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Zendaya Believes Black Joy Is A Radical Form Of Self-Love And Self-Care

"Right now, we as Black people need to embrace joy and not let it be taken away from us."

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2020 has been a wild ride that put everyone across the globe in a similar situation regardless of their age, sex, or status for the first time since forever. Actress and all-around badassZendaya wants us to know, she's feelingthe feels too in her sit-down with Elleand Dune co-star Timothee Chalamet, expressing how important it is for us as members of the Black community to not let anyone or anything take away our joy. Zendaya opened up:

"It feels like a very hopeless time, specifically in this country. I know a lot of my peers feel enraged and exhausted and tired of living and growing up in a system that feels like it wasn't built for us...At this moment in time, it is hard to find joy and beauty in things, and I really think that is important. Right now, we as Black people need to embrace joy and not let it be taken away from us."

This message is a far cry from 'the endure and persevere' rhetoric that we often express to both preach as a means to adapt in the face of adversity. We must not let the darkness of the world dim our light, and that is easier said than done because whenever we turn on the news, it's one thing after another. However, Zendaya is able to counteract the discouragement and fatigue that comes naturally while navigating heavy energies by finding both joy and solace in creating and connecting to herself and others. She shared:

"I experience moments of joy when I'm able to create art and be involved in projects that I connect to deeply, whether it be 'Euphoria' or 'Malcolm & Marie', the movie I shot during quarantine with ['Euphoria' creator] Sam Levinson. Another thing that gives me joy is seeing people's responses to my work. With 'Euphoria', it's been incredibly moving to see how people connected to what Sam has written. I've heard so many beautiful stories about addiction and recovery, and that brings me hope."

Zendaya may be young, but she is ready to let the rest of us know that existential crises aren't just for those facing their turning point of their 30s or their 40s. The difficulty of finding joy and fulfillment is an obstacle one can face at any age and more than once in their lives. The times that we are living in are requiring us to reevaluate so many parts of what we think that we know about ourselves, and that's why it's even more important to prioritize hope. Zendaya explained:

"I find hope in my peers, the people who are out there on the streets doing the work—people I admire and I go to for advice and information on what's happening so that I can make sure I'm using my platform in the most strategic way I can to help...There is so much hope in young people, and when I say young people, I do mean myself—people my own age—but I also mean younger. These really young kids are so smart and have such a clear understanding and plan for how they want this world to change."

Zendaya is a powerful reminder to do more of what sets your soul on fire. Live like your soul depends on it. Decide that you are going to fight for your happiness by any means necessary. And dare to radiate undeniable Black joy.

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Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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