SZA & Khalid Cover Billboard’s Grammy Preview Issue / Talk Race & Gender Politics In Music

Published: Thursday 19th Oct 2017 by Sam

It’s Grammy voting season and SZA, Khalid, and Julia Michaels are hotly tipped to be named in the Best New Artist category when nominations are announced in December.

Fittingly then, the trio joined forces for a special feature in Billboard‘s new Grammy 2018 preview issue.

Beyond posing it up for a striking shoot (lensed by Eric Ray Davidson), the group also say down for an interview.

During the insightful chat, they shared their views on racial and gender diversity and representation in the music industry.

Their words and more await below…

Race and gender have been major topics of discussion around the Grammys the past few years. Do you think women and people of color are underrepresented in the industry?

SZA: I don’t think they’re ­underrepresented. There are tons of [black and women artists]. It’s just a matter of: Are you noticed when you come to the surface? Hip-hop right now is higher-selling than pop music. We know where it originated from; it’s not a fucking secret. It’s a matter of when other people do hip-hop and they don’t look like me, ­suddenly it’s ­innovative: “I’ve never heard this before.” No, you have. For the last 100 years.

Khalid: For me, I feel like the ­representation in music as a whole is changing. When I was growing up, when I was younger — well, I’m only 19, but I didn’t see a lot of people who embodied me in the mainstream. But they were there. I feel like now, hip-hop and R&B, like SZA said, is so alive, so dominant to the point where it influences others. And it’s great.

SZA: It’s a weird paradox for me. You have one foot [in the place] where Issa Rae was like, “I’m rooting for everyone black!” [at the Emmy Awards]. But then you’re also like, “I’m rooting for everyone just because they are awesome.” Sometimes you feel guilty, because I don’t want to just root for everyone black. But it’s also like, “Maybe my friends might be ­underrepresented tonight,” and you have to mob for them.

Khalid: I feel like right now as listeners we are accepting the fact that music has no image.

Michaels: Yes, it’s becoming genre-less.

SZA: Hell yes! That’s the word: genre-less. It’s like everything converging in the most beautiful fucking way.

Khalid: It’s me looking at myself: chubby little black boy singing whatever the fuck I want! For folk to be one of my influences, but for me to also use R&B and soul as an influence. I love ’80s and ’90s pop. I feel like music is changing, and it takes us as a whole. We are the change. We do have the power to change things.

Who will be your plus-one, assuming you’re nominated?

SZA: My mom and my nana, who both narrate my album. My granny is scared of flying. She said she would fly if I had a baby or got married. And the Grammys is like having a baby, so…

Julia Michaels: I’m going to bring my manager, Beka Tischker, with me. I couldn’t do this without her.

Khalid: I’d bring my best friend Carlos and my mom. After my dad passed away [when I was 7], my mom became my rock. She’s the one who inspired me — she sings as well. So when I sing, I’m like a mirror image of her. If the nomination comes, I want her to see the hard work that she [fostered in] my brain.

What do you think your dad would’ve thought of the path you’ve made for yourself?

Khalid: I was actually thinking today that he would be so proud of the person that I’m becoming. I don’t really feel like he got a chance to learn about the creative side of me, and I’m pretty sure he would’ve loved it. The more I grow up and the more I become a man and less of a teen, I see my dad’s face in my own.


Loving this eclectic collective. SZA’s ‘CTRL’ album has been on repeat here at TGJ, Khalid’s debut ‘American Teen’ delivered, and Ms. Michaels is undeniable with her pen game.

In many ways, all of them have won 2017. As for the Grammy, we’d love to see SZA snatch it. What about you?

Your thoughts?

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  1. Brent Christpher October 19, 2017

    SZA is actually going to land in two of the major & three of the minor categories. Watch!

  2. My2Cents October 19, 2017

    I can tell that the conversation about race was difficult for them. They had to try to be honest but also give that industry answer that everything is all good. I have to give it to SZA for trying to keep it real.

    There are tons of black women making music but those black women aren’t seeing their talents go beyond their local night clubs, YouTube, and SoundCloud. SZA’s own journey to the mainstream is complicated. She had to be a songwriter for the only 2 black women allowed in the mainstream and she had to publicly quit music before getting a foot in mainstream music. There should be 40 SZA’s listed currently on the Billboard charts but its only her, Cardi, Jhene, and Tamar now.

    Back in the day, the music charts were full of black women with a variety of sounds/styles. Mainstream Hip hop today only has 2 women of color but history, SoundCloud, YouTube and local clubs tell me it’s tons more. Something has to change!!!

    • John October 19, 2017

      You hit the nail on the head with these comments. I agree.
      Also, I want to give props to Rihanna for putting SZA on consideration. She really helped break SZA to the mainstream audience.

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