We’ve all heard a story of heartbreak accompanied by wails. Fuck, many of us have wailed among with them following a failed relationship. But sometimes we have to wipe away our tears, get over the bullshit and say no wailing. SZA is the poster girl for this mind state. With her big soft curls and those dark brown freckles, she looks as cute as a button. But she’s not; her dry sarcasm will cut you like a blade.

The first time I heard SZA, I knew she was different. I mean what kind of RnB singer takes her name from a member of Wu Tang and a sharp implement? With lyrics like “life of a suburban kid, existentialism. I ain’t never care much for esoteric shit,” she skirts through philosophical theories like they’re Us Weekly references.

Much of her early EPs were produced by Felix Snow, who provided fantasy backdrops for her blasé lyrics about perception. Her take on the female image is interesting and we get caught up in many theories relating to the stereotypes of women. She manages to do it with excellent humour, including lyrics like, “I am not human, I am made of bacon, fairy tales, pixie dust; I don’t feel.” SZA’s view is enlightening and refreshing in comparison to many of her peers in the music industry.

Her tales act as anti-love stories, as she openly mocks former lovers and any time spent mourning them. But her toughness masks a vulnerability as she admits to being a very sensitive person. Though she’s easy to categorise as an RnB singer, SZA takes influence from many different genres, running through power ballads, synth-pop songs and everything in between. With two Eps behind her, she’s recently released her debut album ‘Z’, her first project under her label, Top Dawg Entertainment. Home to Black Hippy and Isaiah Rashad, T.D.E. is responsible for many of the strongest rap releases in the past few years, including Kendrick Lamar’s ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ and ScHoolboy’s ‘Oxymoron’. As the only female signed to the label, she’s the baby sister of the family.

Viper talks to SZA about being a part of T.D.E. and her views on being a female artist in today’s industry…

Is ‘Child’s Play’ a criticism of assumed gender roles in society?
Yeah for sure. My older sister, she’s the Barbie person, I’ve never been into Barbies. I had one American girl doll, an Annie doll and she was a gift; it wasn’t something I initiated. But I always wanted the Dream House and I liked the pink convertible because I thought that was ill! I was more into cars than I was dolls. So I’d literally be dismantling them all the time.

Were you a tomboy growing up?
I’ve ever called myself a tomboy. When my dad talks to anybody he’s like, “She was a tomboy her whole life.” I feel like even that’s super specific. I’ve always been comfortable, put it that way. I like to dress comfortably, I don’t like to be constricted in anything. If you look too cute that day then you have to be really svelte and on top all day; you have to keep your clothes clean and tuck your butt in.

Do you think there’s still standards of femininity in todays world?
I think it’s the standards that we set. I was on Instagram just lurking and I was noticing there’s this whole Instagram culture where girls are just naked. They’re naked every day, in heels. You wonder if they do it for other women or for the men that stalk them, because I stalk women on Instagram all the time. I stalk naked women on Instagram and Tumblr every day just because it’s awesome, number one. I think most girls follow other girls that are super perfect, it’s weird. I don’t know if it’s a gender thing because I feel that men are starting to dress and live to impress other men and women are starting to dress to empower women instead of dressing to create envy.

Gender lines are blurring, what once appealed to just women, now appeals to men too.
I think so too. It’s weird because mean are into more androgynous girls. There’s definitely still the man that likes the textbook ultra feminine girl that has her nails and her toes done, her eyebrows waxed and her hair laid to perfection. Like I still exist. Even looking at Lupita; she’s bald and tall, doesn’t have any boobs and she’s stunning to everybody. That’s testament to it, now I feel like shit’s changing.

Who were your quirky, out-of-the-box inspirations?
Bjork for sure because she’s super ambiguous. She’s a gorgeous woman but you rarely see her in a beauty shot and when you hear her, she doesn’t sound like for example Sade. [Sade] sounds like an angel and looks like one, even though that might have been by default. But Bjork, her voice is jarring, stunning and she’s doing all these vocal acrobatics and she’s not really worried about sounding pretty. People say, “she sounds like an animal” or whatever, but she’s one of a kind. She’s the first of her kind and totally set a tone in terms of expectations for what music could sound like, where it could go coming from women.

Did you always have such uniqueness?
I think for a while I wanted to sound like my peers but that’s really nerve-wracking and stressful. It’ll make you very paranoid and it’s not fun. I feel like with everything else happening, when people start to scrutinise other things, all you have left is your music so if that can’t be fun, then I don’t really understand what you’re doing it for. So I have to ignore people to some point when it comes to the way I sound. I want to still be able to have fun and surprise myself, instead of trying to fit into what other girls and guys who are popular sound like.

Your hair is building a fan club.
It’s so funny because I feel like there’s so many girls that have been wearing their hair this way forever. It’s awesome that people think my hair is cool but if you look at my homegirls, we all have the same exact hair. We’re all just a bunch of Chia Pets roaming around the world. I appreciate that people appreciate my hair.

How did you feel about the Vogue blog post about your hair?
That was the craziest thing, I couldn’t believe that they were serious. You guys like my hair, you really wanna talk about it, are you sure?

The ‘Babylon’ video explores the tough subject of suicide.
I feel like ‘Babylon’ had an entire interpretation and a life of its own. I had a contest on Twitter and I was asking people what they thought the video meant and what they thought the song meant. It was so interesting to see where they took my life, they took it really far but it’s interesting, I learn a lot through the way other people see me or people hear my music or interpret what I’m saying. It makes me second guess what I really think about myself, like, “Maybe that is what I meant, I don’t know.”

How did the concept for the video come about?
That video came out of my subconscious 100%. I think I came up with the treatment on a whim, in the middle of a conversation. We had talked about all these other ideas for the video and randomly I was like, “I think we should do this and that and I wanna shoot it this way, at this location” and that’s what we ended up doing. We didn’t make a shortlist or anything but I think it spoke from a different place. I’m pretty lighthearted but I think I deal with my own self-loathing and depression in my own way. I’d rather let my subconscious speak for me than speak for myself most of the time.

This is an extract from the Summer Issue of Viper Magazine. Read more from the magazine here. Buy physical and digital copies here.


Photos by Jessica Lehrman
Words by Lily Mercer

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