In one fell tweet, SZA has the ability to reconcile mental health with the simple desire of wanting a bigger butt. The throughline is a consequence of living in the modern world, navigating and actively participating in social discourse online and the negative self-talk that follows. The “Good Days” singer dedicated her 2017 debut album to her personal struggles with anxiety, depression, and relationships; the end result is poetic justice for those in pursuit of emotional stability, affirmed by dreamy R&B melodies and SZA’s anxious, soulful drawl.
Aspirational relatability has fast become one of the main characteristics we expect of modern celebrities, with “hashtag goals” a thing of the past. We praise them when they discuss therapy, rabidly DM their makeup-less grid posts to our friends, and feel personally connected via their star signs (SZA is a Scorpio sun, Pisces moon, and Aquarius rising, for the record). Wanting to know everything about the artists who populate our timelines is the new norm, and with SZA, that applies tenfold. We love her because she’s one of us: plagued with self-doubt but also got jokes. Oh, and she’s also a Grammy-nominated artist. It’s no surprise that SZA’s raw vulnerability includes work in environmental racism, one of the many things she knows her shit about. She has a personal history with its effect.
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“My grandma lives in Newark, N.J., and there are no trees anywhere,” SZA tells me over Zoom. “Growing up around that area was definitely a downer.” Now, she’s sitting comfortably on the floor of her Los Angeles home, freshly redecorated and exemplary of Southern California’s signature monochromatic design scheme. Beyond her head, sunlight pours in through arched doorways, and I spot a creamy bouclé sofa just within the frame. An East Coast transplant, SZA was struck by the air pollution associated with the city: “I’m not used to smog. It’s disgusting, and it’s thicker in different areas of Los Angeles.” She’s right: Through racist practices like redlining, Black, brown, and Indigenous neighborhoods are disproportionately afflicted by the effects of climate change throughout the country, with some neighborhoods up to twenty degrees hotter than those of white neighborhoods in the same city, caused in part in part by lack of trees and excessive concrete.
The rising awareness of intersectional environmentalism can’t grow fast enough, so SZA is joining TAZO and the nonprofit organization American Forest to launch TAZO Tree Corps. Over the next two years, the program will employ residents of low-income communities and communities of color in five cities—Minneapolis, Detroit, the San Francisco Bay Area, Richmond, Va., and the Bronx—to receive training in climate justice advocacy and tree planting and maintenance. The hope is to create what American Forests dubs “Tree Equity.”
The partnership is a natural extension of SZA’s established interests in sustainability. “It was literally in direct alignment with everything I’m passionate about,” she says, quickly listing off the programs she supports, and in some cases, joins to fight for the cause: Lonely Whale, which works to improve the health of the ocean, and Levi’s, with whom she teamed up to combat food deserts in 2018. That same year, she launched an eco-friendly merch collection with 100 percent of profits directed toward ocean health.
Her breadth of environmental knowledge is extensive and profound, but offers the same accessibility her personality and music do. Her activism lacks the exclusionary wash of environmentalism, a sector often occupied by white, privileged voices. For SZA, a group effort of small victories will make the world a better place. When asked about how to help, her face lights up as she counts on her manicured fingers the ways in which we can all participate:
- “Go to the container store, get individual containers where you can refill stuff you need like your own little shampoos, face washes, all that.
- “It’s about water conservation, so having a water bottle that you can refill. You don’t have to trip off of anything crazy. I ordered mine on Amazon. They’re not fancy and I love them.
- “We have trash everywhere and microplastics are being found in fetuses and umbilical cords, which is nuts. Those microplastics come from those micro-moments of you choosing not to use single-use plastic.
- “Shopping at Costco because they sell everything in bulk, so you don’t have to do as much single-use stuff is the most obvious answer.”
I had to cut her off: What does SZA buy at Costco? “I always get the Costco queen hotel sheets because they really are deadass hotel sheets,” she tells me. “ I advocate for them hardcore.”
Between linen shopping and working on her impending album (“I have no idea what I’m doing. The success of ‘Good Days’ has confused me and derailed my plans, so I made up new plans, but I don’t know what they are yet.”), SZA is a beacon for modern wellness. She puts the soul in soulfulness, hosting meditation sessions with Lizzo on Instagram Live, stroking Tibetan singing bowl as wisps of smoked sage waft through the air. She emphatically reminds me to keep breathing and happily recommends the Lovingkindness Metta prayer and the Inner Child meditation, “where you think of yourself as a small child, holding yourself and thinking of all the things that you would do for this baby, but it’s you. You can look it up on Google.”
Her brand of wellness hits different, so to speak. It’s grounded in gratefulness, but confronts the insecurities we face as twenty-somethings and beyond. “I love saying what I’m thankful for out loud,” she says. “To be in the mirror when I’m sad about having acne, I just am grateful to have skin that’s not peeling off. When my hair’s falling out because I have PCOS, I’m just grateful that I have any hair, or that I have a body that’s functioning. So yay for me and just saying it out loud. It’s highly affirmative.”
In her balancing act of strength and fragility, she notes that a good cry and “anything that builds willpower and a reassurance of self” is a part of her perfect “Good Day” in lockdown. “Crying, making yummy food, realizing that you are still a bad bitch amidst the crying, and then taking a picture of something you’re super proud of,” SZA says, pointing to her elliptical in the background. “When I’m finished, I feel like I could probably start a fire with my bare mind because of the sheer willpower that builds up in my system.” That’s probably the Scorpio in her, and we’re grateful for that.
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