Drawing on her experiences as a queer female, Zolita leads the fight for equality and self-love in her upcoming EP.
photography Ondine Vinao
"I will sleep when I'm dead, a revolution's waking up in my head," Zolita confidently declares in "Fight Like a Girl" the first single off her as-yet untitled EP due out in October. The 22-year-old California-born pop artist grew up listening to bluegrass while her unaffected curiosity led to experimentation with R&B rhythms and video direction. An evocative creator of art-pop, Zolita explores female sexuality, feminism, and spirituality, drawing on her experiences as a queer woman. Her previous self-directed music videos garnered millions of views and a wide audience of LGBT youth around the world. Building off her 2015 debut EP Immaculate Conception, Zolita's upcoming work offers a hypnotic R&B soundscape.
"Fight Like a Girl" is a bewitching feminist power anthem championing equal rights and diversity. The self-directed video comprises women across a spectrum of ages, races, and shapes. The video's opening image, of women in red veils sat in a sacred circle, guides us into Zolita's cult of girls - a space where inner magic and self-love replace physical violence and judgment. We recently met up in New York's Lower East Side to talk about bluegrass and becoming a queer pop icon.
I'm surprised by your bluegrass roots. What can you tell me about growing up in California?
I was born in New York but moved when I was two. I was raised in Calabasas and my mom is Danish, my dad is German so I was definitely raised differently than a lot of the other kids there. My dad is a banjo player which is pretty unusual for where he was in Germany living in the Black Forest. I have my bluegrass roots from my dad.
What steered you towards other genres of music?
I can't remember particular musicians but I think I was drawn to pop music in general and catchy melodies and earworms.
What took place during the two-year gap between "Immaculate Conception" and your upcoming EP?
I was writing music every now and then, but things weren't sounding exactly the way I wanted to. I think I had recorded five songs and nothing sounded like a good follow up. Also, being in school full time, and I had a full time job as well. Trying to balance all those things was hard. Being independent, finding resources is difficult - and I finally found my manager, who also manages a band called XYLØ and started writing with the lead singer and one of the producers. I went to L.A. and did a week there and I had actually never written with other people. I was always writing alone so that really opened up something for me.
What kind of sound can we expect on the new EP?
There are six songs on it. I don't know what the new EP is going to be called yet but I have a few ideas. It's more pop and the production's a little bit cleaner. There's definitely still some R&B elements in there and all of the songs are a little bit different. There's a song that sounds old Lady Gaga-ish and then "Fight Like a Girl" has some 90s R&B elements in it. There's one that's kind of "PartyNexDoor" Drake-ish. There are a lot of different influences of mine on there.
How did "Fight Like a Girl" come to life? Where did the idea for the track come from?
Like a lot of artists in New York, I felt like I needed to do something after Trump was elected. Not only to soothe myself, but I felt my voice was taken away from me - like a lot of marginalized people did. Art gives you a voice and I needed to say something with the next track. I feel like a lot of the "feminist" music that has been coming is being put out by big labels that have men in charge who are reaping the benefits of marketplace feminism. I think it's important that there's feminist pop music put out by independent female artists who don't have a bunch of men telling them what to do, so that's where it came from. After I went to the Women's March, I was inspired to do something. The scale of it was insane - seeing the amount of people, age ranges and diversity, and imagining everybody's stories. I think that's how I came up with the idea for "Fight Like a Girl."
The video includes young girls, trans women, and women of color. How did you bring everyone together?
I wanted to include people I had a connection with. For instance, I met Starasia and her daughter on the subway. Goldie, the first trans woman in the opening, was in my classes. I met Iman, an Egyptian witch, at a dinner. I felt like these were people who inspired or moved me in some way, people that were doing important things for their communities.
What do you hope people get from this track?
I definitely want people to know that it's not just for women. It's for anybody that's marginalized or oppressed, and I want people to feel inspired to use their own voice to fight for equal rights. I want people to know that they're powerful, to know how much power they have and also to just feel badass when they listen to it.
What keeps you going? Why are you doing this?
I want to be the icon that I didn't have growing up. I want to be the fem lesbian icon that I didn't have, for younger girls that are questioning their sexuality, and I want to make music and make art that people can connect to and feel inspired by. That's what keeps me going and makes me want to keep doing this.
Text J.L. Sirisuk
Photography Ondine Vinao (top), Thomas McCarty (bottom)