Entertainment Music SZA Explains How ‘Vibing Aimlessly’ After Dropping Out of College ‘Lit a Fire’ That Led to Music Career SZA briefly worked at several strip clubs in New York and New Jersey while trying to figure out what she wanted to do — until her sister blew up her spot and told their mom By Rachel DeSantis Rachel DeSantis Rachel DeSantis is a staff writer on the music team at PEOPLE. She has been working at PEOPLE since 2019, and her work has previously appeared in Entertainment Weekly and the New York Daily News. People Editorial Guidelines Published on February 8, 2023 05:10PM EST From topping the Billboard 200 chart for seven consecutive weeks to presenting at the 2023 Grammys, SZA has had quite the year. Still, as the “Kill Bill” singer explained in a new New York Times profile, she wasn’t always so certain as to what her life’s plan would be. The star, 33, opened up about her rise to fame, which began not with a record deal but with an ill-fated stint at Delaware State University, where she planned to major in marine biology. Though SZA said a college education was something that her parents had always expected from her, her time as a student didn’t last long. “I drank Malibu and smoked weed every day. And slept,” she said. SZA (real name Solána Rowe) soon dropped out of school and headed back to her native New Jersey, where she lied about her age so that she could bartend, and occasionally dance, at various strip clubs in the state and in nearby New York City. SZA. Dia Dipasupil/WireImage The Grammy winner estimates that she was “easily working 14 hours” each day — but says the gig was busted after her older sister Panya Rowe found out and alerted their mother, Audrey Rowe. “My sister got my ass,” SZA explained. “[At the strip club] there was a banner of me with like, a bottle of Hennessy, next to a pole. It was bad… My sister is a cretin.” With college now in her rearview, SZA struggled to find direction, and at the behest of Audrey, left her family home to try and figure it out. It was the period of uncertainty and the lack of clarity that followed that helped inspire SZA to kickstart her music career, which exploded with the release of her debut album Ctrl in 2017. “When I wouldn’t do the college thing they wanted, my mom kind of insinuated that I had to like, get out,” she said. “I started staying on people’s couches, and vibing aimlessly. That sent me into a crazy depression but also lit a fire under my ass.” Lizzo Gushes Over Sharing the Stage with ‘Actual Sister’ SZA: ‘I Could Cry Thinking About You’ SZA. SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP/Getty Looking back, Audrey told the Times that “the arts would not have been my choice” for her daughter’s career path — but that she’s now grateful SZA bucked tradition and did things her way. “I wish I knew then what I know now about listening to what your child has a passion for, and supporting that, whatever it is. It’s so hard to follow your own dreams,” she said. “So many of us abandon it very young, especially if the people that we respect and love and trust think we could or should be doing something different. I’m so glad that she didn’t listen to me.” SZA Says She’s Embracing Her ‘Bitch’ Era: ‘I’m Not a Bubblegum Sweetheart’ SZA — who won her first Grammy last year alongside Doja Cat for “Kiss Me More” — talked to PEOPLE in January about her new album SOS, and the way she’s only recently learned to embrace who she truly is — even if that means being a “bitch.” “Right now I’m just entering my era where I am accepting that I might be a bitch, and that’s OK,” she said. “Not all the time, but I’m not a bubblegum sweetheart and that’s OK. I’m OK with also being the villain, I’m OK with speaking my mind and just being who God designed me to be. She continued: “I can’t be sad just ’cause I’m not a sweetheart. I feel like I’m multifaceted, I can be really sweet, I can be really vengeful, I can be violent, I can be nurturing and all these things.”

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