SZA on Modeling for the Gap, Working for Sephora, and Why It’s All About Timing


This weekend, SZA will arrive at the Grammy’s nominated for five major music awards. The 26-year-old singer has already worked with Rihanna and Chance the Rapper, performed on SNL, and lured everyone from Issa Rae to Drew Barrymore into her fan club. As of today, she’s also a Gap model.

Joining the brand’s long line of famous faces (Madonna, Missy Elliott, and most recently, Cher), SZA appears in the brand’s latest campaign wearing pieces that play into this season’s twin themes of ‘80s throwbacks and logo mania. She’s joined by fellow rising stars like Awkwafina and Sabrina Cloudio, with choreography by Beyoncé veteran Tanisha Scott. And she’s got a giant smile on her face that makes for joyful GIFs like this.

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The full Gap spot airs during this year’s Grammy Awards. Until then, read our chat with SZA and to catch a few sneak peeks of her first fashion ads.

You’re famous for your idiosyncratic style. How did you find a Gap outfit that reflected who you are?

I got really lucky! Seriously. They gave me a few options, and that hoodie, it was dope… also, the music in the commercial, Tanisha [Scott]—I just love Tanisha. She’s one of the best choreographers in the universe, so I wanted to make her proud when I performed [in the ad]. I really wanted to try and give it my all, with the whole thing.

This commercial airs during the Grammys, but I’m guessing you’re not wearing a hoodie to the red carpet. Do you have a stylist?

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Wait, am I allowed to talk about that?

I think so!

I do have a stylist for the Grammy’s. It’s Dianne Garcia, she’s Kendrick [Lamar]’s stylist. We’ve got a dress, and the dress is wild. I’m low-key excited about the whole look. That’s all I can say, I think.

With the rise of movements like Time’s Up and #MeToo, red carpets have moved beyond just fashion. Are there topics you’re eager to discuss on the red carpet?

I might literally want to be rushed to my seat. Is that rude? I was on the red carpet with Kendrick mad times, and back then, I was down to do all that shit with the questions and the interviews. Now I’m like, “Please get me out!” I’m just going to go and sit down.

SZA Gap

Gap

Your lyrics, and your personal interviews, talk a lot about the collision between feelings and fate. You’ve said your work with Chance the Rapper happened after you started wishing to meet him, and you acknowledge God’s role in that process. Do you believe in destiny?

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I definitely believe in timing. Timing is energy. When you’re ready to move forward, your energy starts to congeal and really push things towards a new direction. It’s weird, you create a kinetic energy that pushes people towards your direction. If people want what you want, you create this whole weird glue that ends up working to draw you together. But destiny implies you only have one path, and I believe in your life, you have many paths you can take. And you can definitely fuck up your path! But I don’t trust the concept of destiny. Destiny eliminates possibility.

How do you know you’re ready to move forward on a path? How do you deal with self doubt?

You have to stay true to the work you want to make. It’s not about you being “good enough” or being better than other people. With my music, I start with a vision in my head—and sometimes when it becomes a reality, it feels a little wrong to me. That means I’m off my mark in a little bit. Usually when you’re off your mark, there’s a lack of clarity in your work and how it translates to other people. That makes it a weird experience. But I’ve learned to let go of needing things to be “perfect,” because “perfect” things aren’t actually great.

Like what?

Well, I didn’t think my album was as clear in reality as it was in my head! I had my own personal vision. But I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot, for an album I didn’t feel like was my best and clearest vision of myself. Instead, I guess I realized the album, it’s me trying my best to see what that clarity would even look like. That effort is like a part of the engine. It’s part of why people can connect with it emotionally—because it’s not perfect.

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Before you were music star, you worked at Sephora. What did you learn about beauty that still holds true?

Basically, the most valuable thing I learned is that a lot of “organic” things are bad for your skin! Just because a product is “natural” or “vegan” doesn’t mean you won’t break out. There are so many natural and non-natural irritants, and some chemicals are actually nice to your skin, and some are hella chemical-y and mess up your complexion. It’s the same thing with price. Some of the biggest skin issues I’d see were from really expensive brands that I can’t bash, because they’ll hate me forever. [Laughing.] But the bottom line is, most skin doesn’t need tons of stuff on it. Keep it as simple as you can, and use what you like, even if it’s not trendy. If it works for you, don’t apologize for it.

One of your first singles is called “Drew Barrymore,” and you got Drew Barrymore to be in your video. How?

I have no idea! Seriously. I wrote Drew Barrymore this long-ass, passionate, super-honest letter about what she meant to me and why I would be honored if she’d come work with me. When she showed up on set, I assumed she’d read it, but no. She came to be in the video because she’s an incredible, awesome woman. I thought it was because of my letter, but she didn’t read shit! [Laughing.] It was just magic, I guess.



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