In 2016, the “underdog” weight was understandably becoming a lot to bear for Top Dawg Entertainment’s leading lady, SZA. And she wanted out.
“I actually quit,” she wrote in the since-deleted tweet from two years ago. “[TDE President Terrence “Punch” Henderson] can release my album if he ever feels like it. Y’all be blessed.”
SZA had released a handful of well-received singles, including those alongside label frontrunner Kendrick Lamar and Tennessee emcee Isaiah Rashad, as well as three EPs that nourished the anticipation for her first studio album. She wanted to release during the summertime “while everyone was still in a bathing suit.” Unfortunately, plans fell through without much public information as to why.
Despite her frustration with the project’s postponement, SZA’s debut opus that would come to be named CTRL, her fans still wanted in.
Timing can be depressing, even painful, when it’s not working in our favor, as it was for the then-25-year-old. Unbeknownst to SZA, God would use her CTRL debut project as the vessel to pass along a powerful proverb just one year later: God is always in control, even when she wasn’t.
Earning the neo-soul songstress five Grammy nominations, dazzling stages on primetime television such as Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show, Billboard chart domination, and leading her to be named the face of multi-billion dollar clothing chain GAP’s newest campaign, SZA’s first-ever studio effort skyrocketed to overwhelming acclaim.
Who would have known that 14 tracks of painful, freestyled truth would so drastically alter the lifestyle of a young, Missourian 20-something, who still remembers the times she disguised her hunger with claims of veganism when she couldn’t afford a bag of chips and traded in her $500 gold grills for a train ticket? Certainly not the “Sovereign Zig-Zag Allah” herself.
BET Digital caught up with her ahead of her highly-anticipated Grammys debut to find out what she’s got planned for one of the biggest nights of her life and what her face at the forefront of the iconic GAP campaign, beside other music influentials like Metro Boomin and Sabrina Claudio, means to herself and her fans.
Give me just one word to explain what SZA’s 2017 was.
Unbelievable.It’s still just been moments of disbelief. Milestones, and moments that I never imagined for myself.
Who did you call first when you found out you were nominated for five Grammys?
I didn’t call anybody, but I casually texted it to my friends. All of us were in disbelief. Every day. It’s definitely not something that we were prepared to process. Not even myself.
In addition to being praised so highly for CTRL and for such unique vocal talents, you’re also admired for your unique fashion. Is that how the collaboration with GAP came about?
The universe pulled everything together. I really love and respect GAP, and I genuinely love Metro [Boomin], and I love Sabrina Claudio. It was definitely the thing that made sense energetically. I was just ecstatic that I ended up being involved in something that was a good fit for my brand and energy.
What does this campaign mean to you as a musical recording artist?
I’ve always assumed when there’s people I genuinely love and mesh with, things always turn out right. Things always go well when they make sense. And [the GAP campaign] is the most sense-making thing I’ve done in a long time [Laughs.] I felt like, ‘Oh, my God! I love this brand, I love these people.’ And the woman who is directing, I knew previously! She was actually supposed to direct a music video for me, and I’d met her and we had lunch. We ate octopus together [Laughs.] That was years prior to this, so it was just very cosmic and weird. I’m super grateful.
You penned a letter to your fans describing what life was like before this, before CTRL, that seriously brought everyone to tears. Life switched so quickly for you. Are you planning to reflect that in your Grammys performance in any way?
Definitely; Grammys is definitely like graduation. My mom and my granny will be there. I’ve seriously never taken anything more serious, so I’m just honored for this.
I think we’re all excited to see granny after hearing her voice on CTRL.
She really is everybody’s granny! She’s known as Ms. Norma. She’s for everybody. She could be your granny, too.
So you’re taking your mom and nanny as your date to the Grammys?
Yup! Both of them.
Every year, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the Grammys, the nominees, etc. Did that concern you at all? Why are the Grammys still important to you, even though some people believe they shouldn’t be?
Whether people like to admit it or not, the Grammys were a staple of our childhood. Everyone great that we’ve ever loved and respected has either attended or won. That’s not to say that if you haven’t won or attended that you’re not great, but are we supposed to pretend that the people we love and do respect didn’t win? That they didn’t achieve that? I think those moments inspired us. I know I was inspired over, and over, and over again. I think for every performance and for every win that was unexpected– you just feel the tension in the room. You feel the joy for those people when they do win, and it gave me hope. Every award show does that, though. It’s supposed to do that.
What do you want your face at the front of this GAP campaign to communicate to your fans?
I think I’m not wearing any pants in this video, so I don’t know what that might communicate [Laughs.] But I know that, if anything, being free is fundamental. So, gone and get you some no pants, and wear what you want, and be free, and be comfortable. Have fun! Literally — have fun! And remember that. Remembering to have fun is the hardest part.