In the video for “Fast Car,” the second single from Syd’s sophomore album
Broken Hearts Club, we see the 30-year-old R&B songstress the sexiest she’s ever been. As the song title implies, the setting for her impending rendezvous is her own personal Bronco truck. Syd and her leading lady are exchanging kisses so passionate they couldn’t help but record themselves on video. When asked about the pair’s undeniable onscreen chemistry, she lets out laughter before telling ESSENCE why the music video stars couldn’t keep their hands off each other.
“Well, the love interest in that video is my actual girlfriend [Ariana Simone] in real life–I wasn’t about to shoot pandemic kisses with some random girl,” Syd says. “We’ve been together now for about a year and a half. So it was pretty easy and she’s a model full time. She knows what to do in front of cameras. It was probably the most fun I’ve had shooting a video because it was a small crew, just me and her in my car. It was a comfortable experience. As an artist, some people say ‘you gotta pull outta your comfort zone.’ But sometimes man, that comfort zone just hits.”
Ironically, Syd lulls listeners out of their comfort zones with
Broken Hearts Club, her first solo studio album in five years. Starting off in 2008 as a DJ and engineer for the infamous collective Odd Future, she reached a different kind of success when she formed her group, The Internet, just three years later. While her latest project finds her at her most lyrically vulnerable, the star shares that it took an immense amount of growth to get there.
“I started out as an engineer and I wanted to be a producer, but I wasn’t very confident in my music back then. So I just stuck to engineering cause I was really good at it and I really enjoyed it. I got signed when I was only a DJ so when I finally did make my first album with Matt [Martians], I already had a record deal which was interesting. I kind of got thrown into this whole lifestyle of being an artist, which is something that I never considered for myself. It’s been a journey…starting in one place and ending up somewhere else. But I’m grateful because the truth is being an artist gives me the freedom that I really require.”
Syd uses that freedom to openly explore a gambit of emotions on her newest album, navigating her way through a tumultuous breakup that changed the way she experienced love. She managed to find a way through it, although it meant briefly re-examining herself and how she operated in relationships. “I think the first thing you think when you get dumped is ‘what’s wrong with me?’ I definitely was caught off guard. It was a humbling experience…I didn’t see it coming because we really didn’t have any issues in our relationship. But there was a point where I had come to the conclusion that ‘Yeah…hold up, she’s tripping.’
Nobody’s perfect. I’m a work in progress as we all are, but I’m pretty great. Like I’m a pretty cool person…I’m easy going. I hadn’t accepted the fact that people can change and I can’t even fault them for it–you know what I mean? She didn’t do anything wrong. But thankfully I was able to come out of it feeling like no, there’s nothing I’m gonna change about myself as a result of this. There’s nothing I wanna change about myself to try to get someone new or get her back. It was more so a journey of me coming to terms with who I am, the traits I was kind of just born with, owning it and knowing who I was. I had never looked inward that deep before because I never had the catalyst for it.”
From professing the need to romantically proceed with caution (“CYBAH” featuring Lucky Daye) to frockling with the idea of forever (“Tie The Knot”) and then being forced to let go of someone she cared about (“Goodbye My Love”), the wholeness Syd expresses on
Broken Hearts Club is compelling. The record also allows other gay and queer Black women to see themselves in her heartache. During a moment of reflection, she admits she hasn’t always been deliberate with her platform to uplift this particularly vulnerable demographic.
“No–I was not always intentional with it. For the first half of my career, I was very unintentional with it and I think I did that in an attempt to normalize myself. Everybody was like ‘what’s it like singing songs about girls?’ I’m like ‘y’all, don’t ask Bryson Tiller this shit!” She playfully laughs before making her point. “Can I not be gay and be an artist without being a gay artist? So for the beginning of my career, I was rebellious. I rebelled against putting labels on myself because I was scared of getting pigeonholed… I had seen it happen to some of my peers.
“They promoted themselves as gay artists and then they had trouble getting booked for anything but Pride. Once I felt like I had accomplished what I set out to accomplish and when they started putting me in all these different categories…then I felt like, okay, now it’s time to throw some representation on the board. Like we got Hailey Kyoko out here making feature films for the gay girlies but there’s none of them in there that really look like me. I always was just inspired to just take that and run with it–but when the time was right. Now, I feel like this is the right time.”
Being a gay Black woman musician in the mainstream also meant dealing with the pressure of embodying a certain aesthetic over the years. Syd’s signature style has always consisted of dressing her slim figure in oversized clothing and rocking a miniature mohawk (she’s now grown her hair into a small afro). She acknowledges how in the past she did succumb to industry expectations of how she should look, but now fully embraces her true persona.
“It was never [from] my label. It was never [from] people on my team. It was always people that didn’t know me–especially in the beginning. I would go to a shoot, there’d be a stylist there with a rack full of clothes. And it was nothing I would ever wear…like not even an elevated version of me type of vibe. It was what they thought I should look like. And I fell for the okie doke quite a few times in the beginning. I was like well I am the one new to this. Let me not be a stubborn Taurus as they like to call me. Let me try out some of these people’s ideas.
But I learned my lesson. I realized that I’m the one who has to live with these videos. You can hide this from your resume and I can’t. Now, I make sure that I am wearing something or looking a certain way that makes me feel my most confident. I feel like you’ll see it more on this album and with the videos and the press. I’m definitely dressing more like me these days. Pre Ego Death [The Internet’s third studio album], people were really trying me and I got got a couple of times. There’s definitely some looks out there on people’s mood boards and I’m like you don’t even know… that was not me.”
As she gears up for the Broken Hearts Club tour, Syd is excited to show off more of this blooming self-assurance. “It’s gonna be a vibe. I’m gonna be doing a few Internet songs as well as a few songs from each of my projects. What I hope to give y’all is progress and growth in my vocal abilities.” Throughout the last decade, the singer’s sultry yet angelic croon has inspired countless other R&B acts to follow suit. It was a trait she once shied away from but has wholeheartedly accepted. “I used to see [my voice] as a weakness, but it ultimately became a strength for me. The fact is that I can’t do what other singers do but honestly–a lot of them could never do what I do.”
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