Welcome to The Drop, Refinery29's new home for exclusive music video premieres. We want to shine the spotlight on female artists whose music inspires, excites, and (literally) moves us. This is where we'll champion their voices.
Esther Zynn is more than a multi-hyphenate talent — she's an unstoppable force. Under her stage name, EZI, Zynn recently became the first artist signed to shoe designer Steve Madden's 5Towns Records.
Refinery29 is exclusively premiering EZI's video for "Redemption," which she wrote a year ago. Zynn penned the song after her Nickelodeon series The Other Kingdom finished airing its first and only season. Since the show ended, Zynn has moved to Los Angeles, where she filmed the "Redemption" video. The song is currently available to stream on Spotify, and Zynn's five-song EP will be released this fall. Zynn is also performing as EZI at the Made in America Festival in Philadelphia this weekend.
"Redemption" is upbeat, but it's also a powerful look into Zynn's struggle with self-doubt, a topic to which plenty of fans can relate.
"In the video, I'm going on an adventure where I'm both running away and towards something. I interpret that as me running from a part of myself or from a state of mind," Zynn says. "Ultimately, the message of the song is to embrace your vulnerability, because it's our vulnerability and darkness that allows us to see light and beauty that does exist."
We talked to Zynn about the video, her musical inspiration, and what she's learned from the leap from Nickelodeon to music. Check out the video and our Q&A with the singer below.
Refinery29: Did you always know you wanted to be a musician, or did you originally want to pursue acting first and foremost?
"Well, my dad's a classical musician, so I've definitely been around music my entire life. And music, it's funny, music was something that I'd always just gravitated towards, and it felt very natural for me. I would write songs without even realizing that I was doing it. And then acting was also something that I really wanted to do. I think pursuing acting professionally, it's a little more clear, the path. You get an agent, you go on auditions. And with music, there are a lot of different ways to go about it. So for me, acting professionally happened first and then led to the music. But I've always been passionate about both."
How did you choose EZI as your stage name?
"It's a mix between my first and my last names. I was actually, when I was 16, I was in the studio, and one of the producers who I was working with at the time, he just decided, he was like, 'I'm going to call you 'Ez.' And I’m like, 'No, it needs to be cuter, you should call me 'Ezi.'' And then it just stuck around."
Steve Madden has said he was drawn to your work in part because you, like him, are from Long Island. Does your background influence your music?
"That's a good question! Well, I'm first-generation American. My parents are both from Russia. And I think growing up like that, I had to be, I think it made me a little more independent. And I think that cultivated my drive. Seeing them come here with very little and having to work really hard to create a life for me and my sister was really inspiring to me... that definitely helped shaped me as a worker. And then, being from Long Island, being close to Manhattan, that changed a lot for me. I would go to the city, I'd take the train right after school into Manhattan multiple times a week. And that accessibility, it changed my life."
Have you had the chance to meet Steve Madden in person?
"Yeah, I have! It's funny, because Steven, so, I met him a little over a year ago, briefly, at one of the Steve Madden music concerts. It was super brief, I shook his hand, he didn't remember me. And then a month later, I was at the Steve Madden store in Soho, and heard a voice that said, 'Those shoes look great on you.' And so I look up, and it’s Steve Madden. And we started talking. We talked for like 15 minutes. He gave me his email and wanted to hear my music, because he told me about the label he was starting. And that's actually how all of it started. So it was actually by meeting him, just randomly."
And all because you happened to be shopping at his store!
"Yeah, I know! I tell that story to people, and I can't even believe it. And the crazy part is that, that day, right after I left that night, I called my manager. I was like, 'The weirdest thing just happened.' And he's like, 'No, that's weird because I was just talking to his partner today, and we set up a time to listen to music.' Just completely unplanned on the same day."
He mentioned in a statement that his kids had seen you on TV. How does it feel to have fans who've followed you from your Nickelodeon days to being fans of your music now?
"It's really interesting, because the Nickelodeon show is definitely, it's so different from the music that I'm creating right now. But what's cool is that I know a lot of the fans from the show are quite young. It's been really cool for them to reach out and see me, a little bit, as a role model. But also, I know that anyone who starts listening to my music now, they're going to grow with me, because it's really early for me. It's cool to have such young fans who are gonna grow with me and grow up with my music."
Would you ever go back to acting?
"I'm just being really selective with the things that I audition for. But I'm still auditioning and reading scripts. I'm still open to it. It's just about, for me right now, it;s about doing stuff that I feel really fulfilled and inspired by. But I still love acting."
When "Redemption" came out, Nylon described it as "playful, sad, and made for warm summer nights." What does the song mean to you?
"To me, the song is about embracing your vulnerability. I wrote that song — a lot of people might hear that song and think it's about a relationship, or it's about a person, but it's actually about the relationship I have with myself. I wrote that song when I was in a difficult, dark period in my life. And it was just me acknowledging that I go through ups and downs, and I'm a sensitive person, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. So, to me, that's really what it means to me. But I hope that when people listen to it, they can take, I mean, I hope people take away different things from the song, but that's what I take away from it."
Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
"I listen to so many different artists. I love Robyn, Carole King, Florence + the Machine. I grew up listening to Ingrid Michaelson and Regina Spektor. And I've also been really into some new artists, like Elohim and K. Flay... I draw influences from a lot of different people."
Is there a particular artist that you would love to collaborate with in the future?
"I love Childish Gambino. I think he's amazing... I think he's brilliant in everything he does."
What do you hope that people will take away from seeing this video? Or do you want to leave it more open-ended to their own interpretation?
"I want to leave it more open-ended. Just because as I release more music and more visuals, there will be some themes and some things that are going to be explained. So I want people to watch it and take certain things away, and then look out for the next thing. But I could say that there is definitely a theme, personally, that I've been drawn to when I started writing and working on the EP, especially after 'Redemption,' was a slight inspiration from Alice in Wonderland. Just waking up in a place that doesn't feel like you. Which is kind of how I felt throughout the period of writing my EP."
Is there any advice that you would give to young women who are considering embarking on a non-traditional career path, or who are scared to make the leap like you did?
"It's super cliche, but you could really do anything. You really can. I just think that it's about being really smart and hardworking and really disciplining yourself to make those things happen for yourself. Because everything is possible. The people that I see succeeding and really taking off are the people who are very resilient in their ideas and really go after everything. I do think, though, if something's a little bit untraditional, like a career path, I think it's really important to make a path for yourself. When I was 18, I made a five-year plan for myself. And it's super corny and everything, but writing the things you really want down, is really helpful, too, because it holds you accountable for it. Like if you write down, 'I want to do this in two years,' when it's on paper, it becomes a lot more real. So I think that's helpful."
What's the biggest lesson you've learned from your career so far?
"I've learned to really stand up for my own ideas. I think before I really got, before I started working on my EP, and even before the Nickelodeon shows, I was really, I was definitely scared of confrontation and saying 'no' to certain things. And I've really learned to do that."
This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.
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