“I was 13 years old with zits all over my face,” says Snoh Aalegra. Sounds like pretty standard teen fare, only instead of hanging out at the mall, Aalegra was creating music with a major label in her native Sweden. “It was like, ‘Oh, you’re dope, but let’s develop you. And in the meantime let’s maybe give your songs to other people [to perform],’ ” she says. “It’s bizarre, because you don’t listen to music with your eyes. You listen with your ears, and it shouldn’t matter how you look.”
But playing the long game paid off. At 32, Aalegra is on the verge of a massive solo career. She’s been sampled by Drake; her album, Ugh, Those Feels Again, debuted as the number one R&B album on iTunes last year; and she made headlines walking Thierry Mugler’s fall runway. But her ambitions — like so much of daily life — were put on pause in March when her first big tour, Ugh, A Tour Again, was canceled due to the coronavirus. “The first month of lockdown was hard, but I had my sister in town so that was really nice. And now, for about a month, I’ve been alone, focusing on getting back to work, writing, and recording. I’ve been having a lot of skin problems. I really think it was the stress, but it’s slowly getting back to normal,” she says from her home in Los Angeles, California.
“Lash extensions are the first thing I’m going to do when this is all over,” says Aalegra, who has “been wearing a cat eye forever.” It’s even been a source of bonding with friends. “It was just me and Prince [at the Beverly Hills Hotel bar, with] him playing on a grand piano,” she says. “While we were sitting there, Prince said, ‘I love your eyeliner. How do you do it?’ ” (It was advice he could put to use. Backstage at one of his concerts, Aalegra once saw him filling in his eyeliner between songs: “He didn’t have a makeup artist [all the time].”)
Before Prince died, he was helping Aalegra with her solo career, advising on everything from creative direction to the business of it all. It’s a career that, in a lot of ways, has been shaped by Aalegra’s complicated relationship with her appearance. She grew up in a small city in Sweden and was the only immigrant kid in her class. “There were times when I didn’t always feel comfortable in my own skin. Since I’m Iranian, I didn’t look like the other kids — blonde, with blue eyes — which sometimes made me wish I looked like them,” says Aalegra. “I didn’t know any better at the time because I was so young.” It’s why her music touches upon self-love, she says.
Now, she uses her looks to broadcast power. “I’ve noticed people are intimidated when you have your hair up,” she says of her go-to high ponytails and tight buns. “You look powerful having your face out there.” After years of hard work, Aalegra is proud to say, “I’m in my 30s and I’m just taking off. I hope that can be an inspiration for somebody in their 20s. You might figure it out later and it can still work.”
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