Music

Solange is Redefining Popular Culture, One Performance at a Time

Equally at ease in the recording studio as she is inside the Guggenheim Museum, the Houston-born singer-songwriter-choreographer (and much more) is an artist at home in a world of her own making.
Reading time 12 minutes

Creative Direction by Solange

Photography by Rafael Rios

Fashion by Solange Franklin

With Solange, creative possibilities seem limitless. Try to define her virtuosic output and one soon runs out of adjectives to do so. And that’s the point. A multi-hyphenate muse, Solange is an artistic hybrid, a force that sees boundaries as cause for demolition. With the release of her fourth album, When I Get Home, earlier this year, along with an accompanying 33-minute film (featuring art world innovators and icons) of the same name, Solange continues to redefine not only herself, but our expectations of what a performer can and should be. For Solange, that performer extends well beyond the stage. Far from an act, it’s more like a way of life—a dedication to artistry that infuses everything she touches. From creative directing her September cover shoot with L’Officiel USA to adopting the ubiquity of texting as a medium for her interview with rap icon and legend Trina, Solange is an artist at home in a world of her own making.

Trina: You are such a breath of fresh air. I’ve watched you grow and blossom into such a beautiful creative soul—I’m such a fan and extremely proud of you and your evolution.

Solange: Wow. You just made me smile the biggest damn smile. Thank you. Thank you for all that you’ve done to empower the fuck out of us! If I need to unapologetically feel like I can smash ya shit and feel fine as hell doing so, I put on you and that’s that!

 

T: Yes. I’m smiling so hard. I love it. This feeling is beyond amazing!

S: That means so much. I’m incredibly humbled.

 

T: You are a creative genius.

S: Wow. I don’t even know what to say but the utmost gratitude. You are a legend! We could love fest all day. I’d just keep sending you all the crazy iconography we’ve all referenced and seen ourselves in for endless years. You embody so much of what I wished to express. And I always feel such a kinship with Southern women. The minute Jacolby [Satterwhite] told me about you possibly being a part of the “Sound of Rain” piece, I screamed!

 

T: Wow. When I heard I was in it, I was screaming so loud in the airport. I was so happy and so excited to be a part of something so creative and organic. I love how you’ve grown to own everything about yourself; it’s the most beautiful thing about you. I can see it. And I’m so humbled to be a force of reason. I’m so proud.

S: Well, u have always been that one!

T: Yes, you have a Southern soul. You’re a charm, and you have a glow that is as big as the sun. And thank you—I’m just smiling over here. Like wow. So, I want to ask you some things because you are so ahead of time and so organically creative it’s beyond amazing.

S: Thank you so much. It means a whole lot. I really try to embody all of it, even the parts I’m unclear on so that maybe, in some way of representing that part, too...I’ll find the answer. But there are certainly some days where I have to work a lot harder to own my fears. That’s what I’ve been trying to work on the most this past year. Moving past fear. It may look like I’m owning all of it, but some days I’m most certainly struggling, too. Those are the days I just try to be silent. Reflective. And just sit in it all. It sucks, though! It’s really not fun or sexy to have to confront those parts in that way. But I really am trying.

 

T: There are always going to be days of uncertainty, which causes fear. But know deep fear is only there because it’s testing you for something greater. The more you stare fear in the face, the more it disappears because it can’t compete where it don’t compare.

S: A word! It’s so true. “It can’t compete where it don’t compare”—I’m going to really remind myself of that. Thank u for that.

 

T: See that’s like your new album—was there any fear? I didn’t sense any. I saw a beautiful courageous woman that stepped into her own. And I mean, owned it. The level up is insane!

S: Thank you! I’m so happy that comes across because during that time of creation I really was fearless. I had so many tests in front of me and something really guided me at all times. Stood alongside me. Held my hand. Lifted me up. I feel my most sure and beautiful when I am creating the work. When I am thick in the midst of my own guidance. When I am done creating, that’s another story. I am all in my head and making decisions all from up there. But when I am creating I am using and speaking from other parts of myself. My gut, my legs, my heart, my fingers, my throat. That feels like the best me.

T: When I Get Home showed that you were in a space that allowed you to feel free and fearless—it proved you’re the captain of your ship. I listened to your album on repeat as a fan to appreciate every creative force you put into it. Can you elaborate on the concept behind it? What is the message that you hope fans will take from it? In terms of its sound, it’s very different from A Seat at the Table. Have there been some changes that have stimulated artistic changes in you?

S: I feel really lucky that I’m a part of a community of people who really fuck with my growth. It’s invaluable to me. It literally makes me smile with gratitude before I sleep. I said exactly what I needed to say and express with A Seat at the Table, and I feel really proud of that. My heart is filled with gratitude for that moment. I felt so much power in that and couldn’t have written any other record because those songs were in my spirit and I was being confronted with it every day. I wanted to create a bit more of a world with When I Get Home. A mecca that spoke to an environment and an expression. A place that you could go sonically and visually and digitally and feel immersed in as a project about what exactly the process of home is and the feelings behind it. It means so much to me you dug it! Makes me smile real big inside. This album was purely about feeling.

T: How would you describe your creative process as an artist, and does it spill over in your personal life as a mother, wife and just a woman of her own?

S: Well, I look at each project as a timestamp of who I was and who I wanted to become and so each time I am trying to both reflect on that and achieve that through my work. A lot of times, that involves my son, my friends, my mama, and really leaning on them to lift me up and to bounce energy off of. But a lot of times that’s done in solitude because only I know that answer. I have to really quiet myself for that. I’m also extremely environmental, so I try to build the world I am wishing to create within the space I work in. So much of this album was created in Houston at an incredible art space called Project Row Houses in the neighborhood I grew up in called Third Ward. Just having the space to say, “Hey, this is where it started.” What do I feel here? Who do I become here? Do I speak different, dress different, see the world differently? If my dad drops by, how does that energy eject itself into this 3:30 second song? Does this lyric mean something else now that he’s here, and we’ve hugged? Did some shit come up emotionally and now this language takes on another context? Those things really matter to me, and they activate the spirit of the sound to me. So I’m hypersensitive to it all.

“I FEEL MY MOST SURE AND BEAUTIFUL, WHEN I AM CREATING THE WORK. WHEN I AM THICK IN THE MIDST OF MY OWN GUIDANCE."

T: For When I Get Home, you also created a film to accompany it, one which included several visual artists, with art by them included in it. What interests you about working with painters, sculptors, and other artists?

S: I find out things about myself that I can’t necessarily speak to when I am collaborating. There are so many facets of who I am, and that articulation just feels so much wider and more expansive when someone helps bring something out of you that you wouldn’t normally express. There’s a lot of value and humility in that trust, and when it feels safe it can be the most rewarding feeling ever. More importantly, I learn so damn much. There are people who are going to be a trillion times better at a specific scope of expression or a skill or just time and experience, and I feel such appreciation when I’m gifted that access into someone’s process. I used to be stubbornly DIY. And that shit is important too. You have to! And that spirit will never go away within me. I need to be able to do my own shit. But I’ve really learned the last couple of years to ask for help. I feel confident in my ability to guide and lead my vision, but having more tools has been invaluable for my process. 

T: You’re an amazing performer—performance is very much something that is key to who you are as an artist. What does it mean for you to perform as an artist? How does it allow you to express yourself? 

S: Thank you! You are too! Creating a performance just goes back to that world-making. Performance for me has to just be an extension of the sonic and visual world that I’m creating. How can I bring those elements of the record into the film and the film onto the stage? I love designing sets and that’s been a really pivotal voice in my expression. Aligning actual lines and space and shapes to make homes for my universes. Working on musical arrangements by either minimizing or maximizing what’s already there to really make connections. Also, just like eye contact and wanting to make a real human connection in those moments. 

T: Is there any particular track on When I Get Home that is your favorite, or that holds a particularly deep meaning for you? Is there a track that describes the phase of your life that you are in? 

S: I think “Beltway” for sure...that meditative hazy loopy-ness—I’m feeling all of that these days and it feels the most indicative of the landscape I’d like to move towards! “Things I Imagined” is a close second! 

T: Let’s just say I’m extremely grateful for this girl talk with you. I’ve learned even more amazing things about you that I’m excited about. I believe in your creativity and one day at a time continue to push your fears away, you’re such a visionary and I’m so intrigued by your work. Blessings and love. 

S: This means so much to me! Thank you Trina! I will hold it close forever. Thank you for being you and all that you’ve given us and for seeing me. Endless blessings to you mama! 

Credits

Hair Kendall Dorsey (Factory Downtown) 

Makeup Miguel Ramos 

Manicure Sunshine 

Set Designer Lauren Nikrooz (The Magnet Agency)

Production Jennifer Rosenblum

 Photo Assistant JP Herrera 

Fashion Assistants Douglas Wright and Caroline Frias 

Production Assistant Steven Sanchez 

Catering Red Hook Catering

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