On her breakout 2017 album, Ctrl, R&B singer-songwriter SZA exulted in the anxieties and taboos of 21st century young womanhood: body image, unattached sex, smoking weed -- in short, as she sang on “Normal Girl,” the idea that it’s OK to not be “the type of girl you take home to your mama.” The 2018 Rule Breaker -- the only woman on heavyweight hip-hop label TDE -- quickly gained a devoted fan base and widespread acclaim. That she left the Grammys empty-handed (after receiving five nominations, including best new artist) in January was considered one of the ceremony's great injustices, but SZA's year only got better: She crossed the country on a headlining tour, played Coachella's main stage and scored her biggest hit yet in “All the Stars,” a collaboration with TDE labelmate Kendrick Lamar for his Black Panther soundtrack, which reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. “I know I'm initially and forever misunderstood, and I think that’s my driving force,” says SZA. “You don't have to learn to love yourself right fucking now. You can totally make it a lifelong thing.”
You were on your own for years before getting signed. Was that difficult?
The first [label] said, “She’s too green. I don't know why she's here. Maybe she could be Jennifer Hudson.” That was weird and painful. Nobody saw me the way I saw myself, but I was OK with that. I'm like, “This makes sense to me.”