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SZA Tells Apple Music About Not Being Able To Listen Back To Her Own Music 

In an extensive career spanning conversation available on demand now on Apple Music 1, SZA sits down with Zane Lowe to reflect on the Apple Music Live performance and her record-breaking 2023. During the candid conversation, SZA also touches on navigating fame, her spiritual hygiene, overcoming anxiety, taking creative risks, and more.

SZA Tells Apple Music About Not Being Able To Listen Back To Her Own Music
…I don’t know how I feel about my album, or maybe I just feel disconnected from it in general. That was more so like, a culmination of all these other years that I was ready to get off me and move forward from. So now that it’s out and it’s just in another place, I don’t want to look back there and I don’t want to think about it. But that’s how I am with all my music, I never listened to Ctrl again. I never thought about it again.

I don’t want to. Some people listen to their own music and it’s very nerve wracking for me, and I can’t enjoy anything. When I listen to everything, I’m always like, what mix is this? Why is this level wrong? Why is my voice so brassy? Why didn’t I EQ it more? Why, why, why? Why didn’t I sing this differently? Why did I choose this word? That’s not what I meant. So many things. And it doesn’t matter how many years pass, if I play my music, I just can’t. It’s too hard. It’s too hard to enjoy it. I don’t know.

SZA Talks To Apple Music About New York Being A Tough Crowd….
SZA: New York is not a welcoming crowd. Yes, super boring in the realm of, I don’t know what’s going on, but they’re very likely to deadpan you. Night one was probably the worst crowd I’ve had thus far on this leg, and I was like, oh my God. So night two, I was at war in my body. It was like, okay, I’m not here to have a good time. I’m here to prove a point. I’m here to prove that-

Zane Lowe: On “Seek and Destroy,” you came out and I could tell in the first minute you did something in a move that was just so at the front row. I was like, this is going to be a punk show.

SZA: I’m screaming. No, I was upset, not upset, but it was more so, it’s just different. Sometimes adversity just turns me up in a different way. That’s just always my igniting thing…When the crowd is turned up, even if I was in another space, it snaps me into reality because the gratitude and the pouring of energy, it just reminds you, it makes you laugh and it’s just like, oh, everything’s okay. I’m going to be okay. And when they’re more excited, it just makes me feel like I can’t wait to just give you everything that you want. A show like Nashville where their energy was crazy and I was like, I’m going to crack off my neck for y’all. I promise.

Zane Lowe: Can we just then put one on the board for New York? I thought last night, night two, was great. I mean the crowd was super hyped during the DJ set.

SZA: Crowd night two, the crowd on night two was better than night one. It was still lower energy than the rest of my days.

Zane Lowe: I’m just trying to put some good will on the bank, New York, I’m just trying to help you out right now.

SZA: No, no, but you know what? That’s really, but I need that. Every artist needs that. You know what I’m saying? It’s not about, yeah, people are coming to celebrate and be excited with you, but it’s like this is your opportunity to really share who you are with these people that are interested in who you are. Some of them don’t even know for sure why they bought this ticket or they may have seen you on TikTok or whatever. But it’s like this is the time to share who you are. And usually before a show, I pray and put an intention before, oh, tonight, may I inspire everyone to, or may I bring people joy tonight, father God, may I be reminded why I’m doing this. Father God, may I be moved. May I lighten somebody’s day today. Those kinds of things. I try to just give it a purpose to give me a reason to be in that moment.

SZA On Her Spiritual Hygiene
So I’ve been really trying to get my spiritual hygiene together because I realized as of recent that a lot of this shit is not normal. And I didn’t know how to process that experience. And I was having a lot of lashing out and a lot of frustration. And there’s a lot of opinions, a lot of entitlement to your space, a lot of entitlement to your time, a lot of expectation.

It does, and it actually makes me on the edge and not a kind person, because the anxiety of wondering how people are, there’s so much perceiving going on. But these people don’t know you. They’re seeing you in a vacuum in your most high-pressure moment. And it’s scary. So it’s like, oh my God, I’m not the person that I want to be right now because I’m not kind, calm, and relaxed, and patient and all these things. And it scares me like, whoa, whoa, whoa. And the people are ingesting me in that state. But it’s like this is the first time that I’ve had, I’m still the shy person from high school. I hate being perceived. I hate coming outside. I don’t want to party. I don’t want anybody to even look at me, honestly. I don’t want to take pictures. I hate being on video. It’s the bane of my existence.
It makes me really, really uncomfortable to a way that I cry. And I took a lot of calm gummies before I sat down here. But being perceived, especially visually, is like my number one, I’m uncomfortable right now kind of thing. And with this new level of attention with the album, it’s like I never had an issue with paparazzi in my life. I never had an issue with going viral for small things that I think are small in my life or any of those things. So then I had to sit down and really be like, no, for real. Get a process fast. And so I started praying a lot more. I restarted my Sadhana. My mom finished her Sadhana with Sadhguru, and did all these crazy programs, and she just so much more peaceful. My mom’s already peaceful. So saying that is, I didn’t think that she could be more peaceful than she is.

But her presence reminding me like, oh, I should probably go do some ohms in the back real quick, or I should really take more magnesium because my magnesium is hella depleted and I need it to regulate my emotions and I’m not doing it. Or I should take a f-ing nap. And it’s small things that you don’t or talk to. I have three different kinds of therapists. I have a hypnotherapist, I have a talk therapist, and then they tried to give me a psychiatrist, but I’m not taking any of those drugs.

SZA On Overcoming Anxiety…
That’s my thing. I know me, I’m a very addictive personality, so it’s like if I do something and then I’d be dependent on it, I’d be like, “Oh, I can’t function without this.” Even if it wasn’t the case, even if I could function without it, so I didn’t even want to start anything. But with the amount of attention and the moving around and doing things, and you start feeling like, “Oh, I didn’t even drink prior to dropping this album,” and you start having a little celebratory drink with your friends and like, “Oh, you went number one. Here’s a drink. Oh, you did a good job at SNL. Here’s a drink. Oh, we are finished with this toy. Let’s have a shot.” I had to look at myself and I was like, “What? You don’t drink? What are you doing?” But when everything is moving so fast and there’s so much anxiety and there’s more people to meet and more people to talk to, and I looked at myself and I’m like, “Oh, shit.” And I started having weird panic attacks I’d never had before and crying and shit just in spaces that were just, I’m at a photo shoot for Wall Street Journal and I’m crying on set because I’m freaking out about being perceived, and I’m just like, “I just can’t do it.” And then that’s when I asked myself, “Oh, this is that juncture where people aren’t heard from anymore when they’re like, ‘Oh, what happened to her? What happened to this person?'” Either they had a mental breakdown or they lashed out at somebody. And once that perception starts and it’s like, “I don’t know. Am I a bitch? Am I terrible to work with?” Nobody wants to work with me, gets nervous. I get nervous about that. So I was like, “I don’t want to talk to anybody. I just want to disappear.” But that is the stage that I’m in right now where I’m so concerned about what does all of this actually mean?

How do people view me? How do people see me? What do they expect from me? Can I just disappear and not talk to anybody? Is that ungrateful? Do I appear ungrateful because I have anxiety and I’m stressed about my reality? So many things. So saying that to say if I just focus me restarting my 40 day Sadhana and prayer, and I cut my circle down really small, it’s really just like my homegirl that’s been my homegirl for 20 years. I see my mama when she can. I see my dad when she can. I kick it with my dogs, my niece, my actual animal dogs. Not like my homies, but we keep it light. And I feel like that’s the answer, quiet and less.

SZA On How Her Biggest Hits Started Initially as Throwaway Tracks…
Zane Lowe: So you are incredibly hard on your vocal performance.

SZA: Yeah, because it is the energy behind it, not the actual vocal performance, but it’s the energy behind it. If the energy doesn’t sound right or isn’t aligned with, I don’t know, the feeling that I’m trying to convey. I just know what feels right. If I make a scratch, like a scratch to something and then I listen, I end up using scratch… “Kill Bill” is scratch vocals and I hate that.

Zane Lowe: Because you couldn’t get it again. You couldn’t get back.

SZA: I couldn’t. I could not. I could not. I tried. Every song that ended up being popular is always a song that was a palette cleanser beat.

Zane Lowe: It almost sounds like a scratch because you come in so offbeat, it’s on beat, but it’s offbeat. It’s not a normal place to start the song. It’s almost like, “Oh, I’m recording.”
SZA: It was the most ridiculous. I always say that it’s funny, but the songs that I put the least amount of effort into and that I care the least about are the songs that people always like, “Wow.” It’s literally every time it’s a fucking palette cleanser beat. I’m like, “Just put on anything real quick.” I’ll be working on something. I care about so much that’s so serious. And I’ll be like, I’ll just put on anything random. I just need 10 minutes to just hear something else. And that’s what I’ll write a whole damn song to it. It’ll be, “I Hate U” or “Blind” or “Kill Bill” or “The Weekend.” All those songs were palette cleanser moments in between me actually trying to make the real song of that night. It’s so silly. “Supermodel” is another pallet cleanser in between what I was trying to make that I thought was so important.

SZA On What Song From ‘SOS’ She Would Change If She Could….
SZA: “F2F” probably. But the grind through with that was trying to make it not corny, but I feel like live is when I feel like it’s the least corny. I enjoy it live a lot more. Honestly, if I could redo the production and simplify it to what it is on stage.

Zane Lowe: Do you think you overcooked it a bit on the album?

SZA: There’s too many sounds and then the mix is funky, and then my voice is battling with the instruments, and it sounds like thin, cheap. I don’t like that. So I feel like live, it doesn’t sound cheap anymore, so I just want to expensive it up a little bit or something in some way. It just has more color, more texture…

SZA On Making Music To Prove A Point…
Because people tell you every month when you haven’t put on music in five years, like, “Oh, we forgot about you. We don’t care about you. We have this person now. We don’t need you anymore. Blah, blah, blah.” And it’s like you believe them. Because also, I don’t know, some people choose music as a career and they feel very certain about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, but I was never quite certain, and I really only did music to prove a point. I am always proving a point. That’s the reason. When I started making music, it was to my ex-fiancee because he was paying for everything but my food, my clothes, where I lived. And he was like eight years my senior. So I was so codependent and he was so talented, and he’s a designer and so brilliant. His ex-girlfriends were all lawyers and business women and artist that went to RISD and all these things, and I’m college dropout. I’m still a bartender at the strip club. I felt like I lacked value. So when I started trying to make music, it was like this thing that I didn’t have to try at, that I was randomly good at, because I’ve always written poetry and always felt emotional. So when I tried to do that, it was like… And then all the kids in my school went to Ivy League schools and have all these great lives and do all this cool shit. If you look at Columbia High School, all the kids are really like… They’d be doing sh*t with their life. And it’s so random. I didn’t go to GW. I didn’t do all those things that the kids from my little suburban town did. And I felt like, “Damn, what the f-ck?” So the music thing was like, “Oh, all right.” It was that. It was like, “Oh, you all like this? Okay, I’ll do a little more.” And it became this thing and I was like, “Oh, am I good at that?” But then how do I get better at this?” Because that’s the thing. I don’t play any instruments. I didn’t grow up singing in church. I don’t have any formal singing training. I’ve never worked with a writer, so I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know anything about song structure or music theory. Most of my beats I stole off YouTube. I don’t know any producers. All these things in my brain where I’m just like, “What?” But I really, I did have taste though. I lack discipline. Taste is crucial. Taste is the only thing that saved me, because I don’t have discipline or work ethic or any of that other shit.

SZA On Hating Her Fame and Connecting With Her Fans…
I hate being famous. It sucks. I hate scrutiny. I hate being perceived. I love connecting with people in the crowd when I feel like it’s really me and you right now. And I go eye to eye with so many people during this show, and it’s something about tour that it makes the love real, and tangible. When I talk to y’all on DM and we talk about your life, or when we’re kicking it or whatever in the comments and it’s positive and it’s whatever and we’re making jokes. Or when I get to meet y’all after the show and we do the whole sheboygan and we talk about your sign, your boyfriend, your troubles, all those things or I see you releasing things at the show and just losing yourself, that’s real. That’s love. That’s tangible. I feel like that makes sense to me. That’s what makes me want to, if when I’m thinking, I’m like, “Damn, how can I shoot my love to the back of this arena real quick? Because there’s people back there that I can’t see, but I got to get the love to them because they’re giving the love to me.” So then I look to the back and I’d be like… I don’t know. I imagine my energy shooting to the back of whatever the space is. But I really, I don’t know. Love is the story. Love is the story right now for me, I’m realizing.

SZA On Freestyling Almost All Of Her Songs…
…like I can’t explain it. I’m already on the mic with this in front and I’ll start with a couple sentences and then I’ll be like, I can’t explain it, it’s like my thumbs could not move fast enough. It’s coming from just my brain or something, from somewhere. It’s like stream of consciousness, just jabbering. And so then I’ll write that and then I’ll try to sing it on the mic and then we’ll just see how that feels. But mostly, so while I’m writing it I can’t process it. I don’t know what it means yet. It’s like, I don’t know, like channel drawing or some shit. You know what I mean? Like when your hand’s just doing it but you’re not quite sure what’s going to come out on the paper.

Unfortunately, it’s the only form of creation I know how to do. I actually am trying to learn how to do the intentional kind where it’s like- I don’t like that I can’t do it. And I don’t like that I can’t do what I do on command. So that’s what I’m trying to learn right now, to will it to happen in the moment. But it’s such a creative thing, you have to wait for it. You have to surrender, you have to allow it. It’s so annoying.

SZA On Taking Creative Risks Because She Doesn’t Have Anymore Goals…
SZA: I’m in a space now I’m going to f-ck it with everything on the creative side. The business side is scary, but on the creative side, it’s kind of just like, “No, I don’t have any more goals, so I might as well just try at this point.”

Zane Lowe: When you say you don’t have any more goals, you mean you’ve caught up to where you would’ve hoped you could get and now everything on top of this is unknown? Is that kind of what you mean or?

SZA: I caught up to that on ‘Ctrl.’ I don’t have any more goals. And that sounds terrible, but career-wise, I keep saying that, nobody believes me, but you don’t understand, these are my goals. I’ve already, I’ve gone platinum. I didn’t think I’d ever go platinum. I sold a bunch of records. I got to meet Stevie Wonder. I got to meet Beyonce and work with her. I got to meet Frank Ocean. My mom came and my dad came to all these cool countries to see me perform. I’ve had sold out shows. I got to headline a festival. What else do I want? I’ve been nominated for Grammys. I won a Grammy. I’m done. For me, personally. So anything past this is so much more than I wanted, thought of, dreamed of.

SZA On Measuring Success…
So for me, that bar, the accolades are cool, but I was really just doing it for respect, to show that, “No, I’m smart.” Because I didn’t finish school. I didn’t get to prove that point to have like, “Oh, I have all these crazy degrees. I’m smart.” So I was like, “No, no, no. Me writing is me letting you know I’m smart.” But that’s a personal goal. Letting my mom know, letting people know that I’m an intelligent person or that I can write my own lyrics or that I can make a certain style of song because that’s the goal that I wanted to achieve, to show that I can work my brain that way or that I didn’t need a bunch of writers or I… The respect was more important to me than the accolade. Yeah, that is a success, to be respected amongst my peers for who I am, not on some, “Oh, you’re respected because you sold mad records.” That’s not real to me. And I feel like people knowing like, “Nah, that bitch is cold because she write all her own shit, she pick all her own shit. She designed the way her show goes.” That’s why I’m cold, not because I want number one. Yeah. Because I have ideas. I have ideas and I’m comfortable getting them out and I feel like they’re interesting. And I feel like that’s something that I really had to understand. But now past that, I don’t have anything. But that’s the whole combative approach to life, is what has to change. And that’s why I don’t connect to SOS anymore. Everything is not a fucking battle. I don’t have to prove a point all the time. Sometimes you can just make things because you feel like it.

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