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Bazzi Is Doing Some Soul Searching

The R&B star on overnight fame, his favourite Prince song, and whether aliens would like his music.

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The first thing I notice about Bazzi is how remarkably self-assured he is for someone so young. When he arrives for our interview, he’s relaxed but focused. While it’s obvious that he’s done this many times before, he’s generous with his time, giving considered answers and often pausing to reflect before launching into a detailed response. He has the kind of calm confidence in his craft that you would expect an artist twice his age to have—someone with decades of industry experience under their belt.

Equal parts Drake, The Weeknd, and Justin Timberlake, the 21-year-old pop and R&B singer is unmistakably a product of Generation Z. His most famous track to date, the uptempo, syrupy love song ‘Mine’, became known around the world after it was used as a Snapchat lens and became part of a wildly popular meme. He went viral, and Bazzi the popstar went from being somewhat known to stratospherically famous almost overnight.

Capitalising on all the new eyes and ears he suddenly found on him, he released his debut mixtape Soul Searching last month. The title sums up the themes explored across the 11 tracks—growth, pain, and love feature heavily—and there’s even a song aptly titled ‘Who Am I?’ He wrote and produced the entire mixtape himself, and handpicked 6lack and 21 Savage as the only two features, and the project is a testament to his skill as a both a musician and a curator.

Bazzi’s brand of relentless self-belief feels very American. When I ask him what he’s been listening to lately, without missing a beat he says, “I honestly listen to—not to sound like a douche, but I listen to a lot of my own music, I like the music I make a lot.” It’s the type of answer that you’d never hear from an Australian artist, far too wary of tall poppy syndrome to openly admit to something like that.

But when tempered with enough thoughtfulness and raw talent, as it is with Bazzi, it becomes endearing—you want to believe in Bazzi as much as he believes in himself. Heck, you want to believe in anything as much as Bazzi believes in himself.

I saw you on The Project last night. How was that experience? It’s a very well known TV show over here.
It was good. I didn’t know that, but my girlfriend’s Australian so she was like “Oh all my friends are texting me.” Apparently everyone watches it.

Yeah, they pull in a pretty big audience. So your new single is called I.F.LY. Is it pronounced I FLY or I.F.L.Y?
You know what, it was I.F.L.Y for a while, but everyone’s just pronouncing it I FLY, so I think I FLY flows a little better.

Being a writer, I’m interested in stuff like this—so there’s acronyms and there’s initialisms. Acronyms are where the abbreviated word is read as a word, so NASA or NATO, whereas an initialism is where the word is pronounced letter by letter, so C.E.O or I.F.L.Y. I like that the pronunciation of your song title is open to interpretation though.
Yeah definitely, I think it turned out more like—no one says I.L.Y, they say ILY, you know what I’m saying? I personally like I FLY.

Yeah I do too, and it relates to that almost weightless feeling you have when you’re in love—it’s sort of like flying. What was the process of creating that song like?
For sure. Yeah, so I think one of my favourite parts of my job is, you know, knowing that I have the opportunity to soundtrack people’s memories, their good moments and their bad moments and that’s one thing that people have always kinda pointed out to me that I do. I knew summer was coming up, at least in the States—it’s pretty cold here—I wanted to make a record that you know, that did that for people, that felt like summer and made people roll their windows down, so that’s I FLY.

Your last album Cosmic had this theme of space and romance running through it. What’s the theme of your new album Soul Searching?
Yeah, this album is a little bit less fictional, like how Cosmic had that space element, this one’s a little bit more real, very personal. I think Cosmic had like a tone of relationships and love, whereas this one’s more of a personal one-on-one relationship with myself. And kind of really talking about stuff I go through, the things that I think, so yeah, I think the overriding tone is like personal growth. I think “soul searching” really speaks volumes on what self-development is actually about.

Vulnerability seems to be a reoccurring theme for you. When do you feel most vulnerable as an artist and as a human being?
I think I feel most vulnerable as a human making music, you know, being an artist, because my music is all vulnerability, I don’t do much fiction when it comes to the writing aspect of it. So it’s all just real circumstances and stories from my own life, so yeah.

So you achieved fame really quickly. It must have been a hectic experience to go from relative anonymity to global fame in such a short period of time. What has that felt like—have you had a moment to really take it all in?
It’s very much of a blur I’d say because, you know, ever since it’s happened I’ve been very busy, just doing a lot of work back towards the music, but I don’t think it’s really like changed anything for me personally just because I try not to pay attention to that side of things, I try to pay attention to things that I can control, things that have substance and I just really don’t wanna care about that, because it’s kind of like a dark hole once you start paying attention to that. Ahh yeah, it’s been a process for sure.

Do you have any mantras or words of wisdom that you come back to that help keep you grounded?
Yeah, I think I kind of live by one idea, keeping things very retrospective, I try to not think about people’s opinions at all, just because I want to really care about my own because what I’ve realised, you know, once again, is that some things in life are out of your control, but one thing you can control in life is being proud of the work you do, having a purpose behind the work you do, liking the work you do, truly being a fan of your own stuff. And those are things I really try and pay attention to because I know I can control them, I know I can control my opinion and I can control my pride, so I try and just put that effort and that attention into what I think of it and get out of it out and [if] people like it, that’s great, but if not, at least I’m proud of what I did.

That’s a good perspective to have. Do you come from a musical family? What did your parents play you music wise when you were younger?
I don’t—neither of them sing or play any instrument of any sort, but I think I came from ah, I think they were very into music, so growing up they showed me a lot of stuff. Music was important, we always listened to music. My brother played drums and he was in bands. I dunno why me and him just gravitated towards it so much.

What music did they introduce you to?
Man, there was such a wide variety, it was very odd. [Laughs] It went from like Ricky Martin to Prince, to Michael Jackson, to Greenday, to Guns N’ Roses, to Van Halen, so wide, and that’s why I think my music doesn’t really sound like one specific thing, it’s been influenced by so many different angles of music, so.

I’ve heard you say that you want to revolutionise and revitalise pop music. What does that entail?
Yeah, I think it means that—I think pop for a while felt very contrived, you know. 15 people working on one single song, so many different hands in the bucket, and I think I wanted to bring back an authenticity to pop music, like my idol Prince, where it was pop but it all came from an authentic place, because I love pop music, I think pop music is so special. I think it’s the only music that can really make you feel something that, the melodies are beautiful. We’ve kind of shied away from it because it’s built a bad reputation for itself by being so large and, you know…

It’s pervasive.
Exactly, it’s everywhere. It’s almost like a science project. I wanted to kind of go back to the roots of that, and bring nostalgia back but also with a modern twist where it moves how music moves today but it still makes you feel something like you used to.

What pop song really makes you feel something?
Yeah, I think ‘I Would Die 4 U’ by Prince.

That’s funny, I was going to ask you next what your favourite Prince song is, because I know you’re a fan. Mine is ‘I Would Die 4 U’ too. There’s just something about that song, it’s incredible.
Aye! [Laughs] Yeah, the chords, melodically.

Yeah, he had ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is.
Yeah, yeah, straight up.

You performed a lot in churches when you were younger. Are you still religious? Or are you spiritual?

I would not call myself religious, I would definitely call myself highly spiritual. I think religion is a form of control, I think anything based out of fear is something we should never teach, we should be teaching out of love. I think fear is forceful but love is personal, love is your own individual thinking and decision making. So I would call myself spiritual, but I don’t think we have god figured out. I think religion is like a cheap way to be like, “Yeah, don’t be scared, we know what happens when you die” and worship this and be part of this, and you know, I don’t think you should be tied by believing in one thing with rules that may be dated back to 15,000-20,000 years ago. It just doesn’t much make sense to me so. I think spiritually my faith and my understanding and my knowing of religion is really an unknown, I’m amazed by the stuff that we don’t know, the stuff that makes no sense still. So yeah, I’d call myself very spiritual.

That’s a good answer. Do you think we make our own luck? Do you believe in manifesting?
For sure. For sure, for sure. No doubt in my mind.

How has that played a role in your life?
I think I’ve always had an incredibly positive outlook on just about everything, even when there was nothing to really look on the bright side about, and I think that’s made the biggest difference in my life over everything else. I’ve always seen things clearly and seen the best that something could be and I’ve just climbed, kept building stairs.

Have you come to any profound realisations about yourself in the last year?
For sure. I mean I’m always kind of having personal revelations. I’m very—I like to call myself a very self aware person, I like to pay attention to the details of myself, so I’d say yeah my profound discovery is that, just being self aware. I’m a very logical person but my logical beliefs cause me to be very spiritual because when you look at life and you look at the facts, we really don’t know what’s going on.

We have no idea. Everyone’s just walking around trying to figure it out.
Just walking around—and I think that’s the coolest part. I think that’s the magical part, the fact that we don’t know.

For sure. Who are you listening to a lot of lately?
I honestly listen to—not to sound like a douche, but I listen to a lot of my own music, I like the music I make a lot.

I think a lot of artists wouldn’t say that, it’s cool that you feel confident enough in your own work to say that.
I listen to my unreleased stuff because once I put music out it doesn’t feel like it’s mine anymore, I gave it to the world so… but when it’s just mine, I have fun with that. I imagine the music videos and what it will do for people, so I truly enjoy it. So I listen to mine but if I’m not listening to my music I listen to a lot of old music, I like to study and see people who were revolutionary… so a lot of Prince, recently Beastie Boys, Tupac, Biggie, yeah, a lot of older stuff.

What takes up too much of your time and what would you like to be doing more of?
Great question. I’d say social media.

Yeah, same. 
I actually went through this initiative where I unfollowed everybody.

Yeah, I noticed you don’t follow anyone.
Yeah, I didn’t wanna see anything, I wanted to be off my phone, but it hasn’t really worked now I’m looking at more random shit.

So when you’re on Instagram is there just nothing there?
Nah, so I go to the explore page and I get lost.

It’s a trap.
Yeah, so. [Laughs]

Last question. If aliens are real, do you think they’d like your music? Or do you think they’d be into music?
I think they would be into music. There’s a Joe Rogan podcast with Elon Musk, he basically asks, or one of them brings up the point like, what would stop aliens from destroying the planet? because they come here and see we’re all killing each other, polluting this place like crazy, you know we’re putting idiots in power, there’s a million things that we’re not doing a great job of as humans. Joe Rogan makes a point, he goes “Well they’d appreciate us because you know we make great art, we make great films, we make great music we make interesting paintings, you know, retrospective art.” And that was super interesting to me, because that is the one thing that would make us ultra intelligent because music and art is always objective throughout time, it never necessarily got better it just changed so I think that’s one thing that they would be impressed by—our attention to art.

It’s the only thing we’ve got going for us.
I think so.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Bazzi’s debut album ‘Soul Searching’ is out now on all streaming platforms. For more follow him here.

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