Publishing date: Sep, 19, 2022
Lolo Zouaï has that je ne sais quoi that draws you in but you can’t quite place your finger on why—likely because it’s a culmination of things: personal style, R&B-fused pop music, aesthetic-driven videos, and charisma. The same can be said for her music, it’s eclectic, genre-bending, and impossible to categorize. Take her UK Music Video Award—nominated song “Galipette”, for example, she goes from softly singing in French to delivering fast-paced bars in English over a hip-hop-tinged beat switch with the agility of a veteran. Recently, she wrapped as the opening act for Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia North American tour. Causally adding to her ever-growing list of accolades next to collaborations with Dev Hynes and BIBI, her song “Chain” being featured on Euphoria, and a co-writing credit on H.E.R’s Grammy-winning self-titled album.
I caught up with Zouaï on the last day of the Future Nostalgia tour, in Toronto, a few hours before the show. Cozied up in a black sweatsuit, she muses about fashion as enthusiastically as she does music and laughs when I bring up one of her old quotes about having a broke mentality from her upbringing that she can’t shake. We both agree we feel guilty using too much shampoo or when the whole bottle breaks (like hers did in her luggage this trip). During a Future Nostalgia tour break, she closed Kid Super’s Paris Fashion Week show in June with her song “beaucoup” employing three parts of her multifaceted identity; music, fashion, and french. It was also a full circle moment for her friendship origin story with Kid Super that started in a New York basement five years ago (detailed below). Her ability to take on different vibes and personas in her work is likely a product of her melting pot upbringing. She was born in France to a French mother and an Algerian father and moved to San Francisco, where she spent most of her developmental years, before relocating to New York to pursue music full-time. She draws upon these influences, ranging from Bay Area hip-hop and the lo-fi gritty sound of New York to Arabic melodies and classical French chord progressions, to tell stories in the way she knows best—through music.
Zouaï candidly quips about the diversity she was surrounded by in San Fran and nods her head when I mention the unapologetic spirit weaved in her lyrics is similar to the trademark blunt honesty of les Français. Whether it’s her savage breakup anthem “beaucoup” or her ownership of late nights and mischievous decisions in “Blur”, her music always has a strong sense of empowerment that feels refreshingly different told from her perspective. Fittingly she just announced her second album, PLAYGIRL, is releasing on October 14th. The digital, playful, and bold world she’s created for the album celebrates how femmes (or playgirls) in pop can have complete control over everything from their work and sound to their sexuality and image. Below, we chat about style, her French and Algerian roots, the different personas she takes on, Kid Super, and her most boujee purchase to date.
On the empowerment ingrained in her music:
For me, it’s always been my personality, naturally feeling confident and like I deserve to be here. When I first started making music, I didn’t even realize that it had this sense of empowerment until it was all done and I’d listen back and I’m like oh, shit! This is actually helping me go through something that I didn’t even think about. Or people were telling me this song helped me through this. Then I was like oh wow just by being myself and being comfortable being myself, I was allowing people to feel like being themselves is okay. That’s really special and that’s the beauty of music.
How her surroundings and French/Algerian roots influenced her:
I grew up in San Francisco but my mom is French so I guess she raised me with that “don’t give a fuck” mindset [that] she has naturally which is a very French mindset. Growing up in San Francisco, I was around so many different people and cultures that I didn’t even realize being mixed or being different—was different. I thought it was normal and I was so used to it, all my friends were mixed and we all embraced our cultures. We were never ashamed of it so I feel like I grew up in a different way than a lot of people, who feel like they have to assimilate, I feel lucky to [have grown] up in such a beautiful city. I took my inspiration from what was around me which was Bay Area music, French music, and Algerian music. So the music I make will be a mix of all of that.
The intention behind her “Blur” lyric video:
I wanted to have fun with [that song] and be a little reckless but make it sound really sweet so I just took inspiration from my life. Nights where you do things you know you will regret but if you make it into a cute pop song then maybe it’s worth it [laughs] because it makes people feel less alone in their mornings [and their morning afters]. I think it’s okay to make mistakes and be a little bit crazy when you’re young and learn from it. The lyric video is the POV of being on a date with me on Coney Island.
On having different personas and vibes:
I’m realizing that I have a few different sides [to] my music. It could be like “Give Me A Kiss” which is dark, sexy, and moody, and then “Blur” which is sweet and candy. I’ve always been doing that even when I put out “Dessert Rose” and “Brooklyn Love,” within a couple of months. It’s fun for me to explore both sides because I don’t like to be boxed into one sound.
Why writing helps process emotions in a therapeutic way:
When you have that feeling of being hurt, angry, or pissed off, it’s just gonna stay there and it’s not healthy. People can either exercise, yell or go out and party and I think there are healthier ways to [release those feelings]. I mean, exercise is great, but for me writing a song makes me bring out the good in something bad, or makes me feel [like] I’m telling somebody something that I can’t tell them in person. It’s like you have the freedom to say whatever you want, you never have to tell anybody anything if you just write a song.
From meeting Kid Super in Brooklyn to closing out his Paris Fashion Week Show:
I was living in New York and I was working at a restaurant. I was making some music but I only had one song out on SoundCloud, one or two, and my [now] manager now reached out to me and was like come by Kid Super, and I was like what is that? I didn’t really have any friends out in Brooklyn and so I was like fuck yes. I went to go meet these 5 dudes who were in this really creative space, we all got along really well. They had this basement that had this [hidden] door that was a secret recording studio. Russ was working out of there, five years ago, at his beginnings and a bunch of different rappers were coming there. It was just a fun creative time and that’s when I had my first session with Stelios, my producer, we made “Highs Highs to Low Lows,” in that basement but we ended up having to leave because the train track was right next to the building. We were recording and we kept hearing the train so we were like let’s go to a studio, and then I lived there [for a bit]. We were faking it until we made it and now we were both in Paris for fashion week. It was legit and it’s like oh shit, where did the time go? It was definitely a full-circle moment for both of us.
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On meeting her collaborator and musical soulmate, Stelios Phil:
We met through Doug, my manager, at Kid Super, because of mutual friends. [Then] I left Kid Super and we [have] been doing our own [thing]. He’s amazing, super talented, and hardworking. We have always been on the same page of wanting to do something different and exploring our cultures because he’s from Cyprus, originally, so there is a strong musical background rooted in him as well. It reminds me of the Algerian musicalities—it’s similar melodies and scales so we like the same things. We’ve grown a lot together. At first, we were really into the moody trap R&B [but now] we’re not afraid to explore different genres together.
What a typical day in the studio looks like:
I’ll come in and be like “this is the mood that I’m in and I kinda want to try something like this,” and he’ll be like “oh, okay” and start making the beat. We’ll play the beat on loop, the stripped-down version, and [I’ll] start singing melodies and [give each other feedback]. Then, I’ll have lyrics and a concept. I like to start with a title but it all flows naturally.
If she made a soundtrack for a movie it would be:
[In terms of genre], a sexy psychological thriller. I love psychological thrillers. Low key, I watch a lot of murder documentaries.
What visual identity and style mean to her:
I’m inspired by colors and textures. Growing up in San Francisco, the thrifting culture was really strong for me and I always thrifted everything. Being able to express myself with pieces that are unique and it’s so much better for the environment, to [not] buy new. To me, that’s more fun and I feel better about buying things that are used. I like experimenting with cutting things up, colors, and sporty stuff. It’s important for me as an artist to have a strong vision. When you’re a fan of an artist, you’re also a fan of their style. Not being afraid of reinventing and just trying whatever. I feel like I can wear anything as long as I’m comfortable in it. Comfort is style, being yourself is style [and] being cool is [really just] being yourself. Be confident in who you are. When I write a song, there is already a color, a vision, [and] an idea. There is no point [in] me making music and having somebody else [create the] vision—it doesn’t make sense. The whole point is to complete it, from start to finish. To me, an artist is someone who has a vision—style, video, [and] color-wise. It’s fun [like] the frosting on a cake.
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On being a “broke person” at heart and her first big purchase:
My first big purchase was a computer and I still don’t spend enough money. I’m like maybe if I spent more money, I’d have cuter clothes [laughs] I’m thrifting as much as possible, I should buy smaller [more expensive] items but whatever. Leasing my Tesla was [probably] my most boujee moment. I was influenced by a friend, they were like just get it and I like I don’t know, maybe I should just get a Toyota, it’s more reliable. Then I was like, you know what, let me get this Tesla, throw some pink flames on it, and feel like a bad bitch when I’m driving around in LA. It’s a white Tesla [with pink flames]. It’s really cute with pink stickers. The stickers are all from online, I didn’t get it detailed but I detailed it myself.
The ratio between talent and work ethic that contributes to success:
There are so many talented people in the world.[For example] you go on TikTok and everyone can sing. I’d say [the ratio is] 50/50. You could be a good singer and write the most amazing songs but if you’re not putting them out and not pushing yourself, nobody is gonna see it. You could work your ass off every single day, put out a song a month, and be making music videos but if it sucks, no one cares. You need both. There is no way to make it [without both] because there is always somebody working harder and somebody working better than you.
The French word that gets butchered in English pronunciation:
One [that is] so funny is genre [zhaan-ruh] but I say it too because I’m not gonna be boujee and be like what genre [jan-r] of music do you listen to? The word genre for music pisses me off, anyways, because I hate boxing music into categories.
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