Despite being a generation-defining talent, SZA has always had a love/hate relationship with releasing music and albums. Now the songstress has explained that her recent absence was a period of self-healing so she could get into a space where music was important to her again.
SZA's debut album CTRL was highlighted by interludes from her mother and her maternal grandmother, Norma. In June 2019, Norma passed away at the age of 90. This took an emotional toll on SZA that she was not prepared to deal with.
"I’ve buried so many people in my life, you would think that I would be used to it, or just have a threshold. But my grandma broke the threshold for me," she said during an interview with Rolling Stone. "It was so weird to not have any...I don’t know, any control over anything."
Norma's death was coupled with the passing of SZA's maternal aunt. This lack of control and mounting grief created a downward spiral of emotions that left SZA in a deep depression.
"I didn’t want to make music," she told writer Emma Carmichael. "I didn’t. I was just trying to not kill myself, and not quit, period. Because it was really fucking hard, and lonely as fuck."
To get out of this "dark-ass depression," SZA started to focus on health and exercise. She began going to the gym daily, learning about crystals, meditating, and using sound bowls.
"You really have to choose to feel better. You have to. Have to," SZA said. "Because if you don’t, you just die. I decided I’m going to choose that shit for my fucking self, for real."
This awakening allowed her to step out of the glitzy pop star lane that the success of CTRL brought to her. Now she's not only prepared to make and release music again, she's also standing firm in being uncompromising with her sound.
"I’ve dropped nothing but features. People don’t know who the fuck I am, right? They think I’m on some stupid superstar shiny shit. I know people are tired of seeing that. They want to see me. I owe people that. So I’m going to do that," SZA explained.
She said she's drawing inspiration from a litany of acts, but she's not worried about her eclectic influences confusing her audience. "I don’t even give a fuck about cohesion," she states. "If you sound like you, your shit’s going to be cohesive. Period."
SZA's talent and growing confidence have turned a lot of her idols into fans. The singer recounts a story to Rolling Stone about stumbling into a cameo for N.E.R.D.'s "Everybody Nose" music video as a high schooler. Now, she and Pharrell frequently collaborate on music. She also got to perform with Stevie Wonder. Prior to their performance, she and Stevie shared a moment backstage riffing on the piano and freestyling harmonies. It was all recorded and has been split up into five different instrumentals.
"I have nowhere else to go from here," she said with a laugh. "That was scary for me, because that’s the top of my bucket list."
Although she's back into the swing of things, SZA hasn't shed her reclusive nature in regards to releasing music. When asked if an album was coming, SZA replied, “Music is coming out this year out this year for sure. An album? Strong words.”
But deep in her heart, she knows she's a musician and will always feel compelled to drop something even if she drifts off into obscurity. "I can always make music. It’s who I am," she said. "So if I started making fucking sculptures and decide to take up entomology, I’m still probably going to drop something. I am also getting to know myself. Because if I keep trying to regurgitate the same girl, y’all are going to hate that shit. And I don’t want that either."
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.