'Insecure'’s Kendrick Sampson Talks Activism & How Everyday People Can Affect Change
If I were to tell you that Kendrick Sampson's journey into activism was inspired by a sign in the bathroom, you wouldn't believe me. But the fact of the matter is, it's 100% true. A simple message, "Leave It Better Than You Found It," became the mantra that the Houston native would eventually tap into in order to shift his activism efforts from a simple act to a revolutionary lifestyle. He is coy yet hilarious as he divulges this story over the phone during a quiet yet busy evening in LA. And as he continues to speak, it becomes more and more apparent that while the impetus may be comical, his dedication to amplifying the voices of those who live in the margins of our society are indeed no laughing matter.
"I have a platform, I have a voice, and I need to do the work and utilize whatever privilege I have in order to keep people from dying. And I can't be complicit in that," he tells xoNecole.
He continues, "It's our purpose, I feel, to leave this Earth better than we found it. And so I really just leaned into that and who I am because it's completely righteous and justified. I've gone about different creative ways in doing it based off what I feel led [to do] and what's most effective, but there's definitely tactics and nuance to all of this."
And tactics and nuances seem to be the main aspects undergirding his new initiative, BLD PWR (pronounced "Build Power"). It's a liberation training, freedom-fighting measure that seeks to leverage the collective power of those primarily in the entertainment industry, to lend their platforms and voices to increase civic engagement and create real shifts towards transformational social justice. In partnership with visionaries such as Tia Oso and Mike De La Rocha, they hope to not only raise up the next wave of socially conscious entertainers but to also foster a safe space that cultivates both imagination and radical love.
We recently got the chance to chat with Kendrick about his new initiative--and here's what he had to say.
In your own words, describe BLD PWR?
BLD PWR is about taking action and how to do that in a healthy way. It asks how do you lift up those vulnerable voices without speaking for them? And how do you learn from your mistakes and what that looks like in a training process? We want to build up the next Harry Belafontes, Marsha P. Johnsons and all these amazing, dope, radical change-makers that were involved in the process and movement. Whatever privilege they had, they aided in uplifting those with a little bit less privilege. Whether it was with their resources, or creatively producing content, or just showing up at marches and protests.
Everybody has their place in the movement and we don't want to give anybody an excuse if they don't agree with people's tactics. We want to train up and foster that imagination. I believe that it's our job, our duty, and our purpose to go into every situation and leave it better than we found it. And to lift up the most vulnerable, seek out the most vulnerable, and empower them and work to liberate them.
Courtesy of Kendrick Sampson
"I believe that it's our job, our duty, and our purpose to go into every situation and leave it better than we found it. And to lift up the most vulnerable, seek out the most vulnerable, and empower them and work to liberate them."
What do you hope to accomplish with this initiative?
Ultimately, people look at LA and Hollywood as a culture beacon. And to be honest, the everyday organizers are the true heroes of our society, the people that dedicate their lives to liberating folks everyday, whether that's in environmental awareness or lessening the maternal mortality rate or closing the pay gap. These people are heroes but a lot of the time, they look to celebrities and people with platforms more than they'll look for the community organizers that are experts in this field or the educators for this information. And so we also have that privilege being in a position where we have people paying attention to us, and my goal is to train leaders within the entertainment industry. So that they'll understand that the real work is on the ground, lead people to their work, and use media attention to reflect and amplify the good work that's already being done.
I want those in the industry to feel confident enough to speak on these issues in the right way. And when they do make mistakes, learn how to correct those easily and not retract back into a corner. I want to have a safe space to where we can foster the radical love and deconstruct all the things we suffer from--talk about it, bounce ideas off [each other] and then push that out into culture.
You’ve been known for your outspokenness and views on today’s social issues as much as your acting. When did you realize you wanted to pick up the mantle of activism? Was there a defining moment: what was it and how did it affect you?
There wasn't a clear defining moment, but I feel like my whole life, I just had this inclination towards trying to do right. And a lot of times it was more so about being right and that was a selfish thing. I think God used that against me to where it was like, 'If you really want to be right all of the time, you need to acknowledge that you're not right. That you don't know everything, you can't be a know-it-all and it's impossible. You need to humble yourself.' So I listened to God in that and try to do my best in allowing that to lead so that I can follow and be an example in that. And it's manifested itself into different ways throughout my life.
Eventually, I was posting stuff while Black Lives Matter was gaining momentum and I was connecting with different movement folks and other people that were socially conscious and getting advice. I was trying to hang back and go behind the scenes and have meetings and such. But then I realized I was placating the oppressor really, in that I didn't want to come off as an "angry black man". And when Eric Garner was murdered and got all this media attention and there was so much injustice and anger--I finally said to myself, 'You know I am angry, I am black, and I am a man.' But if I don't speak out and I try to placate people and not come off as this stereotype, then I'm aiding the oppression.
Courtesy of Kendrick Sampson
"If I don't speak out and I try to placate people and not come off as this stereotype, then I'm aiding the oppression."
The descriptor says that this initiative is: “A National Platform For Artists, Athletes and Entertainers Committed to Using Their Influence For Social Justice.” Do you ever think that there can be art/entertainment WITHOUT activism or are they always one and the same?
Yes and no; it depends on how people understand activism. A lot of people think that every project should be an activism-centered project. They think that there needs to be a protest or a statement on something. And I don't necessarily think that. But I think the way we approach stories should be activism in the sense that our lives are activism. Think about Insecure for example, there's no clear policy that they're trying to push, but it was activism in the sense that it told the story of vulnerable communities that had not been seen before in that space.
And that's so essential and important. So many groups of people of different ethnic groups, genders, and ages come up to me and say they watch Insecure. And now they're privy to an experience that they weren't before. It's not an educational piece, but it helps bring peoples stories to life and humanize them in a way that our society has historically been opposed to. So stories like that, that just tell a simple love story or life story of brown people or indigenous people--that show the humanity in people that aren't normally humanized. That's activism.
"I think the way we approach stories should be activism in the sense that our lives are activism."
Does your acting career play a part in your role as an activist?
I think people think I work a lot more than I do, meaning the projects and they think I'm consistently on set. And unfortunately, I'm not. But a lot of that is because I have to pick and choose what I want to do. Now I'm not gonna sit here and make it seem like I'm picking and choosing all my roles because there are a lot of things that I audition for that I just don't get. But this isn't a woe is me, because I get a lot more work than some actors do--but it is a very conscious effort to not take roles that are problematic, to avoid stereotypes and oppression, misogyny.
I have worked on projects because people are willing to change content, but I definitely think that activism is a lifestyle. And our career should fall under that umbrella. My career is a tool to do that work. Not a side from that work, it's not a side job. It's a part of my purpose and I do my best to utilize every aspect of my life with that purpose.
"My career is a tool to do that work. Not a side from that work, it's not a side job. It's a part of my purpose and I do my best to utilize every aspect of my life with that purpose."
Can anyone take part in BLD PWR or is it just for the aforementioned groups of people?
It's for creatives, but it's not for everybody. In particular, it's with those with platforms or those who are building platforms. There's no size to it but it's for people who are doing socially conscious work--or who WANT to do socially conscious work. So it's writers, filmmakers, storytellers, actors, athletes. It's open to influencers of all facets, but especially within the entertainment business. The main focus is to make sure people with platforms are more informed of the work of everyday organizers and are actually a part of and aiding that work.
When you think of this initiative 5-10 years from now, what do you want it to look like?
I want it to look like an army of freedom fighters. That we're out here building multiple safe spaces, we fostered other people's initiatives and communities, and that we won't necessarily get the credit for it. You won't be able to fully grasp the scope and reach of what we do and manifested in the world. I want it to amplify other people's work, the people on the ground, and in my heart, I want to be able to say, "That's beautiful that I was a part of that and no one will ever know."
But ultimately, [I] want to see safe spaces for the liberation of the most vulnerable folk and people of color, black, brown, indigenous folks and uplifting their stories and bringing them into the center. And having Hollywood lead the charge. Because there is no change, no revolution without art. The most effective communication is art. And part of that is oration and speaking and creating these stories and being active on social media, kneeling. All of that is a part of it.
Courtesy of Kendrick Sampson
"There is no change, no revolution without art. The most effective communication is art."
For someone looking to get more involved in activism or maybe just starting out, what are a few key things they can do RIGHT NOW to affect change?
Figure out what you're most passionate about because we can't cover everything. Find a local community organizer or organization that's working in that area. Because I guarantee you someone is already doing the work on whatever issue you want to take up. Then pursue your education and information in that area. See what the movement landscape is. For those who want to participate in training, they can go to bldpwr.com.
If you're in LA, there's Reform LA Jails, that seeks to transfer millions of dollars that they want to use to build new prisons and invest it into alternatives to incarceration for the homeless and mentally ill.
For more information about BLD PWR, check out their website here. Follow BLD PWR on Facebook.
Featured image by Getty Images.
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Writer. Empath. Escapist. Young, gifted, and Black. Shanelle Genai is a proud Southern girl in a serious relationship with celebrity interviews, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and long walks down Sephora aisles. Keep up with her on IG @shanellegenai.
Unapologetically, Chlöe: The R&B Star On Finding Love, Self-Acceptance & Boldly Using Her Voice
On set inside of a mid-city Los Angeles studio, it’s all eyes on Chlöe. She slightly shifts her body against a dark backdrop amidst camera clicks and whirs, giving a seductive pout here, and piercing eye contact there. Her chocolate locs are adorned with a few jewels that she requested to spice up the look, and on her shoulders rests a jeweled piece that she asked to be turned around to better showcase her neck (“I feel a bit old,” she said of the original direction). Her shapely figure is tucked into a strapless bodysuit with a deep v-neck that complements her décolletage.
Though subtle, her quiet wardrobe directives give the air of a woman who’s been here before, and certainly knows what she’s doing. At 24 years young, she’s a “Bossy” chick in training— one who’s politely unapologetic and learning the power of her own voice.
“I'm hesitant sometimes to truly speak my mind and speak up for myself and what I believe,” she later confessed to me a couple of weeks after the photoshoot. “It's always scary for me, but now I'm realizing that I have to, in order to gain respect as a Black woman— a young Black woman— who's still navigating who she is. And you know, I'm realizing that closed mouths don't get fed. And if I keep my mouth shut just because I'm afraid of what people's opinions of me will be or turn into, then that's not any way to live.”
For Chlöe, the journey into womanhood is about embracing who she is, without succumbing to the perceptions of what others think of her. From the waist up she’s everything you’d imagine. A gorgeous goddess with the kind of sex appeal that some work hard to embrace but fail to exude. But unbeknownst to anyone not on set, her bottom half is covered by a white robe, surprising coming from the girl who boasts “'Cause my booty so big, Lord, have mercy” on her first hit single “Have Mercy.”
But that’s the beauty of Chlöe. There’s more to her than meets the eye. More than what a few sensual photos sprinkled throughout an Instagram feed could ever tell you. Just like the photo-framing illusion of her portrayed from the waist up, what we know about the songstress is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more beneath the surface.
Some hours later Chlöe leans back in a high chair as her locs are transformed from a formal updo to a seemingly Basquiat-inspired one. It’s pure art, and at her request, no wigs are a part of the day’s ensemble. She’s fully embracing her natural hair, a decision that wasn’t always a socially accepted one.
In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, (Mableton, to be exact) Chlöe began to explore the foundation of her self-image. At an early age she and her younger sister, Halle, demonstrated a vocal prowess and knack for being in front of the camera that caught their parents’ attention. Soon after, they were sent on a parade of local talent shows and auditions, and eventually broke into the digital space with song covers on YouTube.
It was during these early years that Chlöe first learned that the entertainment industry could be unforgiving to those who didn’t fit a particular beauty standard. Despite the then three-year-old snagging a role as the younger version of Beyoncé’s character, Lilly, in Fighting Temptations, casting agents requested that her natural locs be exchanged for more Eurocentric tresses. Ironic, considering that growing up Chlöe saw her hair as no different than that of her peers. “I remember specifically in pre-K we had to do self-portraits and I drew myself with a regular straight ponytail, like how I would put my locs in a ponytail,” she says. “I just never saw myself any different.”
Chlöe would also learn the true meaning of a phrase that would later become an affirmation posted on her bedroom mirror: “Don’t Let the World Dim Your Light.” After attempting to wear wigs to fit in, the Bailey sisters instead chose to rock their locs with pride, which undoubtedly cost them casting roles. Yet they would have the last laugh when making headlines as the “Teen Dreadlocked Duo” who landed a million-dollar contract with Parkwood Entertainment, and the coveted opportunity to be groomed under the tutelage of a world-renowned superstar.
Credit: Derek Blanks
While that could be the end of a beautiful fairytale of self-empowerment, the reality is that it’s just the beginning of the story of her evolution. For most girls, the transition into womanhood takes place in the comfort of their own worlds, often limited to the number of people they allow to have access to them. But for Chlöe, it’s happening in front of millions of critiquing eyes just waiting for an opportunity to either uplift or dissect her through unwarranted commentary.
Many in her position wouldn’t be able to take that kind of pressure. But Chlöe is handling it with grace. “I feel like all of us as humans, we have the right to interpret things how we want,” she says. “I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
Chlöe isn’t the first artist to receive criticism for her carnal content, and she certainly won’t be the last. In 2010, Ciara writhed and rode her way to banishment on BET when the then 24-year-old released her video for “Ride.” In 2006, 25-year-old Beyoncé received backlash for “Déjà Vu."
"I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
So much so that over 5,000 fans signed an online petition demanding that her label re-shoot the video because it was “too sexual.” Even 27-year-old Janet didn’t escape critical headlines when she shed her image of innocence for a more risqué appearance with the 1993 release of janet.
It’s almost as if public reproach is a rite of passage for young Black women R&B singers on the road to stardom. Good girls seemingly “go bad” whenever they embrace the depths of their femininity, and fans only like you on top figuratively. But Chlöe has learned not to bow down to other people’s opinions, but to boss up and control the narrative. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history. If sex appeal is her weapon, she wields it well.
On set, Chlöe exudes the energy of Aphrodite in an apple red, off-shoulder dress with a sexy high split. In between shots, she mouths the lyrics to Yebba’s “Boomerang” as it echoes throughout the space in steady repetition at my recommendation. The hour grows late, yet Chlöe is heating things up as eyes stare in deep mesmerization of the girl on fire.
Credit: Derek Blanks
Through music, she explores the depths of her being, a journey that seems to be, at its foundation, rooted in self-discovery. Whereas their debut album The Kids Are Alright (2018) boasts a young Chloe x Halle empowering their generation to embrace who they are while finding their place in the world, their second album Ungodly Hour (2020) shows the Bailey sisters shedding the veil of innocence for a more unapologetic bravado.
What fans looked forward to seeing is who Chlöe shows herself to be on her debut solo album In Pieces. In an interview with PEOPLE, she confesses that releasing her first project without her sister was “scary.” "It was a moment of self-doubt where I was like, 'Can I do this without my sister?’”
Chlöe has never been shy about sharing her insecurities or her vulnerabilities, all of which are laced throughout the 14-track album. “I want people to have fun when they listen to it and to just realize that they're not alone and it's okay to be vulnerable and raw and open because none of us are perfect; we're all far from it. And I think it's healing when we all admit to that instead of putting up a facade.”
The gift of time has given the self-professed “big lover girl” more encounters with romance and heartbreak. Love songs once sung for their beautiful riffs and melodies become more than just abstract lyrics and are replaced by real-life experiences, which she tells me is definitely in the music.
In her single “Pray It Away,” for example, she contemplates going to God for healing instead of going at her ex-lover for revenge for his infidelities. “With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable,” she says. “I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
Has Chlöe been in love? That still remains to be said. Of course, she’s been linked to a few potential baes, but dating in the digital age isn’t as easy as a double tap or drop of a heart-eyes emoji. It requires a level of trust and vulnerability that’s hard to earn, and easy to mishandle. To let her guard down means to potentially set herself up for disappointment. “It’s difficult dating right now, honestly, because you really have to kind of keep your guard up and pay attention to who's really there for you. And you know, I'm such an affectionate person and I love hard.
"So when I meet the one person that I really, really am into, it's hard for me to see any others and I get attached pretty easily. And you know, I don't know, it's…it's a scary thing.”
Credit: Derek Blanks
“With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable. I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
While broken hearts yield good music (queue Adele), what’s in Chlöe’s prayer is the desire to be happy. What does that look like? Well, she’s still figuring that out herself. “Honestly, I'm the type of person who I don't truly learn unless I experience it. So it's like I can view and watch my parents and watch the loving relationships that I see in my life and be like, ‘Oh, I want that. I would love to have that.’ But then I also have to experience [love] on my own and see what my flaws or my faults might be or see what my good things about myself are. I feel like it's really all about self-reflection. And even though our base is our family and that's our foundation, we are still our own individuals and we have to find out specifically the things about ourselves that may be different from what we saw from our parents when we were growing up.”
Her ideal beau, she tells me, is someone she can feel safe to be her fun, goofy self with, but who also gives her the space to be the boss chick chasing her dreams. A man who understands that just because the world compliments her doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to hear those words from his lips or feel it in his touch. A bonus if he shows up on set after a long hard day of work with vegan cinnamon rolls. You know, the basic necessities. “I like whoever I'm with to constantly tell me they love me and that I look beautiful because I do the same. I am a very mushy person, and if I see something or you look good, I will never shy away from saying it out loud. And I want whoever I'm with to do the same, be very vocal. Tell me that you love me. Tell me what you love about me because I'm doing the same for you because that's just the person I am.”
Until she meets her match she’s married to the game, and for now, that seems to be perfect matrimony.
Credit: Derek Blanks
On stage at the 2021 American Music Awards, Chlöe solidified her position as a force to be reckoned with. It was a full-circle moment. In 2012, bright-eyed and baby-faced Chloe and Halle would walk onto the set of The Ellen Degeneres Show and blow the audience away as they bellowed out their future mentor’s song. Ellen would present the sisters with tickets to attend the AMAs, assuring them that they would be back and had a promising future. Nine years later, Chlöe descends from the sky cloaked in a snow-white cape and matching midriff-baring bodysuit for her debut performance. It’s the first time she’s graced the stage of the very award show that she was once an audience member of.
As she shakes and shimmies and boom kack kacks out her eight counts, it’s clear that she’s in her element. Just like her VMA performance a couple of months prior, and the many more stages she’ll continue to grace, she brings an energy that has earned her comparisons to the beloved Queen Bey herself. An honorable statement, considering few R&B songstresses are getting accolades for their entertainment capabilities. It’s on these very stages, in front of hundreds of astonished eyes and millions more glued to their televisions at home, that she tells me she feels most sexy. Powerful, even.
But off stage, it’s a different story.
It’s more than just the commentary about her image and media-flamed rumors that get to her. Mentally, she’s in competition with herself. The desire to be the best burns at the back of her mind with every performance, every production, and every time she steps into the booth. Before, she could share the weight of this burden with her sister. Being a part of a duo meant she could turn to Halle for quiet confirmation and encouragement without a word being exchanged. But lately stepping on the stage means stepping out on her own. And despite being a breathtaking, five-time Grammy-nominated star, Chlöe doesn’t escape the reality that sometimes we can be our own worst critics.
Over the last year, she’s been coming to terms with who she is on her own while overcoming the fear of failing to become who she’s destined to be. While the world waits to see how Chlöe wins, the real triumph is in every day that she chooses herself and continues to walk in her purpose. “I don't really have anything all figured out, honestly. But what I try to do, a lot of prayer. I talk to God more and I just try to do things that calm my mind down and just breathe.”
To whom much is given, much will be required. She’s been chosen to walk this path for a reason. Once she fully embraces that everything she’s meant to be is already inside of her, she’ll be an unstoppable force. “My grandma, Elizabeth, she just passed away and my middle name is her [first] name. So I feel like I truly have a responsibility to live up to her legacy that she's left on this earth. I hope I can do that.”
There’s no doubt that she will. With a role in The Fighting Temptations at three years old, a million-dollar record deal, a main role on five seasons of Grown-ish, five Grammy nominations, a number one solo record in Urban and Rhythmic Radio, a debut solo album, and starring roles in recently released movies Praise Thisand Swarm (just to name a few), Chlöe’s certainly already made her mark, and she’s just getting started.
Photographer & Creative Director: Derek Blanks
Executive Producer: Necole Kane
Co-Executive Producer: EJ Jamele
Producer: Erica Turnbull
Digitech: Chris Keller
DP: Alex Nikishin
Gaffer: Simeon Mihaylov
Photo Assistant: Chris Paschal
2nd Photo Assistant: Tyler Umprey
Features Editor: Kiah McBride
Special Projects: Tyeal Howell
Hair: Malcolm Marquez
Makeup: Yolonda Frederick
Fashion Styling: Ashley Sean Thomas
For More: Cover Story: Issa Rae Comes Full Circle
"I Have Truly Survived the Unimaginable." Megan Thee Stallion Is Ready To Resume Her Next Chapter.
Megan Thee Stallion is ready to resume her life, not as a victim but as a survivor of gun violence.
In a recent as-told-to essay for ELLE, the 28-year-old mega-star took time to reflect on her experience surviving the shooting incident involving rapper Tory Lanez in July 2020.
In the piece, Megan described her traumas in the aftermath of the shooting and the drawn-out legal case and trial that brought on the public's negative reaction to the incident.
“Imagine how it feels to be called a liar every day?” Megan says. “Especially from a person who was once part of your inner circle.” She notes that many people were quick to doubt her story and blame her for how the incident unfolded. For nearly three years, she went through the weight of public humiliation, while being the brunt of jokes, memes, and “sneak disses” as her humanity was ignored.
“The truth is that I started falling into a depression,” the rapper says. “I didn’t feel like making music. I was in such a low place that I didn’t even know what I wanted to rap about. I wondered if people even cared anymore.”
She adds, “There would be times that I’d literally be backstage or in my hotel, crying my eyes out, and then I’d have to pull Megan Pete together and be Megan Thee Stallion.”
Megan wrote how not fitting “the profile of a victim” played a role in the dismissal of her traumas in the public eye and emphasized the importance of believing women when they come forward with their own stories of violence and abuse. “But my heart hurts for all the women around the world who are suffering in silence, especially if you’re a Black woman who doesn’t appear as if she needs help,” she says.
“So many times, people looked at me and thought, ‘You look strong. You’re outspoken. You’re tall. You don’t look like somebody who needs to be saved.’ They assumed that, per preconceived stigmas, ‘I didn’t fit the profile of a victim,’ and that I didn’t need support or protection.”
With time, the Houston fem-cee has been able to take a step away from the public eye to heal, spend time with her dogs, and “doing a lot of praying” to recover from the incident. “The physical and mental scars from this entire ordeal will always sting, but I’m taking the appropriate steps to resume my life,” Megan says.
And while she is “in a happier place,” there are still moments of anxiety that come up from time to time. “Talking about being shot still makes me emotional. I’ve started journaling as a way to better process my thoughts, hopes, and fears,” she says. “Prayer has also played a therapeutic role in my healing, because I can have honest and unfiltered conversations with God without any judgment.”
Megan concluded her essay by expressing her hope for a future where people can live without fear of gun violence and victims of trauma and abuse can receive the support and healing they need.
“My purpose is for these words to serve as the final time that I’ll address anything regarding this case in the press,” Megan notes in the article. “I understand the public intrigue, but for the sake of my mental health, I don’t plan to keep reliving the most traumatic experience of my life over and over again. I’m choosing to change the narrative because I’m more than just my trauma.”
With new music to come, we look forward to seeing Megan back on her healed, hot girl ish.
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Featured image by Hubert Vestil/WireImage