The debut of the 2023 film adaptation of The Little Mermaidwas bigger than me. It was a major moment for my inner child who loved watching the original 1989, as well as the 2000 sequel The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, but didn’t know that she could be a mermaid. Though I was never a fan of swimming - or really any aquatic activity - I saw myself in the character of Ariel because she loved to sing, be with friends, and be magical and mystical all day long.
The problem was I didn’t identify as a white woman with red hair and blue eyes.
The casting announcement of Grammy-nominated singer and actress Halle Bailey in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid was nothing less than monumental. While we waited a few years to see the official character posters and trailers, I knew that having a Gen-Z Black girl play one of my favorite Disney princesses was going to shake the table for years to come - especially as someone who has always worn her natural hair.
“My relationship with my natural hair started very young. My mother actually locked my sister and I [our hair] when we were around five-ish years old, and so I have not known my life without my locs,” Halle told me during an interview about her and her sister Chlöe Bailey’s loc journey as she noted the spiritual importance of her hair journey. “I'm just grateful to be able to make my version of Ariel have my hair. I was so grateful that Rob Marshall, the director, allowed the essence of Halle to flow through who Ariel is. Especially as a Black woman, it's important for us to be able to see our hair be represented in these different roles.”
Halle Bailey attends the world premiere of Disney's live-action film The Little Mermaid.
Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney
According to Variety’s interview with Oscar-nominated hair department head Camille Friend, one of the biggest challenges of bringing Bailey’s locs to life was embodying the spirit of the original Disney princess while maintaining the health and integrity of the actress’ natural tresses.
“It was a really interesting one because I had never colored my hair before. I was excited about it,” Bailey told xoNecole about the dying and coloring process of her hair for her Disney princess debut. “When I saw myself with red roots for the first time, I was like, Whoa, because my whole life, it’s been dark brown. My natural hair is just dark brown, so it was really cool to see myself like that.”
As the first Black Disney princess to star in a live-action movie, representation was key, and both Friend and Bailey knew they had to use their platform to demonstrate to young girls that staying true to your heritage and cultural identity is first and foremost. Working carefully with her natural 24” locs, the wrapping process took a total of 12 to 14 hours to create the 30” custom-colored locs with three shades of red and Keratin tips.
"I'm not guesstimating, but we probably spent at least $150,000 because we had to redo it and take it out. You couldn't use it, and we'd have to start again. It was a process," Friend told Variety about the process following the hair at a beauty store in Chatsworth, CA. In an effort to put on the finishing touches of their hair to make it "dance" as Bailey moved through the water, Friend added loose body wave-type extensions to give a goddess, beachy-appeal for the final product.
The "ROYL" singer was no stranger to her responsibility as a vessel for change when it comes to the versatility of natural hair. Following the representation of microbraids in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella by Brandy, Bailey is the second Disney princess to wear a natural protective style as royalty.
From her 70s-style fro on the cover of EDITION by Modern Luxury to an auburn-red bob at this year's Met Gala, Bailey has proven that locs are more adaptable than the mainstream beauty industry believes. "I think it was just so important for me because it's the essence of who I am really. It's all I've known my whole life."
"I think it was just so important for me because it's the essence of who I am really. It's all I've known my whole life."
Halle Bailey attends The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty."
Cindy Ord/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue
Bailey continued, "I think that when Rob Marshall and Disney wanted me, it was a beautiful thing for them to want all of me and to not just pick and choose pieces of me, and allowed me to just be completely myself as a Black woman and show all the layers that come with that. I feel like mermaids would have locs, too. I feel like being under the water and your hair, I feel like it would fuse into locs anyways, like how it does in the movie."
"I think that when Rob Marshall and Disney wanted me, it was a beautiful thing for them to want all of me and to not just pick and choose pieces of me, and allowed me to just be completely myself as a Black woman and show all the layers that come with that."
In addition to being under the sea, Bailey feels on top of the world when she's indulging in activities and surrounding herself with things and people that she loves - both personally and professionally. "I think I feel my most happy and beautiful when I'm doing the things that I love, and I'm warm," Bailey said sweetly with a cherubic smile plastered across her face.
"When I'm warm, number one, when I'm in the sun and just kind of sunbathing, or when I'm quiet, or also when I'm underwater," she added. "Since this movie, I've really discovered a passion for diving and just have this curiosity and wonder for honestly the ocean now. I love scuba diving because it's so quiet down there, and you just kind of go into this meditative space and gratefulness when you get to see how massive this world is above and below us. It's really a cool perspective."
Now, in the midst of being a Disney princess, chugging along weeks of press runs and preparation, and gearing up to star in The Color Purple with Danielle Brooks and Fantasia, how does Halle balance it all? One word: Faith.
"I think I truly just put God at the forefront of my life. I remember that I'm here for a reason, and this is all happening because of God. I think that it's easy for me to stay grounded and humble when I remember that I am just being used as a vessel for good and love and light," Halle said humbly about being rooted in her relationship with her Lord and Savior, who is truly the head of her life. "
"I just hope that whatever is meant to be in my life, God just steers me in the right direction. I think I love being in nature the most because I love when I can feel small and that this is a great big world and that these things, even though this movie feels massive on days like this, and it's a lot of pressure to live up to, it's really nice to just lay back and realize that we're all just small crumbs in this universe. I'm just really grateful to be able to do what I love here and make a living out of what I love and just follow in whatever journey I'm supposed to be in."
The Little Mermaid is now in theaters.
Featured image by Don Arnold/WireImage via Getty Images
Coco Jones’ journey through the industry has often tried to be silenced by the masses, but she never allowed her voice to go unheard. From early exposure as a child star on Disney Channel’s Next Big Thing competition and Let It Shine with Tyler James Williams and Trevor Jackson to using her personal platform to advocate for darker-skinned Black women at the hands of colorism, the R&B crooner hasn’t shied away from the opportunity to be seen in spaces that weren’t meant for women like her.
However, there was once a point in time when young Jones didn’t have the same amount of confidence in her decisions. Surprisingly, Jones admitted to me that her relationship with boundary setting and even the word “no” was not always a close-knit relationship.
“Over the past few years, I have grown to love the word 'no,'” she told xoNecole. While she admitted that she used to think it was a “very bad word” associated with being difficult to work with and diva-like behavior, she now knows that there’s nothing negative about setting boundaries and doing what’s right for yourself. “I literally would not [say 'no'] because I didn't want to be perceived that way, but I think knowing your worth makes a 'no' [a] very useful word. Being confident that the opportunities that are for you will be for you makes ‘no’ a safe word.”
Jones continued, “I think standing firm on your boundaries helps with being courageous, and being courageous is similar to being confident. I think they go hand in hand. You have to believe that you will [still] have good things. You have to believe that the right people will come into your life when you push out the wrong people. That takes courage, which I think in turn builds your confidence.”
Courtesy of Pure Leaf
While the word is only two letters long, it carries a lot of impact, and when using said word, sometimes you have to deliver it subtly sweet. Enter stage left, Jones' partnership with Pure Leaf for a second year in a row to dismantle the myth that saying "no" has to be a sour, instead of sweet, experience for the person delivering the package and receiving it.
Last year, Jones introduced viewers to the Subtly Sweet "Hotline," where the singer helped callers achieve the perfect balance of sweetness and bold boundary-setting. Fast forward to 2023, Jones is seen taking her acting chops to the small screen as she stars in "As Seen on Pure Leaf" – an in-faux-mercial promoting the power of "no," via Coco's TikTok and on Peacock's Streaming Service. When presented with the idea of partnering with Pure Leaf, Jones was instantly aligned with the brand based on her industry experience and "what it takes to really survive as yourself and to not lose yourself," she explained to xoNecole.
"Overall, it just really is a useful tool. I think so much of our lives, we feel this pressure to succumb to what people say we have to be or to people please," Jones continued. "I love that me and Pure Leaf are very aligned when it comes to saying no and being okay with staying true to your boundaries."
As a Black woman in the industry, Jones is no stranger to the trope of being labeled as the angry Black girl or the difficult diva in the entertainment world just because she wanted to say the once-deemed ugly two-letter word. Now, Jones uses her platform loud and proud to show her fans and followers the power of standing firm in your power and setting your boundaries. As a public figure, she recognizes that she has a sense of responsibility to the younger generation following her to be as true to herself as possible.
“I am on a platform, and I think my fans and honestly, the world, can really tell what's authentic and what's forced, especially with social media and all of the constant content that's out there,” Jones added.
“People would be steered incorrectly if they were to see me succumb to the pressures and be somebody that I'm not authentically, after all of this time.”
For Jones, choosing the road less traveled in an effort to remain authentic and true to herself is more satisfying than being someone that the industry would attempt to mold her into. “It was more important to choose the longer route, if it meant saying 'no' to the necessary things so that somebody watching my journey can feel motivated to continue to be their truest self in their journey, no matter how long it takes,” Jones added.
Joe Scarnici / Stringer/Getty Images
While she was growing up in the public eye, Jones admitted to xoNecole that she didn't experience much pushback because she was "so happy to be doing any of the roles." Rather than standing her ground, Jones did not want to jeopardize the opportunity to be in the room. Fast forward to her adulthood, she uses the strength that she has accumulated to become more in tune with herself and her voice to set her boundaries and subtly, sweetly "put people back in line."
Day by day, Jones practices boundaries by working on herself internally - including all aspects of emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being - and being aligned with the "why's" in her life. "I think one of my non-negotiables in general that is across the board is dishonesty. Especially being a child of this industry, I'm so traumatized by lies. I just can't," Jones admitted.
"I need honesty in all regards, even if it's a harsh truth. I respect people telling me truths that are not that easy to say because I hold honesty in very high regard. That's one of my non-negotiables in everything - personal, friendship, relationship, business."
For her supporters who may want to practice setting their own boundaries but don't want to sound too brash, Jones suggests practicing with yourself before going straight into the lion's den with others. "Honestly, practice in the mirror as well. That's something that I do. I will write down my points, and they will be very articulate, very educated, and then you can't push back because I've already practiced in the mirror," she added jokingly.
Specifically, when it comes to her role as Hilary Banks in Peacock's Bel-Air, Jones admires her character for being someone who doesn't fool around when it comes to her boundaries being crossed. While the original Hilary, portrayed by Karyn Parsons, didn't originally look like Coco Jones, the "ICU" singer adored the Zillennial fictional Bel-Air princess for her confidence, decisiveness, and not taking shit from anyone when it comes to following her own dreams.
Tim Mosenfelder / Contributor/Getty Images
"One thing about Hilary, she knows how to set her boundaries very subtly [and] sweetly. She might be a little salty too, but that representation can change the outcome of someone's lives. I wasn't necessarily intimidated; I was more honored that I got to do that," Jones said. "I really do learn from Hilary how to be a boss, to be decisive, to be self-assured in places where you have to stick up for yourself."
Retrospectively, before Jones and I closed out our conversation, I asked her where she could personally improve on her boundary-setting practices. "Lord, is this therapy?" she laughed. While I assured her that our conversation is a safe space, as it always is whenever we chop it up, she thought back to the notion of mixing business with pleasure and the idea that the political is always personal.
"I need to work more on my boundaries with friendship and business. I think a lot of the times, you get so comfortable working with glam and people really close to you. They'd start off as business, and then you become friends, and you're like, Let's hang out, but then it's like, Okay, now I can't say the thing that bothered me in the business side because now we're friends. What do I do?" she added. "I need to work a little bit more on my boundaries of keeping those lines clear and not blurry."
For more of Coco, follow her on Instagram @cocojones.
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Featured image by Neilson Barnard / Staff/Getty
Exclusive: Zonnique On 'The Break Up' & How Her Relationship With Tiny Shaped Her Approach To Motherhood
The last time Zonnique and I connected was two years ago, in 2021, when she was celebrating her very first Mother’s Day as Hunter’s mommy. Now, two years have passed, and so much has happened. She has released her latest EP after a five-year hiatus from the music scene, she became the host of FOX Soul’s The Mix, and I even lost my own mother. We had a lot to catch up on.
When I crossed over into the conference call after running a few minutes late, I was apologetic, but her calm, zen aura instantly calmed me down and reassured me that no apologies were necessary - just humble salutations.
With the return of Zonnique’s sultry voice to the forefront, I couldn’t go two minutes into our conversation without giving her her due flowers for her latest EP, The Break Up. “I'm happy for myself. You know it's been a long time coming, baby,” the singer shared about her work to xoNecole.
Zonnique admitted to me that her return to music was something that she’s been ready to do for quite some time, but there has been a lot of stalling in the interim. Between laying down vocals in the booth and planning around the perfect timing, there was much stop-and-start during the holding process of the project. In the end, the release and the timing of The Break Up came together as it should have when it was meant to be debuted into the world.
“Even though I was really sad about that and just mad about how long everything was taking, I think that it was worth the wait just for myself, period because I grew a lot in that time, and I got to really mold myself into the artist that I want to be,” Zonnique shared.
“One More Time” (For The Fans)
Credit: Scrill Davis
Courtesy of Zonnique
No stranger to the spotlight, Zonnique has amassed a loyal fanbase in the music industry from her time as a girl group member of the OMG Girlz all the way to her time as a reality star on Growing Up Hip-Hop: ATL and T.I. & Tiny. Now, the singer formerly known as "Miss Star" decided to put out a project specifically for her fans who have been craving to hear from her for nearly half a decade.
Because she had been teasing snippets of her music for years, the fans knew that she had something coming, but it wasn't until the last two months of 2022 that The Break Up truly came together. She completely scratched all of the music she originally created and started from the top by tapping into the feelings that she was experiencing in the moment, which included the torn mental state of a fresh heartbreak. In collaboration with a producer by the name of Valley, Zonnique created a project of five songs inspired by both her fans and the father of her child, Bandhunta Izzy.
In comparison to her 2017 EP Love Jones, Zonnique told me that her sophomore EP is "more vulnerable than the first time" and she feels more empowered and "confident to speak out." The singer also noted that because Love Jones marked the beginning of her solo career, the journey to solo stardom was a new and fresh one, and even described herself as timid.
Zonnique added, "Because [I was] coming out of a group, it can be uncomfortable at first, and I was kind of in an uncomfortable state. Even though I was proud of the things that I [made], and I'm still really happy about the Love Jones project and how it came out, I don't feel like I was as confident then, so I just was still figuring things out."
One of the most admirable traits about Zonnique is that while she's grown up on television since her days on Tiny & Toya with her mother and Xscape member Tiny, she managed to stay out of the drama and in her own lane. On The Break Up, Zonnique gets more vulnerable than she ever has about life, love, and relationships as she lets her guard down between each and every song, including the accompanying visuals featuring the father of her child.
"They might get to know my soft side or maybe even my weak side," Zonnique shared about what fans should expect from her latest project. "I feel like I'm always keeping up this positive, 'everything's good' type image. I think that they'll be able to learn [that] I go through it too, just like anybody else, and I go through heartbreak, and you'll see how I pretty much deal with that on the project."
Zonnique’s Love Song ‘23
Credit: Scrill Davis
Courtesy of Zonnique
Over the past five years, we've only been allowed as much access into Zonnique Pullins' world as she would allow, meaning that what we see on Instagram, on WeTV, or even on social media live streams are limited. When it comes to her dating life, the "Nun For Free" singer has always been relatively private and never given too much detail into the ins and outs of her love life beyond a few cute selfies that would suddenly disappear after the relationship had run its course.
Now, as a mother to almost three-year-old Hunter, who she co-parents with rapper Bandhunta Izzy, Zonnique was able to get real with me about the status of her dating life since her Love Jones days. While she says that much hasn't changed, Zonnique shared with me that she's always been a person who gives 100% to any and every relationship that she's ever been in, but like most of us, she has her boundaries and knows how to prioritize herself.
"I may mess up there a little bit, but I would say that I've always been a person that's like, 'okay, well if you mess with my peace, I'm pretty much out of here,'" she admitted. Contrary to her original thoughts, she believed that having a child would make her dating life much more difficult because she would feel "stuck here forever," but she soon realized that she was the novelist of her own romantic storybook, and it could go any which way she pleases. Zonnique powerfully and boastfully knows that she is not required to stay anywhere that may compromise her mental and emotional wellness.
"I try to still stay in the same mind frame that I was before I had a child, and I'm like, if it messes up my peace, I'll take my child, and we'll be up out of here," she added. "I feel like my happiness has always been the most important to me. I would feel like I've pretty much stayed the same in love."
Specifically, when it comes to her and the father of her child (who she also collaborated with on "One More Time" on The Break Up), Zonnique admits that they're still figuring out the boundaries of their relationship - co-parenting, platonically, and romantically. "We are still figuring that out," she shared. She doesn't deny the feeling of having love for - or even being in love with - her child's father but acknowledges that there's a weird sort of in-between limbo because of their past relationship pre-Hunter.
"It still can be difficult to be around each other and not be like, 'Okay. It's giving, what is this?'," she laughed. Zonnique shared that she and Bandhunta Izzy have come to an understanding to put their romantic feelings on the back burner and let things ebb and flow as time takes its course. "If it works out, it works out, but if not, at least we still can build our friendship. I think that building a friendship is really the most important thing, and I feel like with my child's father, we kind of got into a relationship before we even built the friendship."
"If it works out, it works out, but if not, at least we still can build our friendship. I think that building a friendship is really the most important thing, and I feel like with my child's father, we kind of got into a relationship before we even built the friendship."
Zonnique continued, "I don't know, we have a really great bond period. I think that it takes boundaries and just really figuring out what works for the two of you to be able to keep your kid happy. You both have to be happy, and you have to really figure it out as you go. It's not an easy thing."
In an effort to be happy and be the best mother she could be for Hunter, as well as being the best version of Zonnique for herself, she takes the time she needs to pour into herself so she can perform at the highest level. Between being in a relationship and cohabitating with your partner, Zonnique can sometimes feel a little burnout, especially when you add a baby into the mix.
However, Zonnique knows that sometimes it’s important to take a step back from everything that’s making you unhappy to stay in tune with your emotions, even if it means putting a relationship you really value in the backseat. "It can be a little challenging when you are being a mom and just focused on what your child needs and what's best for the family instead of what's best for you. It can kind of be a hard balance.”
Credit: Scrill Davis
Courtesy of Zonnique
Work-life balance requires patience, especially for a new mother like Zonnique. Music serves as a form of self-care for the "Ghost" singer, but she loves to share those moments with her baby girl even if her personality is larger than the songs that she's singing.
"My child is really attached to me, and she has a big personality, and she's very distracting," Zonnique laughed. "I bring her to the studio a lot, but she wants to be in the booth, and she wants to be on the mic and put the headphones on. She wants to do her own thing."
She knows that Hunter has a love for music, just like her mother, and she wants to expose her daughter early to all of the incredible things that music has to offer one's soul but knows that she has to set clearer boundaries for herself when having that time to herself. "I do like to take that time to just go in there alone and really get out my thoughts, and music is a diary for me. I'm not really an open person. I'm really private, so I enjoy being able to go in the studio and have that time to myself to just really say how I feel."
In addition to laying it all on the track, Zonnique uses working out and being alone as primary forms of self-care. "My real self-care is being at home by myself, getting rid of my child, having no company, and literally just laying in my bed, listening to music. I would lay in the bed all day, put no TV on, and just listen to my favorite songs, and I will be healed after. I don't know why that is," she admitted to me.
In times of need and support, Zonnique's first call is to none other than one of her best friends, her own mother. As a young mom herself, Tiny was able to navigate the ins and outs of being in the center of the music industry while being responsible for her mini-me, meaning she would have much advice to share with her firstborn. "I feel like my mom has never second-guessed me. She's always been in my corner. She calls me and is making sure that I'm good, other than music or anything, she's just always very supportive in every way," she said kindly about her mother.
In a previous interview on Mr. Jay Hill's podcast, Zonnique explained how her strained relationship with the Xscape vocalist when she was younger manifested itself into her self-care practices today. Admitting that Tiny's relationship with her stepfather and rapper T.I. always seemed like a priority during the interview, Zonnique told me that it impacted the way that she approaches motherhood with her own mini-me. "I feel like it affects me a lot in my motherhood. It's definitely made me a certain type of way with my child," she admitted.
Tiny had never heard her daughter express sentiments of neglect or abandonment, according to Zonnique, but knows that the adversity in their relationship would only make Zonnique the incredible mother that she is today. "I was telling her (Tiny) it really molded me into the mom that I am. It's okay, I'm older, and I'm fine. I'm not hurt about that stuff anymore, but I'm glad that I went through those things because now I'm like, 'I'm going to take my child.' Even when I know it's probably going to be a lot harder that I take her, I still take her, and I just push myself to go over and beyond for her, which I enjoy."
"I feel like it affects me a lot in my motherhood. It's definitely made me a certain type of way with my child. I was telling her it really molded me into the mom that I am. It's okay, I'm older, and I'm fine. I'm not hurt about that stuff anymore, but I'm glad I went through those things because now I'm like, 'I'm going to take my child.'"
Zonnique Is Great
Credit: Scrill Davis
Courtesy of Zonnique
This time around for Mother's Day, Zonnique has expectations that are a bit different than when we connected two years ago. "What excites me the most is just knowing that I'm not going to say a real mother, but I would say I'm really flourishing in motherhood," she said as she acknowledged herself proudly.
"Not to toot my own horn, I'm in motherhood, and I feel like I'm starting to get to a point where I'm comfortable, and this is my life, and I'm good at this. I'm not second-guessing myself. My child will be okay, and I'm not stressed and worried about what's next or things like that. I feel like I'm just really settling into motherhood this year."
In retrospect, Zonnique has come a long way in her parenting journey throughout the past two years, and it shows. Confidence, resilience, and patience are not only pieces of her character that Zonnique has already possessed, but they've been amplified through her responsibility as a mother.
From the ups of teaching her daughter her passion for music and dance to the lows of achieving balance, Zonnique says that she's ready for it all - and we love to see it.
The Break Up is available on all streaming platforms.
Featured image by Scrill Davis
When you hear Amerie’s name, you think of her smash hits responsible for some of the most notable R&B lyrics of the early 2000s, like “Why Don’t We Fall In Love” and “1 Thing” - including the Eve remix. But there’s one more thing about Amerie that we can add to her resume in addition to being the sound of 2006, and that’s being an author.
The “Gotta Work” singer released her debut children’s picture book,You Will Do Great Things, inspired by her son River. With the development of her then-future son’s mind at the top of her mind, Amerie would read to River while he was in the womb in an effort to not only hear the sound of his mother’s voice but to relay sweet and meaningful messages as his organs and subconscious began to form simultaneously. “Maybe there would be that kind of cadence and that kind of feel he would be familiar with when he was born,” Amerie told me retrospectively during our phone interview.
Once River was born, she continued to read to him as regularly scheduled programming when he was inside of her, but it wasn’t until she held him in the natural world that Amerie realized how much she really wanted to share with this new life. Between 14 and 16 weeks old, Amerie noticed how her son began to turn the pages of books by himself because he was already so familiar with the cadence of his mother’s reading voice - even down to the indication of when a line was done on a page. While she realized that her son was able to recognize the action of reading, something clicked in the “Why R U” singer’s head that it was just as important for her son to see himself represented in the books that she was sharing with him.
“We would have books that feature kids from all different backgrounds, but I wanted more books in which he could see himself,” Amerie told xoNecole. “I really wanted to create a very special universal message book that was also very specific to how I was feeling. I knew that I was feeling pretty much how most parents feel, but that would have that beautiful and strong message about life, and all the things that he can do, and all the great things that I am certain he's going to do, and all the love that surrounds him from the past and the present. All of those things were in a book that featured a child who looked like him. That was extremely important to me.”
Following the release of her children’s book, I caught up with the Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter about prioritizing self-love as a mother and wife, demystifying the notion that women can’t have it all, and addressing the fears of being a mother raising a Black son in America.
It’s This One Thing…About Reading
For as long as she could remember, Amerie turned to reading and the world of literature as a form of self-care and escapism from the physical beings around her. Whenever someone would ask her about her favorite hobbies, she would not hesitate to point to either the art of writing or the wonder of reading. She sees reading as a way to continue to expand her mind as an adult, to learn more about the world around her, and to "develop empathy" for new cultural backgrounds and walks of life.
In fact, she loves reading so much that she has a wall in her home dedicated to her collection of books in addition to all of the books located in her personal library, River's room, the guest room, and throughout her house. As a new author, she recognizes that the amount of vulnerability that she experiences as a writer is not equivalent to the feeling when she's writing a book.
While as a fictional author, people who may or may not like your work are not necessarily connected to you as a human being, Amerie acknowledges the powers that lie within her pen game as an author to convey messages of both society's shortcomings and beautiful beings in a children's book. "On one hand, I feel like there's safety because people could either not like the story or they will. It's no indictment on you, necessarily," Amerie explained. "However, when you write something, you really are letting people into your head. When you create these characters, because all these characters represent some part of yourself, it's really like laying yourself bare. In that way, you allow people to see a lot."
"When you create these characters, because all these characters represent some part of yourself, it's really like laying yourself bare. In that way, you allow people to see a lot.”
The “Pretty Brown Eyes” singer believes in the power of commitment to a book, especially when you have the reader’s eyes and ears for hours to the point in which they become the character. “It's that whole holding up the mirror to society and allowing people to see it in a way that's a little bit more subliminal than someone just having an outright conversation with someone who may or may not want to have that conversation,” Amerie said. “I think you’re able to tackle more regarding life in that way.”
In comparison to her music career, Amerie notes that you can impact someone in a shorter time span than a book because a song only lasts between 3-5 minutes on average. She leans on songs as a way to curate a vibe and evoke an immediate feeling as opposed to encouraging lingering thoughts about the state of the culture and the world around us.
“You can uplift, make them melancholy, make them kind of feel sad, make them reflect, make them want to dance. You really can control. It's almost like you're hijacking a person's emotions when you're creating music,” Amerie noted excitedly as she realized the power she possessed as a Grammy award-winning singer and songwriter.
Amerie continued, “Even though you're not letting them in your head, and you do have much more of a buffer between yourself and your art, as far as people may know how you're feeling, they don't necessarily know what you're thinking about any given thing. They may, depending on what you write, but it's not necessarily a given, unlike a book, where you have all these characters running around that are all these different parts of yourselves, but they will know what you're about to a certain extent when they're listening to the music.”
Nothing Like Loving Mommy
In addition to being a singer, songwriter, and author, there are two more roles that Amerie would always put above all - and that's being a mother and wife. But how does she do it all and take time to take care of herself?
"I actually don't put myself first. That's something I'm working on," she admittedly laughed.
While she acknowledges that she doesn't make herself a priority in her life, Amerie doesn't feel the need to check herself to do so. In fact, she's become so accustomed to how things are that she's begun to accept such is life. "I'm kind of fine with that, but I do realize that I do have to make time for myself too. I certainly don't put myself first. That's not what I do at all," she told xoNecole.
When she does have a moment, Amerie pours into herself through creation and writing, whether that be literary or musical. She even noted how her son is aware of when it's time to be creative and practice solitude, but River still enjoys being around his mother and being involved in all of her activities. "My son knows mommy's writing time. That's when mommy's doing the thing that I love to do," Amerie said. While she usually doesn't record her music while River is home, she does her best to incorporate her son into whenever "mommy's creating" because "it's fun for him."
Like anyone else who may be a full-time parent, career-driven woman, or an overall on-the-go human being, alone time is essential to recharge her battery, but Amerie practices an open-door policy with her son as an exception for interruption.
"He's the most important thing. He knows that I could be writing, but if it's really important like you really need to give me kisses or you need to tell me something, you can come in. It's an open door," Amerie told xoNecole. "That's important to me that he knows that because I never want him to grow up thinking that this one thing was more important than him, and I don't think he would think that because that's not how I present things."
Retrospectively, Amerie realized that she's only had about three or four massages since the birth of her four-year-old son, which her own husband encourages her to do more of. "The thing is, the way I handle my time is I have a lot to do, [but] I'm never going to sacrifice time from my child," she said adamantly.
Amerie continued, "Whatever I need to do, I can fit it in. We'll make it work. I'll stay up late or whatever it is, but those times are very important, like going with him to school, picking him up, family meals. Sometimes though, Mommy might have to miss dinner, and I don't like that, but [I'm] never missing bedtime because there's other certain things that for myself are important to me. "As she buckled down on her non-negotiables, she added that every parent has theirs, but she stands ten-toes down on hers, no matter how tough achieving the balance is.
"You always feel like there's a ball dropping somewhere, but my own personal thing is, I refuse to let the ball drop in the mom zone. I'm not going to do that," Amerie said powerfully. She thought back to her own parents, who she said were present in her life and encouraged her to do the best she can and always put her child first. However, she knew that it didn't mean to put herself on the back burner and not care for herself at all, but to know that child care and raising a human being is more than just cute Instagram moments and first words."It's such a beautiful gift, being a parent, and it's one that I take really seriously and that I love."
Why Don’t We Let Women Do It All?
Amerie has always been a proud multihyphenate, and she's not the first woman to do so by balancing motherhood, personal time, her professional life, and all while looking good doing it. We've seen Rihanna run her beauty empire with Baby Fenty No. 1 and No. 2 on the way, and we've seen Beyoncé be a mother of three while planning a world tour and dropping one of the best albums of the decade with Renaissance.
But why is it that we still don't have total faith that women can truly have it all? We asked Amerie, and she said that we certainly can - but with some caveats.
"I've always been a big believer in any person, and we're talking specifically about women, can have it all, but not necessarily at the same time. Because there will be concessions you have to make," Amerie explained. She continued to express that you can make sure with every fiber of your being that nothing goes wrong while you're in mommy mode. You may slow up or backlog in other areas of your life because you're not giving it that same energy or attention.
Amerie added, "Let's just say you are 'hashtag mommy-ing,' and you are able to balance your work as well because maybe you're staying up later. You're tired, but maybe you are not seeing your friends as much as you wanted to, so it's been harder to maintain more of your friendship. I do think that these things all come at a cost, and maybe you're just balancing it all, but that can be very, very difficult."
She fully acknowledged that women routinely carry a lot of the weight of parenting, both physically and emotionally, in addition to the weight of keeping their marriage alive, having friends, and keeping food on the table. In the same breath, Amerie wants women who empathize with her to know that they're doing the best they can with what they have - and it's okay to give yourself time and grace.
"I've always been a big believer in any person, and we're talking specifically about women, can have it all, but not necessarily at the same time. Because there will be concessions you have to make."
"It's important, I think, for moms to know and women to know that you're not failing. It's very easy to see people doing things and [seeing] they're doing it well, and they're making it look so effortless, and it's just like, Well, why can't I get this right? Why am I struggling? Why am I not able to be on top of everything? And no one's on top of it," Amerie reassured. "You can't compare because you don't really know what's going on in everyone's life."
As a suggestion, the singer noted that instead of focusing on how life can be in disarray and escaping for a few moments in between, one would be better off establishing balance by picking two areas to excel in and putting them at the top of the priority list.
"Everyone has those fears. Everyone wonders if they could do it. You can do a lot more than you think. You can handle a lot more than you think, but it's not something that you have to do just because you feel like everyone does it," she encouraged first-time moms about entering the journey of motherhood. "If it's something that you feel called to do or you feel excited about, absolutely, but if you're feeling like you don't want to, then there's no need to do that. You don't have to follow anyone else's path."
Amerie added, "It is a very amazing thing, and it is a very life-changing thing. It is a very miraculous thing. Even though there are 8 billion people on this planet, the birth of a child, bringing another human being into this world, shepherding in another soul, that is a miracle every time."
For more of Amerie, follow her on Instagram @amerie. Her book, You Will Do Great Things, is out now.
Featured image courtesy of Amerie
Exclusive: Dominique Fishback On How She Prepared For 'Swarm' & Why She Took A Six-Month Break After Filming
You know that annoying buzzing sound that you get in your ear when a bee is whizzing by your ears? Imagine that noise gradually becoming louder and louder as your psyche tries to fight the inevitable as an indication that you’re possibly about to have a psychotic break.
Welcome to Swarm.
Created by the minds of Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, who was also the writer on Glover’s FX Atlanta show, Swarmfollows Dre (Dominique Fishback) as she fights for the love and adoration of a fictional pop superstar, for whom she is willing to travel across the country, spend her last, and take on new personas. Some may even say that the cult-like behavior demonstrated in the show is similar to that of the Beyhive- but you didn’t hear it from us.
In addition to Fishback starring in Glover and Nabers’ new Prime Video series - on top of gearing up to star in the new Transformers: Rise of the Beast film alongside Anthony Ramos - she had the opportunity to step behind the scenes as a producer. In contrast to her previous on-set experiences where directors didn’t allow their actors to have access to the production side, Fishback was given the opportunity to see playbacks and watch what she referred to as “dailies,” which in the world of acting refers to the measurement used to see how filming and the actors’ performances are moving along.
“Originally, I didn't really want to watch dailies. Around the episode three or four, I was like, Let me watch the dailies, because I was trying it in so many different ways, and I wasn't quite sure how she was portrayed,” Fishback told xoNecole about how she was working on set as her character Dre, who played opposite of Chloe Bailey and Damson Idris. “I wanted to make sure that even though she might be a little off, there's still throughlines with the things that she does. Even if we don't understand it as an audience, I need for her to understand why she does the things she does and is able to track.”
Warrick Page/Prime Video
While portraying Dre, who (without giving too much of Swarm away) is the definition of toxic pop culture stan culture, Fishback made it a priority to put her mental health first, especially while playing a character that endures so much trauma, anxiety triggers, and wavering manic depression spells. “One thing I asked for sure was that we had a therapist on set, especially for the days in which we had to do kill scenes," Fishback said. “And not just for me but other actors and for crew members because you never know how people are triggered in our lives, even though this is particularly acting.”
Sometimes, Fishback would even receive visits from her friend of over 10 years and High School Musical alumna star Monique Coleman on set, which would help her find comfort in familiar faces while she was filming uncomfortable scenes.
“I took a lot of baths. I love baths,” she revealed to xoNecole about her self-care routines outside of filming. “Did a lot of meditation and praying and asking God for guidance and to watch over me and my steps - and that was how I did it.”
Overall, she found that the character of Dre would really challenge her range and versatility as an actress, which is what drew her to the project in the first place. “I told Donald that I wanted to do it because I didn't want to catch up to my own self as an actor, and in my life, I've been looking for freedom,” she said. “In 2020 when we all got quarantined, [we] realized that freedom was in the mind and that we had a lot of limited thoughts and societal ideas that might be dictated in the way we show up in life, and so I wanted to extend that to myself as an artist.”
Courtesy of Prime Video
"I told Donald that I wanted to do it because I didn't want to catch up to my own self as an actor, and in my life, I've been looking for freedom."
Long before she was offered the role in Swarm, Fishback turned to Charlize Theron in Monster and Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry for inspiration to pursue projects that dug deep into the human psyche. Little did she know that her research would soon come in handy for one of the most highly-anticipated releases on the Amazon Prime video platform. But there was one piece of homework that Glover assigned Fishback, Bailey, and the rest of the cast and crew that would ultimately put her on a seesaw decision-making journey as to whether or not she was really equipped for the role she’d been praying for.
“He wanted us to watch The Piano Teacher - it's a French film, and that is crazy,” Fishback prefaced. “But it really made me question myself as an artist because I was like, Am I that brave of an actor? I always thought I was a brave actor, but would I do that? I don't know if I would do that. What will I do? What won't I do? Sometimes you have to go further out to see where you land and see where you're comfortable, too, as well.”
Once all was said and done with the filming of Swarm, Fishback made one of the best decisions that she possibly could have made for herself after filming a horror-thriller-suspense hybrid limited series with some of the most creative minds in the industry.
“After Swarm, I did not look for acting for six months at least. I told everybody, I was like, I'm taking a break, and I really let myself do that, which is a gift,” Fishback revealed. “I think we could get scared, especially when things are essentially taking off or you don't want to miss opportunities, but what's for you won't pass you by. I really believe that, so if I believe that, I have to operate like that, and taking care of myself was first and foremost.”
Quantrell D. Colbert/Prime Video
“After Swarm, I did not look for acting for six months at least... I think we could get scared, especially when things are essentially taking off or you don't want to miss opportunities, but what's for you won't pass you by."
Straightaway following the wrap of the show, Fishback traveled to her “favorite place in the world,” which is Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. “I stayed in the jungle for a week. In the middle where me and my friend, we stayed, there was the living room area [that] was all open on each side, so you really had access to the jungle. Then it just had a roof over top, so whenever it rained, you could still kind of be outside. The butterflies were going by in your living room and birds are flying by, and it was cool to be with nature that way.”
Swarm is streaming on Prime Video.
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Featured image by Corey Nickols/Getty Images for IMDb
The first time I met Olly Sholotan was at a Tier NYC fashion show during New York Fashion Week in Brooklyn. I was already a fan of Bel-Air, so I knew exactly who he was when my friend introduced us. And, not too much to my surprise, he was the exact opposite of the character he plays in the series, Carlton Banks. A good actor evokes emotion, but it takes a phenomenal thespian to take the audience on a journey filled with mental and psychological turmoil for the first time since Gossip Girl’s Chuck Bass.
During our meeting, he shook my hand and greeted me with a genuine smile that was hard to forget. Fast forward just a few short months later, I dialed into the conference line excited to speak with Olly once again.
“I'm actually in a fitting right now, so if I have to take five seconds to put a shirt on, my apologies again,” Sholotan said during our phone interview for xoNecole. He continued to tell me about the current state of his mental health before we dove into our candid conversation.
“Honestly, my mental health is doing great. Because we're about a week and a half or two weeks away from wrapping on Bel-Air, there's kind of this energy of 'Holy shit, we did it,' but we did it again—twice. I was literally just talking to Morgan Cooper (Bel-Air creator/EP) about this earlier today. I feel like as an artist, I'm in this space right now where I'm kind of becoming the artist I've always dreamed of being."
(L-R) Coco Jones, Olly Sholotan, and Akira Akbar of NBC's 'Bel-Air' pose for a portrait.
Benjo Arwas/Getty Images
The Peacock original series takes a drama-suspense-filled approach from a Gen-Z lens, in contrast to the original ‘90s feel-good sitcom. Played by Sholotan himself, Carlton is someone viewers love to hate, and the character has some of the most controversial story arcs in the cast, but what makes Carlton, Will (Jabari Banks), and the Banks clan so relatable is that we can see ourselves in each character as we go through our own journeys of discovering our own redeeming qualities.
During our Tuesday afternoon chat, we spoke about how he loves on himself while he’s off-set, why it’s important for Black men to practice self-care, and which reboot characters he would never get relationship advice from.
xoNecole: How did you feel when you were first cast in 'Bel-Air' in comparison to you now amping up to wrap up production for the second season?
Olly Sholotan: It's funny because I don't think I've ever changed how I felt. I feel the same and different in a lot of ways, and from the moment I was cast, I think that there's an excitement that doesn't ever go away. There's the realization that your life is about to change in a way that is inconceivable and that is still a feeling that I experience every single day. Every single day, when I wake up before I go to work, before I go to set, there's that pinch me, I hope I'm not dreaming kind of feeling that doesn't go away.
In that way, it's different because there's a feeling of mastery that comes with just doing it two years now. We're about to wrap on the second season. A friend pointed out the other day that I shot 20 episodes of television, which when you put it like that, it's like along the way, I'm going to learn things. I'm a much different Olly now than when I started, and I feel like I've grown in so many ways that I'm really proud of.
xoN: One thing that I love about 'Bel-Air' is that it normalizes conversations in the first season about anxiety and coping mechanisms, especially as it pertains to Carlton's storyline. What's the importance of having conversations about mental health when it comes to Black men?
OS: I think as a community in general, I don't think we do enough to center self-care in a way that isn't just 'go get mani-pedis,' but also just take care of your mental health, take care of your wellbeing. Find ways to cope with the stresses of life that are healthy. Especially as Black men, there is a pressure to suck it up, be a man, and be better. That's something that we've all experienced to a certain extent.
What I think is beautiful about my generation and in the coming generation right after me is we're really looking at that in the face and saying, "We don't have to be that way. We can be different. We can be better,” and I think Bel-Air is one of the first shows in that. We're very much trying to lead by example in showing that there are ways you can talk about mental health as a Black community, as Black men, and do it in a healthy way that's productive.
xoN: What are some self-care tools that you lean into when you're off set to make sure that your own mind is at ease?
OS: Honestly, I be taking a lot of naps. I find that when there is a problem and I take a quick 15-minute nap and I come back to it, I'm like, 'First of all, that seems a lot more doable.' I think it's less about the nap and more about the perspective. When you're hammering away at a problem over and over again and you take a step back from it, take a 10-minute walk, take a second to breathe, that makes the problem feel less insurmountable.
I recently started journaling, and it's funny because I was never a journaling type of person. I'm like, 'Why would I write anything down? I was born on the computer.' But journaling and writing down my thoughts has helped me work through them a little better.
xoN: I'm not going to hold you. The first few episodes, well, and the majority of season one, I was not feeling Carlton. He was receiving a lot of hate, and a lot of fans don't know how to separate the character from the person. How did you feel when you were receiving a lot of that flack for a character that is nothing like you?
OS: Well, I mean, it's hard not to take it as a compliment. I'm going to be real with you because it is something that we as a creative team did on purpose. Carlton as a character isn't supposed to be someone you're supposed to like off the bat, at least in my head with the way I created that character. You're supposed to be presented with this flawed human that does a lot of things that you don't like. As the series goes on, you see more of yourself in him.
You're presented with this character that you don't really like, you think he's problematic, and as the season goes on and on, you're like, 'Dang, there's parts of him in me. I exhibit some of those traits. I can be like that.'
As far as me dealing with the hate, I mean, listen, the internet is the internet. I was born in '98. I think I started using the internet when I was however old a child is sentient enough to use the internet. I think I'm no stranger to how things can get out of control. I've learned to be able to separate myself. I know that the version of Olly that most people see on screen is just not the version of Olly that exists, and I've made peace with that.
"The internet is the internet... I've learned to be able to separate myself. I know that the version of Olly that most people see on screen is just not the version of Olly that exists, and I've made peace with that."
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images
Even going beyond the character, I think that there's an element of code-switching in all facets of life. I think the version of me that exists on Instagram, on Twitter, or whatever, it's so different than the version of me that my family sees at home. It's so different than the version of me that my coworkers see. It's different than the version of me that my loved ones see. I think that we sometimes forget when looking at the internet that whatever people are judging is a version of me that isn't all-encompassing, and that's okay sometimes.
xoN: What's a piece of relationship advice that you would give Carlton that you think that he desperately needs?
OS: Love yourself, my dude, because that's the thing. I think a lot of Carlton's problems come from a lack of self-love at the end of the day. Part of the journey he goes on in season two and beyond is that it's about learning to love your shortcomings, learning to love your successes, learning to love your failures, because that is what makes it a complete human being.
I think he puts a lot of pressure on himself to be perfect. No one's perfect, and I think the aspiration for perfection while accepting very little else can get you in trouble.
xoN: Which characters on the show do you believe would give you the best and worst love advice?
OS: Oh, Jazz (Jordan L. Jones), hands down, gives the best relationship advice. I mean, Jazz, he knows everything. He's been around the block, even though I don't know how old he is in the show. He's definitely older than Will and Carlton, but he's obviously not as old as Phil (Adrian Holmes) and Viv (Cassandra Freeman). Jazz gives [the] best advice, [and] Viv, too. Who would give the absolute worst advice? I don't know. I feel like that—as smooth as he is—Will be fucking up sometimes. So, he gives the worst advice. I just know it.
xoN: Overall, in real life, what's the best piece of self-love and wellness advice that you have ever received?
OS: Funny enough, it was from Will Smith. On the first day that we all got the role during season one, we were all sitting in the production office. We were about to do our first table read and Will couldn't be there, but he sent a message by proxy. He was like, "You guys are about to embark on the craziest journey of your lives. There will be ups, there will be downs, there will be left and rights, but lean on each other and take it one day at a time."
I very much sometimes get ahead of myself. I get very like, 'All right, well what's happening two months from now, two years from now?,' but I think the advice of taking it a day at a time, just living in this moment right here, has been an incredible act of self-love.
xoN: How do you define self-love, and what does self-love and wellness mean to you?
OS: For me, self-love is anything that's sustainable. Self-love is anything that you can wake up, do, go to bed, rinse and repeat for years and years. That's what self-love is. It's taking care of your immediate surroundings. That's not only your physical surroundings, but your psychological and mental surroundings too.
"Self-love is anything that's sustainable. Self-love is anything that you can wake up, do, go to bed, rinse and repeat for years and years. That's what self-love is."
Amy Sussman/Getty Images
xoN: What can we expect from the second season? Because the kids are itching. We want to know.
OS: Listen, you know I can't spoil anything, but I can tell you season two is going to be bigger. It's going to be more exciting. We have a lot more cameos, obviously. We already know Tatyana Ali is going to be in there, which is just incredible. What a phenomenal gift of her to give us her time. She's phenomenal. She's the most giving actress. She's phenomenal. It's truly a gift to have her with us.
I think that what I can say is you can expect quite a few more Will, Carlton shenanigans. Because I think that's something from the original series that people missed in season one, and you're getting quite a little bit of that in season two. And you can also be, rest assured, Carlton will be on his best and worst behavior.
For more of Olly Sholotan, follow him on Instagram @OllySho. The second season of Bel-Air is now streaming on Peacock.
Featured image by Amy Sussman/Getty Images