20GayTeen might be over, but women who love women are still riding the wave of all the representation it brought us. In the music industry, declarations of gay lady love, empowerment and heartache were voiced louder—and more abundantly—than ever before. Our ears and hearts were graced with Hayley Kiyoko’s first full-length Expectations, Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer, as well as King Princess’s debut EP Make My Bed (and to boot, the sexy track “Pussy Is God”). But while mainstream artists triumphed, indie pop is having a lesbian “moment” of its own, led by none other than singer-songwriter, Zolita.
Born in New York, the 24-year-old lesbian artist (real name Zoë Hoetzel) creates a blend of dark pop and R&B, infusing cathartic themes of queerness, feminism, and witchcraft alongside dreamy aesthetics. Her career took off in 2015 after self-releasing the video for her debut track “Explosion,” which has currently garnered over eight million views on YouTube. Inspired by the experience of falling in love with a best friend who didn’t love her back, the universality of unrequited love expressed in the lyrics can resonate with any listener, but it was the video’s lesbian-centric content that made queer audiences gravitate to Zolita, immediately yearning for what she’d do next.
“I’m still blown away by the reaction to ‘Explosion,’” Zolita tells GO. “‘Explosion’ was actually my final project for my intermediate experimental film class at NYU, I definitely wasn’t anticipating it to blow up in the way it did! Whenever I’m having doubts about myself as an artist and what I’m doing, I think back to ‘Explosion’s’ impact. So many young queer people came together over the shared experience of that song, and they felt healed by listening to it. That really motivates me.”
Following the boom of “Explosion”—and independently releasing her debut EP Immaculate Conception that same year—Zolita released her music video for “Holy,” the EP’s second single, in 2016. Continuing to build her visual lesbian utopia, “Holy” plays more like a short film. The video explores a relationship between Zolita and another girl at a dystopian Catholic schoolhouse. While risking everything to be together, the girls escape their oppressive environment and form their own feminist anti-cult. Against a chill soundscape and lyrics about deep, enriching romance, “Holy” is not only a liberating force, but it also brings light to real difficulties that LGBTQ individuals often face.
Much like in “Holy,” Zolita has created a cult of her own in the form of a loyal fanbase. She even designed a “Cult of Girls” symbol (four Venus signs surrounding two crescent moons) that represents sisterhood and divine female energy, which is frequently featured in her videos and merchandise. Thriving on her influence of self-love and individuality, being a fan of Zolita means you always have a place to belong.
2017 witnessed the release of Zolita’s most political anthem “Fight Like a Girl,” triggered by Trump’s presidential campaign. The song reclaims the titular statement that’s often used as an insult, with Zolita emphasizing that fighting with the strength of one’s mind is always more powerful than physical violence. Aiming to capture the energy she experienced at the Women’s March, her music video features witchy dance routines intercut with clips of women and girls from diverse ages and backgrounds. “My body, my choice, my rights, and my voice,” she sings while rejoicing in femmeness and inclusivity, which are both extremely vital to Zolita and her art.
The patriarchy-destroying track is the first single off her second EP Sappho that would be released a year later. The title of her six-song victory is fitting, as Zolita weaves a genuine and moving depiction of relationships from beginning to end. In the flirty and intimate “Come Home with Me,” the words center a woman pursuing another who is apprehensive to be with girls, but is waiting for her to be comfortable with it. The music video adds to the track’s divine sound, enhancing it with steamy sapphic imagery and lavish Renaissance clothing. On Sappho’s third track “Remind Me,” Zolita opens up the narrative: “Why is loneliness so damn loud / I miss home, but the words won’t leave my mouth / Maybe I’m too damn proud / To admit to, needing you.” Soothing and bass-heavy, the song is an ode to queer loneliness and using memories of love to fill the void. Whether you’re already confident in your sexual orientation or newly discovering it, Zolita’s lyrics remain easy to find comfort in.
“Being open about my sexuality in my music is so important to me because there was no queer pop music in the mainstream when I was growing up”, she says. “I think if I had more queer female pop icons to look up to when I was younger, I would have had a much less confusing time. Representation is so important, and it validates and affirms queer people’s experiences.”
With her second EP release, a flood of new fans and playing more live shows than ever before, 2018 was Zolita’s biggest year yet. On December 5, she released her latest single “Truth Tea,” which is arguably her best one yet. Already being dubbed the lesbian version of Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next,” this breakup banger is visceral and rightfully angry. Her most personal to date, the song explores the true story of the betrayal Zolita experienced when her ex-girlfriend cheated on her with a man. Instead of merely coping with her pain and the deception she faced, Zolita owns and celebrates it, refusing to let herself be broken.
As expected, the “Truth Tea” video expands on the liberating essence of her words, with fierce dance moves, fantasy elements and berry smashing that’s more cleansing than it sounds. To top it off, in one scene, Zolita dons a t-shirt that reads ‘Big Dyke Energy,’ which is currently available for sale at her merch store. “Big Dyke Energy first and foremost is about reclaiming a word that has historically been used in an ugly way against queer women,” she explains. “Growing up, I remember ‘dyke’ was a word that bullies used on girls who didn’t meet their beauty standards or boys used on girls that rejected them. So it took me a long time to embrace the word and reclaim it. To me, Big Dyke Energy means being proud of the fact that I loudly, unabashedly love women.”
On the message of her music, Zolita says, “I want fans to know that they have the power to take ownership over their narrative and feel pride in their identity. I want anyone who has ever felt other to feel empowered by their otherness.”