Lolo Zouaï released her debut album, High Highs to Low Lows, in 2019 to critical acclaim. The record was an honest yet confident full-length introduction to Zouaï, and has since amassed over 83 million streams on Spotify. Her latest single, “Scooter,” is unapologetic and has an unequivocal pertinence. A more positive time marker on the past two years, it’s infectious and sets up Zouaï nicely for a strong sophomore LP. Next year, she will embark on the US leg of Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia world tour.
Pop Crave caught up with Zouaï to discuss her recent music, track “Desert Rose” and her time on the road in 2022.
Zouaï had been sitting on her latest single, “Scooter,” for a year or so prior to its release last month: “I was listening to it so much and I loved it, and then eventually I was just like ‘This needs to come out.’ I say I have my mask on, it’s kind of just super relevant for the time, and if it doesn’t come out now I’m never gonna put it out… It’s like when you listen to songs and it’s like ‘You’re on my MySpace top 8!”
The track’s composition is something of note, with Zouaï’s vocal serving double duty of lyrics and beat – she explains how it came to be: “He [producer Stelios] ended up making the whole beat out of my voice – other than the bass ‘cause I can’t go that low. Then the flow just came and we kind of freestyled it and I was like, ‘This is hilarious I love this.’”
Did you have the video in mind when you were writing the song?
“This song specifically shows my personality and my humor pretty well, and I think that some people might not like it and I might get new fans. It’s really different than what I’ve done, but I thought that the video had to have my humor in it and kind of be silly and like a skit, and I definitely wanted to crash at the end. I wanted to, like, break my arm, but you know, that’s too complicated! So I just do a little scooter chase and there was a little competition between me and this little girl who, maybe she’s me secretly when I was a kid, or maybe she’s just a chick that I’m being petty about.”
Is that your own scooter?
“We actually rented one and then I got this girl, Juliette, to design it. I was like ‘I want it pink and I want it spiky!’ ‘Cause it shows the contrast between sweet and badass. So we designed it and at the end of the day we had to remove everything and everybody was super sad to see it go.”
“You can’t travel with an electric scooter, that’s the issue.”
I feel like “Scooter” and “Galipette” have a similarly chaotic vibe – is that a sound or theme that we’ll see more of on the next album?
“Those two are definitely some of the most extreme songs. I wanted to come out with the extreme of it so that they can ease into what I’m making. But, I definitely have an amazing mix of music and a lot of it is super melodic and vibey. It’s not the only thing I’m making at all, it’s just how I was feeling last year and this year and I needed to let it out. Now that I’ve done that, I’m easing back into my more classic sounds. Definitely trying to elevate and make music that everybody can enjoy, too.”
How many songs have you got recorded for the album?
“Well, I don’t know how many songs I’m gonna put on it, but over the last two years I’ve probably recorded over thirty songs – so I’ve got a good amount of things I’m working on.”
You said that you didn’t really feel any pressure while writing your debut album and that you were unsure if you would feel it for the second one. Do you feel more pressure?
“I don’t have more pressure, I just feel like it matters more. The first one, I was really excited to just be like ‘This is who I am’ and I felt really confident and now I’m like ‘I wanna take my career to the next level’ and I know to do that you need to follow like a certain- there is a formula to getting a big song – in a way. I don’t wanna change myself and I haven’t changed myself. I think I’ve just gotten better at songwriting, I’ve gotten better at music and I have bigger goals – so it is a little bit more pressure when you wanna reach a different level. I’m trying to take it there.”
Is that pressure purely coming from you or do you feel pressure from a label to be bigger than High Highs to Low Lows?
“It’s pressure from myself. My label are super down for that – they’re like ‘If you wanna take it there, then let’s go!’ And I’ve been playing them music and we’re all really excited about next year.”
“Galipette” and “Scooter” share a similar aesthetic. Is that something that is going to carry through for any videos you release for the album in the future?
“They’re kind of siblings, I’m kind of a crazy lady in them I think. It’s like an alto-ego of this crazy chick, I don’t know. But there’s gonna be some elements kept from there and obviously some new things that we haven’t seen yet. Visuals are always a huge part of my music. When I write music, I’m picturing the video and the cover art and I think that we live in a very visual time.”
Zouaï’s most-streamed track on Spotify, “Desert Rose,” is featured on her debut album and came to be following a chain of events kick-started by a single photo she shared. At first glance, the image doesn’t seem anything remarkable, yet it sparked a reaction among members of her extended family. She was supposed to be attending her cousin’s wedding in Algeria, her flight booked for the next day. After a handful of messages from various relatives telling her to make her Instagram private and to change her last name on the platform, her flight had been mysteriously cancelled – she later learned it was someone in her family’s doing. “Desert Rose” captures Zouaï’s feelings towards her family following the going-on.
Your debut album contains some very vulnerable moments, one of them being “Desert Rose” – did your family react to that song? Have they reached out to you?
“Honestly, no. I really haven’t had much contact with them. But my dad, who has always been pretty supportive, he loves the song and so that’s nice. But I really haven’t spoken to anybody about it. I know that Algerians are proud of that song and a lot of my fans have told me that the story is similar to theirs. And even not people from Algeria who have come out to their families or just don’t fit in have told me that it really hit them in the heart. I feel like I did something really important with that song. And I’m happy that now, it was kind of thanks to TikTok but, the song is growing and the streams are going crazy.” The track now boasts over 18 million plays on Spotify.
When you were writing it did you expect it to be your biggest song, or was it something that you just needed to get out at the time?
“Yeah I needed to get it out, for sure, but I always believed in that song and I always thought that that was my best song, or like my most important song. It did really well on this playlist called ‘Bedroom Jams’ on Spotify. It was number one ‘Bedroom Jams’ song in 2019 and I joked that the song went Magnum. But I was just laughing that this song that’s about family, if you think about it, can be about a romantic relationship and is pretty sexy. I’m really happy that it has become my biggest-streamed song and that makes me excited about other songs that I’m gonna be releasing that are similar in sound.
Do you find that your music finds different interpretations and meanings to different people a lot?
“That happens a little bit but I find that the song that I liked the most or the song that I feel the most is what other people like the most. They can feel that it’s genuine and they feel my emotions really well.”
Something I love about that song, and a lot of your music, is the way that you switch between different languages – it always feels so seamless. When you’re writing it, do you set out with the intention of incorporating English, French and Arabic, or does it just come naturally while you’re writing?
“For that one [“Desert Rose”], I needed to put some Arabic in it even though I don’t speak it fluently. I was just like ‘OK, who’s done this French-English-Arabic kinda song from an American artist?’ and I was like ‘I don’t know who’s done this – let me do it!’ But the French, usually the French comes out when I don’t know what to say in English and then I’ll just think of it in French, and then I’m like ‘Why does everything work in French?’ You can make anything rhyme, so I was like ‘I’m gonna just use this and finesse when I can’t think of an English phrase.”
Will there be any songs on the new album that link back to songs on High Highs to Low Lows?
“Yeah! Something that I do is that I have a sister song to another song. I’ll be like ‘This is definitely this song’s sister.’ I think that my new music is definitely a continuation, it’s a growth. I almost thought about making a part two of ‘Desert Rose’ and I tried to make it. But if I’m making part two of ‘Desert Rose,’ it has to be as good or better and I was like ‘I don’t think this is working.’ But yeah, the story continues and people who heard the first one are gonna find little hints.”
How does the process of making this album compare to that of your first?
“It’s completely different. Honestly, I didn’t make much music in 2020. I thought my album – my vision – was going to be something completely different and I made most of my music this year. The process is really, really different; I used to record all my vocals with Stelios who produces the music, and now I have an engineer. The vocal production and the vocal quality has gone up so much. I’ve learned so much and I’ve gotten so much better at making music and so much quicker and doubt my ideas much less. I just honor every idea – whatever comes to me I’m like ‘I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna finish this, and we’ll see.’”
Has your own personal growth helped with that?
“Definitely. I think I was so focused on trying to make sure my identity was understood and I was establishing my sound. Then I realized, ‘OK, you can’t really change how people are gonna see you, so just be yourself. Just make whatever you wanna make. I think everything is still cohesive because of my vocals, because of my vocal production, because it’s coming from me – because I’m writing everything. It’s still my personal story so it’s always gonna feel genuine.”
Do we have a date for when we’ll get the album, or any more songs from the album?
“Not yet. But I’ll definitely let you know! I’m super proud of what I’ve been making, it really feels like growth.”
You’re opening for Dua Lipa in the US – how did that come about?
“It was through this woman who works at YouTube, Grace Lee. She’s been working with Dua since the beginning and has been supporting me since the beginning. She connected us and Dua was just super into the idea of us playing together, it was really organic. She announced it in 2020 – well Europe in 2020 – and then we switched it to the US. I’ve been waiting for so long and I’m really, really excited for it to finally be happening.”
You’re going to be playing arenas. How do you feel about that? Are you nervous?
“I think I’m honestly ready for it; I’ve always wanted to do it. I don’t think about it too much ‘cause I’ll get nervous if I think about it beforehand, but I think some nerves will happen when I do my soundcheck and I’ll be like ‘Oh shit!’ I feel confident that my music is capable of filling an arena.”
Absolutely! I think the atmosphere would be so good.
“Yeah! I think her fans are super sweet and they’re gonna like it.”
How does playing to a bigger crowd compare to a more intimate show?
“It’s harder, definitely, to get a bigger crowd involved but I think I’ll try to get them to sing at least ‘High Highs to Low Lows’ ‘cause that one’s easy to learn. But with smaller crowds you can have eye contact and personal moments, you can talk to the audience. With bigger crowds I’m sure it’s going to be harder to hear what’s going on. I think both are special in their own way.”
What’s your preparation routine before going on stage?
“I think the best thing for me is to go on a run because it opens up my breathing and is also really good for my mind and it makes me feel active – so I like to exercise. And then, just like water, chilling and then right before stage I need like thirty minutes to myself, vocal warm-up, get in the zone and then I’m ready.”
What songs are you most excited to be performing?
“I definitely wanna perform ‘High Highs to Low Lows,’ I wanna perform ‘Caffeine.’ I don’t know if ‘Desert Rose’ is the vibe. I don’t know, I haven’t put together my setlist yet, and then there’s gonna be some new music as well.”
Is it going to be new music that we’ve heard, or exclusives?
“I’m thinking about it, I think that could be a really good way to test the song. But then what if everybody loves it and then they’re looking for it and ‘I can’t find it!’”
And then you get bullied into releasing it early.
“I wouldn’t be mad at that.”
Listen to Zouaï’s latest single, “Scooter,” and watch the music video now.