There’s undeniable strength in SZA’s words.
She has a way of speaking things into existence—good or bad. And her manifestations aren’t just for her own personal benefit, either. SZA’s fans, too, have been direct recipients of the positive energy that the universe redistributes her way. As recently as last week, her words have led to a pledge from Travis Scott to reconnect for a long-awaited performance of their 2017 smash “Love Galore.” And she tells Complex she recently received some new material in her inbox from Tyler, the Creator—just hours after speaking his name out loud.
We’ll be able to see the results of SZA’s latest creation as soon as next week: a virtual American Express UNSTAGED show, in celebration of the fourth anniversary of her now-classic debut CTRL and her newest artistic chapter.
“It’s a good way to remember a moment without rehashing a world, where I can just kind of build my new world around who I am now,” SZA reveals, speaking about her plans for the performance. “I also integrate the past in a way that’s really bringing it into the material world. Because it’s one thing to have songs from CTRL still going up on TikTok or being on the Top 200 [Billboard albums chart]. But it’s me physically performing now and putting energy from right now into those moments that just drags it into the present. I’m grateful for that opportunity.”
Before she performs her first full set in two years, which is slated to feature a special guest appearance from fellow Top Dawg titan Isaiah Rashad on Thursday, June 17 at 8:00 p.m., SZA spent some time with Complex to talk CTRL’s staying power, her first top-10 single “Good Days,” and, of course, watching her words become a reality. Tickets for the virtual performance, in celebration of Amex Membership Week, can be purchased here.
How are you feeling about being onstage again for the virtual show this week?
I’m excited to get back at it, just feel their energy and engage. It’s weird to sing songs that I haven’t listened to in a billion years, because I don’t listen to my own music recreationally. I only listened to my album on the third anniversary, which was last year. I didn’t do it this year. It’s just weird. I’m unfamiliar with it, but getting familiar.
You tweeted about how emotional it was to rehearse for this show—specifically “20 Something.” What has it been like revisiting some of these CTRL tracks all these years later?
It’s emotional, because you get to think about everything it meant to you prior. Thinking about “20 Something” and what it represented at that time versus now is: thinking about my grandma, thinking about Mac, thinking about all the people that I lost in quarantine. That song is about people who aren’t here. So some of the songs have new meaning and even more emotional weight than when I made them. And I’ve processed them, maybe now for the first time even, because I was in the middle of a whirlwind. I just put it out then went straight to performing it.
The CTRL anniversary and this performance lined up so wonderfully. Fans have been sharing their favorite memories with the album. Is it powerful to think people use your music to soundtrack these moments in their lives?
I never imagined that the album would be this impactful—or as impactful as it was. I’m learning every day what it means to other people. I’m always shocked, and more so confused. I just can’t believe it’s taken me this far, and it’s still something that’s not a point of shame for me. I’m just really grateful for that. I feel like people don’t really get to do that often, and I’m just glad.
Is there a particular tweet or message from a fan that’s stood out to you this week?
I honestly tried to avoid all social media regarding my album and the anniversary, because it gave me a lot of anxiety. It was low key a sad day for me. So I just didn’t even engage in any of that, to be honest. I just tried to stay to myself [instead of] overthinking about it. And I had a session with Dahi actually, and Isaiah randomly.
But I talk to my fans every day, like, on a personal level via DMs. A lot of them have my personal phone number, and they text me all the time. I have several different group chats with dozens of them in there. Half of the stuff that you see was created with me. Also, my fans facilitate so much of it. They make emails with me, they go through tons of footage with me, they hear all my stuff first and give me honest opinions. I guess that relationship is just a gift. I can’t say it’s a gift of the album, it’s just the gift of being able to interact with people, period. That’s something that I experience every day, not just on the anniversary. The anniversary is like a birthday, where it’s like—I can’t explain it—you never know what you want for your birthday or on Christmas or how anything feels on those days. But all year-round, you know who loves you, and you know when you experience true connection. Those moments are magical. I’m grateful to see it at a high volume all the time with my particular support group.
That’s beautiful. I know they were very happy after you manifested a “Love Galore” performance with Travis on Twitter. How happy were you, too, to find out he’s ready to hit the stage for that one again?
I’m very surprised. I just think he’s so cool. I just never imagined that someone would be down to do stuff, randomly. I still can’t even believe that I got him on the song and that he loves my music. I really am a super fan, like a genuine fan. It’s funny. It makes me really happy. It’s funny to just be surprised all the time, constantly, by other people. And I have to say, he’s been more supportive than other people I’ve done songs with. I’m just grateful that anyone I’m doing something with is down to support me. So I didn’t have any expectations. I didn’t expect him to respond or, you know, to do anything. But I was just very happy.
How important have manifestations been for you?
I feel like my thoughts are really strong and everything that I think about happens, good or bad. So it’s scary, because if I’m in a bad mood, and if all of the verbiage coming out of my body, my brain, and my mouth is negative, it just snowballs and gets worse and worse. But a lot of the things I’m thinking about [come true].
Like, I was talking about this song that got leaked on the internet yesterday. Well, it didn’t get leaked yesterday, but I was talking about it yesterday. It was this Jodie Foster song and it was over an old Tyler, the Creator beat from like 2016. I was talking about it and Tyler called me yesterday to send me new stuff. And I was like, “That’s so random.” Because I spoke his name out loud, talking about that specific record, and then he hit me with a whole bunch of new stuff. And it was really inspiring and cool.
Stuff like that happens all the time. Same thing with Jean Dawson. I watched something and I was like, “I want something upbeat with Jean Dawson…” And Jean literally hit me at the same time with a record already set. And he was like, “Hey, I was just thinking we should do this.” Every single day there’s something strange like that happening. It lets me know I have to watch my thoughts.
“Good Days” became your first top-10 single this year. Is there a special feeling with that song in particular being the one to crack that milestone?
I’m surprised. And I’m grateful that it really did happen organically. I’m grateful that people were just really sad and going through the same range of emotions that I was going through. We all kind of experienced them together, and that’s what created a moment that took me to top 10. It wasn’t radio. It wasn’t overwhelming support and blah, blah, blah. It was really just straight up my fans. And people who weren’t even my fans and never heard of me before were like, “I like this song. What the fuck is that?” It was cool being discovered again, too. I’m grateful. And the fact that I dropped it on my granny’s birthday. I feel like my granny is always, always right beside me and kind of nudging things into perspective and nudging them into place. I think the decision to drop it on her birthday is what made it a success.
That’s so beautiful. I know you had tweeted about you hoping to have Frank [Ocean] hop on the track at some point. [Editor’s note: SZA reposted a tweet on the topic on her Instagram Stories.]
I never tweeted that, actually. And that became like a weird internet tweet and Frank was experiencing a very public loss, and there was pressure and things like that. Pressure was put on, low key, the both of us. I replied to a person on Instagram on my story and they took it to Twitter and it became a whole big thing. I definitely would want to give Frank his space. And he can create on his own. And I don’t want to create any more conversation on it.
I totally understand that. Finally, can you talk to me about being able to go out there for performances like this one, giving your craft an audience once again? You’re a vet at this stuff, but are there still nerves involved?
I only got one album, so I don’t think that I would call myself a veteran. But I definitely am doing a lot of things for the first time. Whether it’s a Billboard entry or performing at the Billboard Music Awards, or all these things. It’s just a continuation of my last first time. So all the nerves are present, and all of these desires to get it right are present. It’s a long, ongoing experience of first times, and trying to decide what kind of vibe I want to bring and how it’s all going to look.