LARUICCI X LISTEN MAGAZINE
Issue 010: Lolo Zouaï
It’s Lolo’s world and we’re just living in it.
The powerhouse pop artist has graced stages across the globe with her signature bittersweet bangers. Before logging into the virtual world she created on her sophomore album PLAYGIRL, the cybernetic pop star was a girl hustling to make it in New York City. This year marks the fifth anniversary of her career-changing single “High Highs to Low Lows”; since then Lolo Zouaï has been the face of multiple fashion campaigns, toured worldwide in sold-out venues, and is now preparing for her global takeover.
The early years of her career set the groundwork for the sound we hear today. Working with frequent collaborator Stelios—who Lolo refers to as her musical soulmate—the core elements of her sound are a flawless amalgam of various genres like R&B, hip-hop, and pop, occasionally adding her French and Algerian roots to the mix as well. Lolo emphasizes her vocal production—interpolating ad-libs and creating heavenly stacks that are consistent throughout her discography—she lets her vocals take the forefront. Experimenting with otherworldly sounds on the production side that’s paired with colorful and witty wordplay, it’s safe to say that nobody is doing it quite like Lolo Zouaï. Referring to tracks as siblings, her sophomore album PLAYGIRL can be best described as High Highs to Low Lows older, slightly unhinged sister. Dividing her essence into three separate moods: the sensitive Dreamgirl, the infamous Partygirl, and the flirtatious Playgirl, Lolo takes the creative freedom to experiment with a diverse range of sounds.
The opening track “pl4yg1rl” sets the tone for the album piling in all the elements that make up Lolo. Drawing influence from her West Coast roots by interpolating a Too $hort deep cut “Pimpandho.com”, it welcomes us into her digital playground with hard-hitting bass and a seductive flow. The following track “VHS” reveals the Dreamgirl persona with Lolo’s honey-dripped vocals wrapped around a velvety production, giving the illusion of being wrapped in a weighted blanket with your favorite movie on repeat. Following up with “Crazy Sexy Dream Girl”, the stand-out track gives us a glimpse into the manic Partygirl persona, reciting the familiar story of not wanting a relationship but wanting the experiences that come from one. Contrasting with the candy-coated “Gummy Bear,” a lighthearted banger that’s a sugar rush full of lusty desires from the Playgirl herself.
PLAYGIRL is a digital hub where Lolo and her alter-egos coexist in harmony. Throughout the album, her playful bravado and eminence serve as a demonstration of her growth and as a launching pad to her eventual superstardom.
LISTEN: That track was a turning point in your career. When you look back, from when you first released “So Real” to now, do you feel a little nostalgic?
Lolo: Oh my so nostalgic! Sometimes I miss that girl, but also I'm still that girl and I don't miss all the depression that I was dealing with and the doubt. I don't miss working at restaurants and I don't miss having $7 in my bank account.
LISTEN: Back then was when you first met Stelios, right? I know you referred to him as your musical soulmate. What do you consider some of the core elements of your sound?
Lolo: I think that the sound has a lot to do with my vocal production. It's the harmonies, the stacks, the ad-libs. I think that, no matter what, the production stays consistent throughout this album, and throughout my first album. The lyricism is colorful and interesting adding some words that you don't normally hear in a song. It's consistent, we have grown together and made this world expand.
LISTEN: Those elements are very prevalent in the first few seconds of the title track “pl4g1rl.” Where all the harmonies stack and feel like heavenly gates opening before the beat comes in.
Lolo: Exactly! I wanted to add the Arabic influence right at the beginning. It was kind of like what I did in “Desert Rose,” but in a completely different song.
LISTEN: It fits so well. The album also feels more mature than your debut. PLAYGIRL feels so elevated - almost like the big sister, if that makes sense.
Lolo: Aw, yes. Thank you. Yeah, that was the goal. I think I've grown up that much - so it has to reflect in my music and individuality and it has to feel next level. Cause I'm at the next level.
LISTEN: Was the creative process different? PLAYGIRL is way more conceptual compared to High Highs to Low Lows. Was approaching it creatively different than your debut?
Lolo: It took a long time to come. At first, I didn't even know that it was conceptual, but “pl4yg1rl” and “Free Trial,” the first and last song, are the ones that tie it all together. When I was making High Highs to Low Lows, I didn't have a plan. I was just writing about my life and it was more like, this is how I'm gonna introduce myself into the world. And the concept is just, this is me. This is my childhood. This is what I went through and this is where I am now. And so this album was more, okay, now that I've introduced myself and now that the struggle isn't the main character.
I started thinking, ‘Who am I as an artist?’ I'm so many different things. It's really hard for me to make one album that sounds completely all the same. I decided to evaluate that and split myself up into three different characters and three different moods. Realizing that I had a very soft R&B mood that was more childlike and reminiscent. Songs like “VHS” and “Skin and Bones,” where it just feels a little bit more pure, and then I had this new sound that I was experimenting with starting from “Galipette” and “Scooter.” Those two songs were experiments that led me to PLAYGIRL, which eventually led me to “Gummy Bear,” which was gonna be more futuristic, but also kind of a 2000s hip-hop moment that I've always wanted to recreate.
LISTEN: You’ve left easter eggs about the album title for a few years. Like in the lyrics in “Galipette.” How long were you sitting on this concept?
Lolo: I had the title PLAYGIRL in 2020. I posted an Instagram photo with my iPad and I was like, ‘Playgirl.’ It's funny because I always come up with my album names in a caption and then I delete it.
I'm like, I'm gonna save that. And I even made a Playgirl rug back in 2020 and I was like, this is the album title and I can't do anything about it. This is it. So, when “pl4yg1rl” came to life, I was just on the freeway listening to Too $hort’s “pimpandho.com” and I texted Stelios and I was like, ‘Dude would you wanna recreate this and make it part of the world?’ And, he had hesitations about sampling music before, and a lot of people have sampled Too $hort. So when I brought him a song that was more niche, he was like, ‘Fuck yes, let's do it.’
And once we made that, then I was, how do I finish this concept out? And so we made “Free Trial”, which is the end of the free trial to playgirl.com. And then I was like, Oh fuck. This whole album could technically be like a week dating me or all the emotions that come together in a week. So that's the album concept.
LISTEN: I've listened to it in full three to four times and when you describe it like that - that’s exactly what it sounds like. The pacing from top to bottom really separates the moods and variations of yourself. You experiment with different sounds on this too. One track has an acoustic guitar to it - not everything sounds the same, but still super cohesive if that makes sense.
Lolo: Yeah. Thank you. I think the reason that it feels cohesive is my voice and the vocal production and everything that ties it together.
And it's important for me for a pop album to be different. When I listen to some of my favorite pop albums, from Rihanna or Britney Spears, there's a sad one, there's a sexy one, like no good pop album is one sound. You should be able to listen to it at any time.
LISTEN: I feel like what sets you apart from other pop artists is the way that you write your songs all feel so timeless. Even though five years have passed, “High Highs to Low Lows” still sounds super relevant. Even if you're not even in that headspace mentally anymore. It will stand the test of time.
Lolo: Thank you. I think that's one of the greatest compliments I could get on my music. I don't wanna make anything that feels trendy, I want it to feel timeless and that's why I think Stelios’ production is very worldly.
He’s very tapped into the past and what's going on now. And we never really try to reference anything new. We're just trying to find things that can feel fresh and last forever.
LISTEN: Are there any tracks from PLAYGIRL that resonate with you the most?
Lolo: “Room” is one of my favorites because it just feels really powerful.
It feels like how “Desert Rose” felt to me on the first one. Then “VHS” is one of my favorites cause that one just feels very me, I think it's gonna be a fan favorite. I like “pl4yg1rl”, it’s just a song that no one else would've made. “Gummy Bear” I feel like is gonna be a real special one. People are gonna love it, but I don't know. I changed my mind about which ones I like the most. “Don’t Buy Me Flowers” is a classic for me. I just love it - I just love the album. I'm really proud of it.
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LISTEN: I know your fans are going to love it. Are there any that you're excited to perform live?
Lolo: “Crazy Sexy Dream Girl” is gonna be a fun one live. “Picking Berries” is gonna be really nice live and “Gummy Bear” for sure.
LISTEN: Is there anything that you want listeners to take away from this album?
Lolo: There's a deeper meaning to the whole album about what a Playgirl is. The song “Room” is about being taken advantage of as a woman and pretty much wanting to have revenge on this person that hurt you.
The theme of PLAYGIRL is not really falling in love and being a little bit closed off to that. You go through the journey of like, ‘why is she a playgirl? Why is she like this? Why am I being closed off?’ And it's because you've been hurt.
There's this deeper meaning of being a little more closed off in that way. But when you have songs like, “Don't Buy Me Flowers”, where you're wanting the love, but you're still not really wanting it, you're still not giving your all, and then you finish it off with “Skin & Bones”, which is like, ‘Yeah, I'm still me, I'm still depressed.’ But you can't finish this album with a sad one. So you gotta end it with “Free Trial” where it's like, not that serious. I think it's just about embracing all sides of me.
LISTEN: How would you define what a playgirl is?
Lolo: A playgirl has so many things but, somebody who is not afraid to be themselves. To be a little bit reckless, a little bit moody, to be a child, also to go back to your past and embrace your child-like qualities. But also to be independent and savage, and the traditional definition of a playgirl is you don't really need anybody.
LISTEN: When I first saw the album title it reminded me of early 2000s chat rooms. Where somebody has a confident internet persona but who are they in real life?
Lolo: Yeah. I mean that's the vibe too.
It's really hard for me to describe it because I change my mind about what it is and everybody's gonna have their own opinion. There's definitely this persona element where we put on a facade of who we wanna be seen as. And Playgirl is about a chat room - also it was made during the pandemic, so it was made to be listened to when you're just at home. And logging onto playgirl.com is tapping into my mind.
LISTEN: From the three personas that are showcased throughout the album, which one would you say represents you the best?
Lolo: That’s a hard one. When I'm feeling a little bit soft and just feeling sensitive I resonate most with the Dream girl because I do realize there are more songs on the album that are Dream Girl - like it's the most prevalent character in the music. But then Party Girl is definitely me when I wanna be bad. It's kind of like Playgirl is the main character and then Dream Girl is the angel and Party Girl, the devil, - it's kind of like I'm fighting between all three all the time.
LISTEN: My last question today is, who are you currently listening to?
Lolo: I've been listening to the new Tink album. Tink is so underrated, she’s amazing. Rosalia’s MOTOMAMI+ is fire. Fletcher put out an album, it's real pop perfection. Obviously, the Beyoncé album was on repeat. And RAYE, who's an incredible songwriter, her singles have been really strong.