‘I Never Imagined I’d Make It This Far’: SZA On Making New Music and Practicing Self-Love BY ENI SUBAIR for VOGUE
“I use the anniversary of CTRL as an opportunity to cry and reflect every year,” says singer-songwriter SZA, 30, of her four-time Grammy-nominated debut album, which she released in 2017. “I never imagined I’d make it this far.” It’s this candor and vulnerability that fans love and, ultimately, it’s fueled the Missouri-born, New Jersey-raised star’s musical growth and distinctive ethereal sound, keeping her high in the charts four years on. The musical landscape irrefutably changed in 2020, ushering in a time when artists’ schedules ground to a halt. And in 2021, it’s safe to say that SZA’s making up for lost time. In between jumping on tracks with fellow superstars Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion, SZA placated her fans’ desperate pleas for new material by quietly dropping the video (that she also directed) for smash-hit single “Hit Different.” Featuring Ty Dolla $ign and British musician Jacob Collier, it sent social media platforms into a tailspin and served as her first solo release since her highly acclaimed album. This was closely followed by “Good Days,” a global smash charged with a declaration of hopefulness—a message needed now more than ever. It quickly earned the musician a spot in the top 10 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Chart back in January. After months of TikTok users adding her chart-topping singles to their videos, the possibility of seeing the Golden Globe nominee IRL felt that much more tangible when she partnered with Grey Goose Essences earlier this month to create a one-off virtual music experience called In Bloom. 14.1 million people tuned in to watch the live concert via her YouTube channel, which was available to stream for one week. Filmed using a high-tech drone, SZA—wearing looks by emerging Black designers—performed both old and new album tracks while surrounded by blooming florals and a scenic forest stage, curated by the singer herself. Climate change and being kinder to the planet is something you’ve been vocal about, especially within Black and brown communities. How would you encourage younger generations to get involved? If you’re unsure where to start, begin by helping these communities any way you can, such as sponsoring your local garden, planting trees, volunteering to clean, or writing to your local officials. And try to work with grassroots organizations rather than large corporations. A lot of cities face redlining and difficult economic circumstances directly stemming from systemic and environmental racism. For example, the current water crises in Memphis, Tennessee, and Flint, Michigan, are preventable. Officials could take action right now and make the necessary safety adjustments. It’s all about urgency and attention. Just give back because the people are the planet, and we all need one another.