Sophia Black was born in 1995, right on the tail end of Sailor Moon's first wave of popularity in America, missing the iconic anime series' original run by a mere two years. Nevertheless, the starry-eyed '90s baby grew up with the magical odango-haired heroine and, like the rest of us '90s kids, spent her youth striking figurative Sailor Soldier transformation poses.
Twenty-three years later and Black still can't shake off all that moon prism power and female empowerment, but the multilingual rapper-singer-producer doesn't just wave the concept of girl power around like a moon-shaped sceptre. She lives and breathes it: Black's new single, "Fire," packs a powerful message about women's self confidence and the importance of taking control—and not just in the lyrics.
Much like its title would suggest, "Fire" blazes and pops in your speakers. It's a swagger-filled, sugar-dipped ode to seizing power and taking control in a potential relationship, set to airy R&B-pop. According to Black, the song is "a sultry, self-empowering bop gift-wrapped with a ton of fire-related puns."
"I feel like we're currently in the age of hook-up culture, which is great, but for some people it's hard to find romance in the midst of all that," she continues. "I wanted to make a song for those people to feel confident enough to know that they could be the ones to light the fire."
First order of business: What did you think of the Drag Race finale?
I can already tell this is gonna be a good interview... Let me just say, I was LIVING. I usually go out to Flaming Saddles in West Hollywood to watch RPDR, but I ended up watching it from home with my friends and we were all screaming throughout the entire episode. You know it's good when you and your friends just let out one long 60 minute scream throughout an entire episode.
Spoiler alert, but I really can't believe Miss Vanjie won not only this season, but all the seasons coming forward. But jokes aside, Aquaria is the queen of fantasy looks and not only am I so happy she won, but I am incredibly inspired by her. She's so talented and so creative! In my perfect world, everyone is walking around everyday in different fantasy looks just like Aquaria.
Who's your favorite queen? Would you ever want to be a guest on the panel?
It would be an absolute honor to guest judge on RPDR, my little heart is doing death drops just thinking about even being in the same room as RuPaul. I also really just want to sit next to Michelle Visage and see if any of her fiery aura will sprinkle onto me.
My favorite queens change all the time. They're all geniuses. What other artist does their own makeup, makes their own clothes, dances, sings and tucks their junk all at the same time? It's truly inspiring. Outside of appearance, I really respect how much their art helps people. It's one of those rare forms of art where it inspires people to live life as their most authentic selves while learning about themselves... Besides our current ruler Miss Vanjie, I really respect and love Katya. When she was on the show, she was definitely my favorite contestant of her season, if not ever. Though there's probably a lot we don't see off-screen, I respect her ability to open up about getting help and how she's so unapologetic about it. She's incredibly bright and so funny. I think the way she approaches humor is so intelligent but strange and I can relate to that. Speaking of, I also love Trixie Mattel as well. I actually just went to her show at the Wiltern, and let me just say, if you haven't watched a Trixie Mattel show while rainbow skittles fly out of your mouth every time you scream "YAAAAS," are you really living your life to its fullest potential?
I've noticed you practicing dance on Twitter. Are you hoping to incorporate choreo into your future live sets and music videos?
One of my dreams lowkey is to be in a dance crew, so I felt like that came to life in the "Real Shit" video. It was really dope because I got to work with some of my idols for the video. It was choreographed by Trevor Takemoto and Hugh Aparente, who are part of the Young Lions, which is Ian Eastwood's crew. When I was about 12 or 13, I would come home from school and watch Ian Eastwood videos for hours, so when I finally got to meet him in a professional setting, it was very surreal. I actually met him when I was about 15 at Universal Horror Nights, and I went up to him and said, "I'm going to work with you one day," then ran away. So kids, if you're reading this, remember: you too could manifest your dreams into reality by being an awkward teen who makes a choreographer uncomfortable at a theme park.
Your recent visuals—shoots, single covers—have this incredibly colorful early '90s aesthetic that makes me all nostalgic. Are you a child of the '90s?
I was born on the same day "Waterfalls" by TLC went No. 1, and I think that says a lot about my music and this next project. I believe that whatever you experience as a kid shapes a person's adult years. I was born in 1995, but I really grew up in the early 2000s. For me it was hit-clips, Lisa Frank and CD players. I was an only child who didn't really fit in with any of the kids at school, so my only friends were the CDs I'd listen to. I'd come home, lock myself in my room, and then listen to my favorite album as I thought about my crush.
My favorite thing about listening to CDs was hearing the little clicks and sounds that the CD player would make as you skipped past each track just to get to that one song. For Hi, Sweetie, I wanted to re-create that experience for those who are used to streaming music. The entire EP is sprinkled with little interludes that feature samples from the same CD player I used to listen to as a kid. We love a little ASMR moment.
Your new releases have also taken a more hip-hop lean compared to 2015's EP. What inspired the sound?
As I said before, I was born on the same day was "Waterfalls," and though I hadn't heard that song until a little later in life, it's a song that inspires me. It's just part of the many genres that influenced me growing up. Throughout my life, I've been inspired by a countless number of genres: I grew up listening to everything from Björk to Britney Spears to Stevie Wonder. All those genres are things I'd like to explore one day too. I like to think of my first EP as an introduction into the world of Sophia Black. It had a story on its own, but it was also a sample platter of the different types of sounds I could bring to the table. I like to think of this next chapter as an extension of my song "K I S S I N G"... which is still a bop and a half.
Your upcoming EP is called Hi, Sweetie. Are you saying hello to someone specific, or to us—your adoring listeners? Or is the title more introspective?
For starters, I'm just going to be hella upfront: "Hi, sweetie" is what every thirsty person says to you when they slide into your DMs. It's also become this saying between my friends where when someone "Hi, sweetie"s you, it's when that person says absolutely anything to start a conversation with you with the intentions of getting in your bed. For example, on Halloween I had skull face paint on and this guy came up to me at a bar and said, "So like.. what's on your face?" Like, come on. We all know that he knows that it's makeup. So, he just "Hi, sweetie'd" me.
I thought it would be funny if I took that phrase and applied it to how I am in relationships. I'm usually the first to approach someone I like and I'll be pretty straight up about it from the beginning. I won't care about double texting or about texting back right away. If I want to talk to someone I'll just do it! I'm not the type of girl who beats around the bush until that person gets a hint or any of that. If I want someone, I'll confidently bat my eyes at them and say, "Hi, sweetie, I like you. You're cute. I'm cute. Let's kick it." This entire EP is dedicated to that sweetie in your life that got you up thinking at 3 a.m.
I heard you were inspired by Sailor Moon during the creation of your new EP. In what ways did Sailor Moon help you to create this music? And what does she mean to you?
I LOVE Sailor Moon. Growing up, I only watched Sailor Moon in Japanese and to this day I still haven't watched it in English. Sailor Moon was so cool to me because it was a show for girls that wasn't just about superficial things. It taught me that girls are allowed to save the day and that you don't have to wait for someone to save you. That concept really inspired me and I realized that it's okay for me to be the first person to initiate that conversation with someone I like. I can sweep them off their feet and not have to wait for them to do it. That really inspired the overall concept for Hi, Sweetie. Everything about Sailor Moon from the colors to the way it's animated is so delicious to the eye. Total eye candy. I don't know if this makes sense, but I wanted to make my music sound the way Sailor Moon looked: Cute, colorful, but also makes you feel empowered. Who wouldn't want to write music while watching a show about a badass celestial lady gang?
"I wanted to make my music sound the way Sailor Moon looked: Cute, colorful, but also makes you feel empowered. Who wouldn't want to write music while watching a show about a badass celestial lady gang?"
Something fans have noticed about you is your authenticity online. You've been outspoken on social media about the travesty that is the Trump administration's treatment of and policies surrounding immigrants here in the U.S. With everything going on in the world in 2018, how do you create art? Is music catharsis or escape for you?
I grew up always being a positive, upbeat girl, but in the past few years it's been really hard to keep that mentality when everything seems so horrible elsewhere. I've come to realize that's a good thing. It means I'm empathetic, it means I care, it means I'm human. Those things are so important. I don't ever want to lose the power to emote, because every time it comes up I'm learning how to be better... That's what keeps me going. I want people to focus on the tiny little lessons hidden within misery and tragedy. What can you do differently? How can you change to better yourself?
I know you're a big fan of Disney. If you were ever made into a Disney Princess, what would she be like and what would her story be?
I actually think about this a lot. If was ever made into a Disney Princess, I would 1. die and 2.definitely be a princess more in the vein as Mulan or Moana. My princess story would definitely go against the stereotypical princess story line. Instead of prince charming coming to save the damsel in distress, I would be saving the prince from some sort of wicked curse with my noble steed. I imagine there would be badass sword fighting scenes while I wear a tiara.
As someone who's multilingual, how do you approach a song in terms of deciding what language you'll sing it in? Or how you might incorporate, for instance, Japanese phrases into the lyrics?
Unless someone asks me to do it, it's usually the track that dictates whether or not to write it in a different language. If the song feels like French or Japanese would sound cool on it, then I will naturally write it that way. It's all about what the song tells me to do and I just follow. Sometimes people ask me to write stuff, though. For example, for "Ikuyo," I was killing some time in my car when Naz sent me the beat and asked for a Japanese verse. I usually like to write in a studio, but when I got the beat, I liked it so much that I wrote it in my car in about fifteen minutes. I'm so glad they liked it because now I'm on a song with KYLE and 2 Chainz. I love incorporating different languages and cultures into music in a way that still feels natural to listen to. I really hope to bring more of that into my music.
I read that you're obsessed with J-pop band SMAP. Do you hope to someday break in Japan?
Oh my God, yes! I'm still devastated that SMAP broke up though... The Japanese solo artists of the '90s are some of my biggest inspirations when it comes to music. During that time there were a lot of Japanglish [Japanese-English] songs and I really felt like I had a place in the world. If you like "Ikuyo" I definitely recommend going back and listening to some of the late '90s and early 2000s J-pop idols of that time. Thy blend both English and Japanese so seamlessly that you can't tell whether it was released in Japan or out here. It's definitely pop song goals for me.
I for sure want to one day break in Japan, but more than that, I want to be an artist that crosses over and blends my two cultural backgrounds the same way all those Japanglish pop songs that I listened to growing up did for me. I want to introduce Japan to all the wonderful things about America and vice versa. I really want to bring people together.
We're halfway through 2018. How would you define the first half, and what are you looking forward to in the second half?
If 2018 is "Work hard, play later," then the first half of 2018 would be sleepless nights working hard on this EP. Hopefully the second half will be rewarding for all the hard work everyone put into this project. I spent these past few years perfecting Hi, Sweetie, so I really hope when it comes out it'll all pay off by making you feel like glitter.
Photography: Signe Pierce