The awards haven't gone out yet, but I'm already crowning this year's Queen of the Grammys (a title I just made up): her name is SZA, and she's amazing and I wish she was my bestie.
This year, SZA is up for five Grammysopens a new window: Best New Artist, Best Urban Contemporary Album (Ctrl), Best R&B Song ("Supermodel"), Best Rap/Sung Performance ("Love Galore") and Best R&B Performance ("The Weekend"), making her the most nominated woman in a male-dominated Grammys seasonopens a new window.
Who is SZA?
So, who is she and why is she so swoon-worthy? You've got some time to cram before the Grammys!
SZA (born Solána Rowe), burst onto the mainstream music scene this year with her debut studio album, Ctrlopens a new window, an album that blends themes of nostalgia, sexuality, insecurity, and black womanhood in a way that oozes vulnerability and raw honesty— all the while experimenting with the "alt-R&B" genre. In fact, she challenged the whole idea of genreopens a new window in an interview last year with the Los Angeles Times:
"People grapple with labeling me as hip-hop, R&B or pop, and it's interesting to me... When you try to label it, you remove the option for it to be limitless. It diminishes the music."
That philosophy is clear in her work on Ctrl, which fuses elements of neo-soul, classical jazz, hip-hop, chillwave, pop, R&B, and countless other musical genres.
SZA cites much of her inspiration as musical but also names a number of nonmusical influences that shape her work, such as films (like those of Wes Anderson and Spike Lee) and dance (SZA used to dance with the American Ballet Theatre, where she discovered Björk's music—cool, right??). Her collaborative instincts allow her to merge her vast range of influences with her own unique approach to music, and the result is a stunning collage of lushly layered sound that rejects traditional genre labels.
If any of this resonates with you, you might like this little list I put together of a few of SZAs many influences (musical and otherwise), along with what she had to say about them. Check out the link to the full list at the end!
A compilation of work that SZA has cited as influences on her work and overall aesthetic. At the end of the list, you'll find links to the interviews and articles that provided the quotations.
"Most of the people I looked up to weren't your typical artists, like a favorite gymnast, ice-skater, saxophonist, painter, or movie director — I really love Spike Lee."
"My personal influences came from dancing with American Ballet Theatre and doing pieces to Björk. That's the only time I had really any outside influence to music."
"...the slight glimpses of outside music came from this iPod I found in gymnastic camp. The dial didn’t work, but it would play all the way through. It had Common, Bjork, a lot of Wu, Nas, Mos Def, Hov on it."
“I listen to Ella Fitzgerald like, every day... I have a rasp to my voice, and I don’t really know how to tenderise my vocal cords. But it turns out people don’t mind it.”
"Jamiroquai is just, like, the sh** for me."