A Night With Zolita: Interview and Concert Review
February 27, 2023
Years after a friend in high school introduced me to Zolita through her culty music video for the eerie gay love song “Holy,” I get the chance to talk with the lesbian alt-pop star on a Thursday afternoon. I’m in my college apartment in Washington, DC, and she’s in LA, signing a stack of 300 CDs in preparation for her first headline tour, titled “The Falling Out / Falling In Tour” after her freshly-released EP, Falling Out / Falling In. Zolita’s final days before the tour are filled with packing, choreography direction, makeup artistry, and lucky for me, interviews.
Those who have heard of Zolita know that her music videos, as she describes, are “the meat of the project.” She rose to fame in 2016 following the release of her video for the song “Explosion,” which depicts the dark romance of two best friends turned lovers. “Are we sisters or are we lovers?” Zolita ponders over the humming R&B beats.
Zolita graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a degree in film in 2017, joining NYU’s songful alumni network that is rich with the likes of Maggie Rogers, Lauv, and FLETCHER. Her background in film lends itself well to her music videos, which are all directed, written, produced, edited by, and star Zolita. She develops the concept, builds out the treatment, and hires everyone on set herself, and her friends commonly co-star and work behind the scenes on her projects. “I’m such a control freak and also, I know that I’m probably the best person for the job to carry out something that’s in my own head,” Zolita conveys. “In the editing room, I’m getting to build out the rest of the story alone, which is awesome.”
Zolita’s visions come to life in music videos that feel more like short films, interspersed with dialogue and various costume and location changes. Her most widely circulated music video is for the song “Somebody I F*cked Once,” which has amassed over fifty-five million views since its release in September 2021. The video takes a sapphic spin on a familiar high school trope. A stereotypical popular cheerleader, played by Zolita, falls for an edgy, artsy lesbian named Gia (played by influencer Tatiana Ringsby) and dumps her boyfriend at the high school prom to dance with Gia. In a round table discussion on YouTube, Zolita discusses the benefit of “Somebody I F*cked Once” for straight audiences, “Telling queer stories in heteronormative structures that straight people are a little more familiar with humanizes and familiarizes queer experiences. And I think ‘Somebody I F*cked Once’ really did that.”
The video grew into a trilogy containing two other videos for the songs “Single in September” and “I F*cking Love You,” which follow the same characters months and years later, generating visibility for queer people at various stages of life. “‘I F*cking Love You’ is my favorite song I’ve ever released, for sure,” Zolita reflects. “I always say it’s the one song where I can listen to it or it can come up on a Spotify playlist and I won’t change it.”
Listeners will notice that Falling Out / Falling In is a much different record compared to those that Zolita has previously created. “In the past, I’ve written songs for specific video ideas or have gone into it with a full concept, and this time I wanted to write the strongest music that I could possible and also challenge myself to write different kinds of songs and work with different kinds of people. I’m really, really thrilled with the body of work that came out of it.” From “20 Questions,” in which Zolita confronts a cheating ex about their unfaithful acts, to “Drunk With Your Exes,” a ballad that takes advice from a current partner’s exes, to “For the Both of Us,” a slow song about accepting the end to a long-term relationship without vitriol, each of the six songs on the record is lyrically and sonically rich, fitting together in a tastefully distinct puzzle. The EP’s title is true to its contents, which fluctuate between several defining emotional stages of a relationship: joy, passion, heartbreak, and acceptance.
It’s been around a week since the EP’s release and Zolita is hitting the road. “My biggest hope is to be able to connect with all the people that have been supporting me for so long, that have been connecting with my art, and having a really fun time with a big group of queer people,” she says excitedly. Her first stop is Songbyrd Music House in Washington, DC.
Under Songbyrd’s disco ball-strewn and light-strung ceiling, fans rock “life is so gay” and “big dyke energy” t-shirts and don Zolita’s signature “cult of girls” necklace, the same feminine symbol with three additional crosses that fills up the background of the stage. The bar in the back of the venue is lit up with blue LED lights and wooden shelves house vinyl records and an electric guitar. Songs by Doja Cat, WILLOW, and Steve Lacy float above the milling audience that grows denser by the minute without becoming too loud, too crowded, or too warm. We’re all waiting for our star, Zolita, and her music that explores female sexuality, witchcraft, and the plethora of emotions intrinsic to queer love.
Zolita makes her entrance under hot pink lights after Lulu Simon’s acoustic opening act, which included a passionate cover of Avril Lavigne’s “I’m With You” that had the audience throwing their heads back and raising their drinks to reminisce on the early 2000s. Her face lit up in a grin, Zolita sails into “I F*cking Love You,” leaning down to sing to recording fans. In her glittering translucent bodysuit, matching platform heeled boots, and sooty floor-length leather jacket, Zolita saturates the intimate venue with radiant energy that could easily fill a much larger space. She’s flanked by drummer Caitlin Kalafus (she/her) and guitarist Andrea Ferrero (she/her), who rock the stage in their own rights. Having performed at LA Pride and slated to perform at the Boston Calling and Governor’s Ball festivals in the coming months, Zolita is a natural entertainer who embodies the holy trinity of singing, dancing, and acting.
Long-time fans remember “Holy” from Zolita’s 2015 EP Immaculate Conception, “Come Home With Me” off of 2018’s EP Sappho, and “Shut Up and Cry,” released on Evil Angel in 2020. Bookended on tour by newer releases, the songs come to life years after they originally captivated fans. “It’s been really exciting to take the older era songs and elevate them and take them to a place that matches the current energy,” Zolita references the blend between old and new music on tour.
Falling Out / Falling In spends ample time reflecting on exes—exes who cheat, exes who lie, exes who you can’t seem to stay broken up with—so it’s fitting that Zolita covers Carrie Underwood’s iconic breakup anthem, “Before He Cheats,” evolving the pronouns in the song to she/her/hers to transform it into a women-loving-(but also being mad in a gay way)-women refrain. Notorious for its feminine power and dangerously high notes, Zolita belts “Before She Cheats” with flawless, unrivaled strength.
Zolita’s love ballad “Ashley,” named for her girlfriend and included on her new EP, is acoustic on tour. “It took me a long time to feel comfortable in my sexuality because there aren’t a lot of examples in the mainstream media,” Zolita confides, cross-legged with her guitar in her lap. “This song, which I wrote for my girlfriend, I also wrote for my childhood self. Having a song like that would have benefited me so much.” Zolita serenades a lucky audience member named Ashley onstage, hugging her after the song’s close. The energy in the room is ecstatic as the audience comes in for every chorus, swaying with their friends and significant others. The music video for “Ashley” is a heartfelt first love story, following two girls who grow up together in the countryside and fall in love as time wears on. With the visibility of these peaceful, merry queer children who grow up to love each other, Zolita shows that queer love is real, natural, and beautiful.
“I’m a queer artist and make art with the purpose of representing an underrepresented community,” she explains. “[The tour] it’s going to feel so joyful and celebratory.” True to her mission of “providing representation to an underrepresented community,” $1 from every ticket sale on The Falling Out / Falling In Tour benefits the Trevor Project, a prominent nonprofit that works to end suicide among LGBTQIA+ young people through crisis services, peer support, research, public education, and advocacy.
When I ask Zolita whether she’s ever had a mentor, she points to her best friend from college, a “Badass who knew herself so well, a hot femme queen,” who owned her bisexuality proudly. “Seeing her live her life and being so proud of who she was made me feel like, ‘Oh my god, I can do that too!’” Zolita’s inspiration exhibits the power of platonic queer relationships in empowering LGBTQIA+ people to live their truth. “I feel very lucky that my family has always been very supportive of me being queer and also supportive of me being in the music industry because they’re [parents] both artists themselves.” The familiar, accepting spaces that Zolita has established online, through her art, and on tour conceive a world for queer fans who lack familial support to treasure their identities in community with one another.
Zolita joins the growing number of queer artists who proudly create music that centers on queerness without branding themselves as artists whose music is only for queer people. “It used to be, there would only be queer artists in one type of genre that had visibility and now, really in every genre, you have visible queer artists.” Zolita lists Chappell Roan, Reneé Rapp, boygenius, and Maude Latour as examples that she can’t stop listening to.
On The Falling Out / Falling In Tour, the embrace of lesbianism’s tender love in “Ashley” and the subsequent “Orchard St.” is palpable. Released on the 2021 record Evil Angel, “Orchard St.” is “a song about healing and forgiveness.” It’s a melancholy coincidental parallel to Taylor Swift’s “Cornelia Street,” as both songs recollect the memories associated with New York City apartments of the past; Zolita’s is a somber remembrance while Swift’s is a buoyant one. The mood shifts and the drums pick up as “Orchard St.” shifts into “Cornelia Street,” a surprise cover that energizes the audience after remembering their own past loves. The lyrics of the two songs parallel each other, “Let myself dream of the things that I say to/ you when I’m asleep/ I’ll see you on Orchard St.” And, “I hope I never lose you, hope it never ends/ I’d never walk Cornelia Street again.”
What’s Zolita up to when she’s not busy selling out concerts and releasing new music and their corresponding videos? “Right now I’m finishing up the feature script for ‘Somebody I F*cked Once,’ which I’m taking with me to South by Southwest.” She’s in her dinner party and board game night era (“It’s my favorite thing”), she hangs out with her girlfriend on the regular, and she spends time with her queer friend group, who she describes as “really, really amazing.” Outside of her career, Zolita is proudest of her relationships. She maintains long-term, robust connections with her friends and she’s close with her sister, Luna Montana, a YouTube and Instagram influencer who recently started a podcast (Zolita was her first guest).
Zolita has become the queer femme star she wishes she’d had growing up. She recalls receiving messages from fans who recount their experiences of feeling seen by her music and videos, realizing they were gay from her content, and gaining the courage to come out by listening to her songs. Two fans got matching tattoos of her 2022 single “I F*cking Love You” and later became engaged as the song played in the background. “Isn’t that cute? I was dying!” Zolita exclaims. On her relationship with her fans, “It makes everything I do feel worth it and like it has a larger meaning and a purpose.” Zolita is a pink, white, and orange rainbow that shines bright against the cloudy sky of anti-queer sentiments and policies, a true inspiration for us all.