s tight. My mom knows everything about me. My dad knows just about everything. I mean, my parents read the internet, like everybody else.
My dad texted me and asked me if I was pregnant the other day. He asked me if I was pregnant because that’s what he’d seen on the internet. I was like, what? I’d smoked a blunt with my dad, like two days before. I said, ‘You sound crazy’. He laughed and said, ‘You know what, that is crazy’. But that’s what it is, nobody really knows what the fuck is going on with me, so even if you love me, sometimes you have to reach out into the ether and pull back some bullshit.
Right now I’m looking at images of mac ‘n’ cheese on Instagram, and I am really happy about that. Maybe ‘happy’ isn’t the right word, because I’ve had some extreme types of joy in my life, and it’s not all the same. Do I give them all one word? Do I give them all one type of phrase? I’m definitely in a good a place at the moment. I’m trying my best on this little work I’m doing. Although it’s frustrating me, I feel like it will probably get to somewhere that I’m somewhat proud of. I have a little plan for myself. I have some cool shit in my brain that I’m trying to get out.
Anxiety plays a role in my life, but it’s malleable. It’s usually shaped to the moment. Breathing and meditation helps. I think Instagram is a good and a bad thing. I guess it depends on the voyeur. It depends if you are picking yourself apart, and weighing yourself up against everyone and everything you see. I don’t think anybody needs that extra weight on their energy field. But I also feel like it’s a really good place for inspiration, for love, for opportunities, for beauty. It just depends where your mind is at, I guess. Just don’t go too deep, even if you’re on some like crazy dark trip. We’ve all had those days on Instagram.
I definitely get inspiration from the ‘gram. I mean, Instagram is Google, essentially. I love looking at pictures of beautiful women. But I think, for any human being, if you start to look at it too long it’ll make you look at yourself a little weird. It really depends on what mood I’m in. For instance, if I have a crazy-ass breakout and I look at really pretty, smooth-skin women on Instagram, I might be a little sad about my face that day. But tomorrow I might be able to not give a fuck at all.
I wish I could get fucked up -- I envy my friends, but it just doesn’t end up well for me. So I don’t drink. I can’t take alcohol, I throw up really fast. I throw up if I get too high as well. My body has that response if I do too much of anything. I just smoked a joint. I’m high right now. But I feel like I’m not overdoing it in this particular moment. I’m sure I could definitely cut back on weed.
I never go to clubs. I went to a club for my friend’s birthday for the first time in years recently, and it was horrific. I will never go again. It was so weird. Everyone’s looking at each other to make sure they’re not being looked at, or to check if they are being looked at. The music isn’t even loud enough. I was just like wow, this is wack! But I love a good, unexpected party. At New Years, I was in Hawaii and I randomly ended up at this house of people I had never met before. It was like a backyard party fireworks situation. I don’t know how we got there, and why everyone got along, and why the music was so good. But it was a vibe. We honestly had like, three spliffs between about 10 people, so no one was even that high. We were just buzzed.
The night of Grammys I smoked a blunt. I went back to my hotel straight after the ceremony with my friends and we just kind of like laughed, because it kind of felt like one big sketch. I just happened to be the surprise guest. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I was like wow, they really got me, that’s crazy. But also... que sera. By the end I was relieved it was over. The next day I went to get my aura taken, and had a fun day. It was like I had this weight lifted off my shoulders. It felt like the craziest, most nerve-racking moment of my life was over, so I don’t give a fuck from here. What could be more nerve-racking? I just felt really free in a weird way. If anything, it felt like, you know what, the sky’s the limit. It hasn’t deterred me. I was definitely upset in the moment, and a little embarrassed, but I wasn’t deterred. I felt more inspired to make music than I ever had been because it was like, I can do whatever the fuck I want.
Solange directing The Weekend came together when I was on tour, randomly. She had an idea that she was very clear about. I was honoured to be seen through her lens, it was a vibe. I learned a lot about shooting on film, and also about thinking for myself and expressing my ideas and my artistic ability. I just think so highly of her, and wanted to let her do exactly what she wanted. Her and Beyoncé are completely different people, and there’s a completely different energy, but they have the same brightness, fervour, individuality. It’s golden.
I’ve learnt a lot from people around me. I fuck with Ri. She’s in my corner. I fuck with what she does. I fuck with her place in the world. I fuck with her energy. I fuck with what she chooses to do with it, she’s dope. Frank Ocean is a king. Kendrick Lamar is the voice of our generation. He’s the most exciting thing in culture right now. Kidding. Although not really.
The shift in consciousness that’s happening right now is so exciting. These kids -- there’s this understanding that everybody is capable of anything. It’s forcing everyone to be the people that they are, at the stage that they’re in. Everybody’s accepting that, this is where I am, this is what I want, this is what I’m going to give, this is what I believe in, and everybody’s saying this at the same time. It’s chaotic. A lot of people want different things. But it’s beautiful to watch people identify what they want and open up to these possibilities. It’s tight.
I don’t enjoy being interviewed. I feel like it exhausts a lot of energy in a weird way. I feel a little bit empty after. I don’t know how to speak any other way than I do, and I just always feel like I say too much and a little piece of me is gone. I wonder if the person I’m talking to, I don’t know, shares the same moment of vulnerability as me? Or am I just like randomly throwing my shit on the floor to someone, who’s about to walk away, continue with their day.
With my new music, I realise I have a lot more work than I did before. I like simplicity as much as I like complexity, I think this will be an interesting round of sifting through that realm. A lot more jumbled. I know it’s going to get way more chaotic. I’m really excited to find the extreme moments of beauty in that. I think it’s going to become really fucking interesting. I’m so ready for it."
Photography Petra Collins
Styling Carlos Nazario
Hair Randy Stodghill at OPUS Beauty using Oribe. Make-up Samuel Paul at Forward Artists using Chanel Beauty. Prop stylist Natalie Ziering. Photography assistance Moni Haworth and Steve Yang. Styling assistance Anna Devereux, Giovanni Beda, Mohammed Diallo, Alicia Liu, Verper Wolfe, Kenny Paul and Jack Eustace. Seamstress Susie Kourinian. Production Suzy Kang and Beau Bright at GE Projects.