Earlier this month, my family and I were fortunate enough to spend two weeks in the beautiful country of Brazil. As a media-minded person, I often use our trips as a way to study what is popular in countries other than my own. Brazil is one of the most ethnically diverse places I have ever been and I wanted to measure how much the countries’ music, movies, and must-see TV reflected that. As a young woman of color, I am constantly seeking out mainstream images of myself. That is why I tend to follow singers, writers, actresses, etc. that look like me and the women that I surrounded myself with. I tried to put myself in the shoes of a young, dark complexioned girl growing up in Rio, and wondered what her options were; who would she gravitate towards? Fortunately, I did not have to wonder for long. A few days into my trip, I was enraptured by a confident, sexy, beautiful, dark brown woman whose bright pink, pop themed music video lit up my walk along Copacabana Beach. Instantly, I was left with two questions, who is this amazing talent and why doesn’t the world know about her?
Imagine if Beyoncé’s show-stopping moves, Rihanna’s swaggering style, and Nicki Minaj’s effortless flow were all wrapped up into one person. Imagine if this same person had Lupita N’yongo’s flawless skin and Kelly Rowland’s brilliant smile; I give you, IZA. Now, this is a very bold claim, but it’s also one that I am not afraid to make with regards to this soon-to-be international superstar. Born Isabela Lima, IZA is a singer/songwriter from Rio de Janeiro who first garnered attention online. After posting several covers of songs by Western artists, she signed with Warner Music Brazil and began her rapid ascent to fame. In only a few years, she has already garnered a massive following of 2.6 million on Instagram and a string of hit songs, including Pesadão, which has accumulated over 100 million views on YouTube.
I already know what you’re thinking; “Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ ALSO has over 100 million views. The number of viewers does not equal quality.” Fair point, but in IZA’s case, not applicable. A quick scroll through her YouTube and social media comments will prove that this superstar is adored by fans, near and far. After being exposed to her music and style, I completely understand why.
Not only is IZA beautiful and talented, but she completely embraces who she is. She cites her identity as a “Menina Negra” (black girl) as a driving force of her work and wants to encourage as many females as she can to be their best, bold, and brightest selves. For IZA to celebrate her identity and amass this amount of success can serve as an inspiring act, and one I hope sets a precedent for other artists of color. Although it’s fun to compare IZA to her American contemporaries, the singer is blazing a trail of her own in the most unapologetic of ways. She is not afraid to twerk, rap, or whip around her floor-length box braids when performing in music videos or onstage. And best of all, she looks like she is having an enormous amount of fun.
Let’s quickly address the elephant in the room; IZA is Brazilian and yes, all of her lyrics are in Portuguese. She has become a regular on my Spotify playlist, but trust me when I say I still have no idea what she is singing. At no point, however, does this take away from my enjoyment of her music. Hip-hop and popular culture are some of America’s greatest exports. This means, that people in just about every nook and cranny on Earth listen to and love songs that are sung in English. We should be able to do the same; after all, music is the universal language. I may not be able to understand every song IZA sings, but a bop is a bop, my friends. And bops can definitely break down barriers.