Back in October, Saweetie released “Back To The Streets,” a collaboration with Jhené Aiko that on the surface is about ditching a man that you know isn’t good for you. But it’s a trick — as the new music video for the song shows, “Back to the Streets” is as much about acknowledging your roots as it is tossing a man to the side.
Directed by Daniel Russell, the “Back to the Streets” music video highlights intimate moments of her upbringing and her Filipino, Chinese, and Black American heritage. In one scene, a young Diamonté Harper gets her hair done by her mother; in another, her famous alias, Saweetie, is pushed in a shopping cart along the hallways of a dazzling Beauty Supply store. She pays homage to her various backgrounds through intricate cultural symbols found on the West Coast, specifically the Bay Area.
By spotlighting the everyday beauty looks that form tradition, she builds a lineage, reinforcing the emblematic style behind everyday people’s outfits and natural aesthetics that you would find in Saweetie’s childhood neighborhood in Northern California. She takes viewers on a journey through scenes that resemble her upbringing. “We always see the West Coast symbols of the palm trees and the low-riders,” Saweetie tells Teen Vogue. “I wanted to make this music video special to me and I know people will notice the symbols and overall vision.”
The last time I spoke to Saweetie was in June, when we discussed how eager she was to release her single “Tap In” (recently certified gold by the RIAA). Now, Saweetie sounds more confident than ever that her debut album, Pretty B.I.T.C.H Music, will be her entry into the créme de la créme of rap.
She’s already been making moves toward that goal. 2020, in all its uncertainty, has been a year of opportunity for Saweetie’s emerging career. The 26-year-old only released “Tap In” this year, and it has already become the second most popular single in her discography. She’s also engaged with her fanbase, tapping in on Twitter to praise her internet supporters and check out the reactions to her highly memeable posts. Her viral hashtag #Saweetaween proved sensational, especially when she posed as all three members of the legendary girl group Destiny's Child (shot by Beyoncé’s former photographer himself, Blair Caldwell). And, of course, she’s made recent headlines for her snowflake-inducing origin story with boyfriend Quavo.
Her past two EPs have created a world full of spirited hip-hop melodies that are at the helm of the current early 2000s musical resurgence, and her catchy rap hooks are nearly impossible to erase from your memory. Meanwhile, she’s been working on her forthcoming debut album. Pretty B.I.T.C.H Music is the next step in the grand career vision for Saweetie, who she refers to in third person. She sees “Saweetie becoming an actress, a mogul, and her brand becoming a household powerhouse.” She adds, “My family will have this empire for them and that is all I want.” Legacy, and a foundation built from her history, is important, as we see in “Back to the Streets.” She’s determined for her all-encompassing brand to have longevity, not only for herself but for her strong support system and fanbase.
Ahead of her debut album, slated for the first quarter of 2021, Saweetie sat down with Teen Vogue over Zoom to talk about how she created Pretty B.I.T.C.H Music, the “Back to the Streets” music video, and how she’s thinking about her career long-term.
Teen Vogue: I like to think of 2020 as a ruthless cleanse. It feels like everyone is purging out certain aspects of their lives, especially with the social landscape of a global pandemic, the election, and all of this civil unrest. What have you been working on to remain so optimistic during these uncertain times?
Saweetie: Growing up as an only child definitely gave me “only child” syndrome. I am at my best and most comfortable when I am alone. I work my best independently and even though these times have been very unfortunate for everyone, I have managed to find the silver lining in my isolation by working on some Pretty B.*.T.C.H Music.
TV: First off, I want to commend you for the success of “Tap In” and its global reach. Your latest single, “Back To The Streets” featuring Jhené Aiko has already seen so much traction. Were you expecting this type of response?
S: This song has been a long time in the making, it was highly anticipated by my fans and I couldn’t wait to finally release it. Originally, I knew this song was going to be special because we have two West Coast girls on the track, myself being from the Bay Area and Jhené being from Los Angeles. With little to no promo and without much press, it charting so high really surprised me. If the song, “Back To The Streets” was a cake, Jhené was definitely the icing on top.
TV: What is the story you are hoping to convey through the “Back To The Streets” music video?
S: Aside from “Back To The Streets” being about a whack dude that you are kicking to the curb, the other meaning behind the song embodies a sense of comfort and home. The title, “Back To The Streets” relates to going back to your roots, your culture, and the hood where you were raised. Many people still don’t know that my father is Black and that my mom is Filipina and Chinese even though I try to share that with everyone, especially online. I know the importance of the message behind this video will be seen and I am paying homage to many different people and aspects of my own life, make sure to be on the lookout for that ... In the video, there are primarily Black and Asian girls, and I wanted to showcase who I really am through this multi-day project.
TV: Let’s talk about your debut album, P.R.E.T.T.Y Bitch Music, what can we expect from your introductory album into the rap game?
S: I think that’s it. This will be my introductory album into the rap game, this is all of me. I have put so much time and work in perfecting this debut album and collaborating with the right people. All I can say is it will be my true artistry.
Your style moments are very 90’s/early 2000’s reminiscent and I really get the sense of that aesthetic from your nostalgic rap hooks, what about this era of music and fashion inspires you the most?
S: I grew up listening to old Hip-Hop because of both of my parents being so young. My aesthetic became a subconscious part of me because I really ended up giving that nostalgic sense of dressing without even trying to fit that part of fashion or trends.
TV: Was there a specific vision you were aiming for while preparing for its grand release?
S: I know I am known for my nostalgic early 2000s aesthetic, but I want this album to be timeless. I always want to be the best or no. 1 in everything I do, whether it involves men or women. I want this to be absolutely perfect. I know it will be for you guys.
TV: Your #Sweetaween takeover had everyone reminiscing on when times were better and more fashionable, to say the least. You have certainly created this online safe space for medicinal laughter and meme-able moments, what was your favorite viral moment of the year? Personally, mine was the Hogwarts Birkin Bag skit and “Bye Felicia” reenactment.
S: My team and I were having so much fun with all of the looks. My favorite moment was being Mystique for Halloween. Rebekah Aladdin really killed the makeup for that look. It took 9 hours to pull all the way together and I was covered in scales. I would love to be her again!
TV: Another high-traffic moment came from the snowflake emoji Quavo sent you — the “ima glacier boy” has taken the internet by storm. How does it feel to see an inside joke between you two become a meme?
S: Him and I both did not expect that to blow up. I genuinely like Quavo so seeing other people use it as a meme took us by surprise because that is the way we both naturally talk to each other. I do really love seeing all of the funny reenactments and reposts of people using the phrase and snowflake emoji in regards to Quavo and I’s relationship.
With Filipino American Heritage Month coming to an end in October, what traditions did you practice last month while commemorating your roots?
S: My family and I cooked a lot of Filipino food, especially adobo. I celebrated the month by really honoring my heritage more through doing more cultural traditions and content that related towards my Filipina roots and fans.
TV: What non-musical goals have you set for yourself when P.R.E.T.T.Y Bitch Music is out for everyone to stream? Are there any 2021 goals you are already set out to accomplish or looking forward to working towards?
S: My grandma and I are starting an “Icy” charity foundation together which will target lower income communities and children with mental disabilities. We don’t have it up and running yet, but it is in early development and we will be providing for each community through financial help and donations. I am really excited for it to come to life.
Lastly, the “Icy” brand has definitely transformed into another pop culture household name. Where do you see Saweetie in 5 years?
S: Wow, in 5 years...Pretty B.I.T.C.H Music will be old. I want to be a mom someday, but before I get ahead of myself, I want the “Icy” brand to supersede Saweetie. I want it to be a complete powerhouse for fashion, business, and entertainment. I am hoping to be the next Jay-Z or Rihanna one day. I want this brand to help future generations of my family and ultimately, become the mogul Saweetie is on her way into becoming.
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Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: Saweetie Shared Why She and Quavo's Love Story Is Fun for Fans