The Importance of Iza

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The Importance of Iza

An estimated 65 to 120 million Brazilians are of African ancestry. Iza is Afro-Brazilian, as are her parents and grandparents. But Iza recognizes that her experience is different from most men and women who look like her. “Unfortunately, I am an exception here in Brazil. I’m a Black girl with a superior degree, and this is not something that you see a lot,” she says of the country’s racial inequality. “The Black population is the poorest part of our society.”

Statistics support the difficult truth behind Iza’s statement: In Brazil, white people account for 44 percent of the population but earn, on average, 74 percent more than Black or biracial Brazilians. A report published by Minority Rights Group International found that 78 percent of Afro-Brazilians live below the poverty line, compared with 40 percent of whites. The report attributes this socioeconomic gap between Blacks and whites to “discrimination in every aspect of society.”

“Growing up, I never saw myself in the media or on TV shows,” Iza recalls. “I didn’t see myself anywhere. I was invisible.”

Studio Ellias Kaleb dress. Brennheisen earrings. Ear piercing by Anna Prata Joias.

Juliana Jabour dress. 

Today, Iza is anything but invisible. Though this is her first cover story interview for an international magazine, she was ranked Brazil’s most influential celebrity of 2021 in a recent poll. At age 25, Iza left a career in advertising to pursue music full time. She created a YouTube channel and began posting her work to help secure gigs at bars, restaurants, weddings, and graduation balls. Her videos, such as a mash-up of Beyoncé’s “Flawless” and Rihanna’s “Rude Boy,” caught the attention of Warner Music Brasil’s president Sergio Affonso. Following in the footsteps of other discovered-on-YouTube sensations (Anitta and Ludmilla), Iza signed with the label. Her Grammy-nominated debut album, Dona de Mim (Owner of Me), went double platinum, and in 2019 she collaborated with Ciara and Major Lazer on her first international single, “Evapora.”

Iza’s songs — which mix pop, funk, dancehall, and R&B rhythms — have over 720 million streams on Spotify. She is also on TV (serving as one of the coaches on The Voice Brasil), in the movies (she dubbed over Beyoncé’s Nala for The Lion King in Portuguese), and on newsstands (covering Vogue Brasil and GQ Brasil). That’s not to mention her social media impact, as her audience nears 30 million across platforms. But perhaps most important to young Black women growing up in Brazil today are Iza’s commercial endorsements: Her face is used to sell everything from Garnier to Smirnoff.

“It’s really hard to build self-love when the market, when the world, doesn’t give you the right brushes.”

Gueto,” the first single from Iza’s soon-to-be-released second album, is a celebration of Iza’s commercial success. The lyrics — which translate from Portuguese to “Close the street in the ghetto, there will be samba in the ghetto, play soccer in the ghetto, she is a child from the ghetto, gold sprouts in the ghetto” — are brought to life in a music video directed by Felipe Sassi, Iza’s longtime collaborator. She wanted the video to have a lot of symbolism. In one scene, Iza wears bantu knots and lounges in a dressing room where every surface is wrapped in a bubble-gum pink riff on the Gucci monogram print, the classic double Gs replaced with IZA. The next scene shows Iza, now dressed in a leopard-print suit with her hair styled in a full Afro, selling an assortment of cream-based moisturizers for natural textures. The lyrics: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. One more contract for me.” Says Iza, “This video is what I wish I had seen as a child.”

Anace top. Annakiki Official pants. Graciella Starling hat. Nádia Gimenes acesssories. Versace shoes.

The one big endorsement deal that Iza does not have (yet) is a hair-care contract, and the significance is not lost on her. Acceptance of natural hair is something new in Brazil. 

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