Few artists have mastered the art of the music video quite like Zolita has.
“Music videos are so accessible to so many people,” the pop artist, born Zoë Hoetzel said, in an interview with The Daily Californian. “You can do so much in them — I love them as a medium. There’s choreography, there’s fashion, there’s makeup, there’s acting, there’s activism. You can reach so many people through a music video.”
Hoetzel’s music videos are her shining jewels, the pinnacle of her artistry and her primary form of expression. She uploaded her first music video, “Explosion,” to YouTube in 2015, and the sensual lesbian imagery and religious iconography quickly made waves — with over 20 million views, it remains one of her most viral videos to date.
“It gave me a sense of purpose with my art,” she said. “I didn’t know that I wanted Zolita to be my main thing in my career until I put that video out. And when I saw how many young queer people were relating to what I was singing about, it really gave me a sense of direction and purpose with my life and with the project.”
In the years since, Hoetzel’s music videos have made her a queer icon. And unlike other artists who have protested having queer branding thrust upon them, she is not afraid to embrace this design.
“A lot of other artists will get upset by articles saying ‘Oh, they’re a queer icon or queer artist,’ and using that as the definer before the word artist,” Hoetzel said. “But for me, I’ve always thought if it helps young queer people find my music and find my videos, then I’m so fine with it. It is such a huge part of the art I make.”
The label is entrenched in her artistry. Fans are drawn to Hoetzel’s work for the authentic way she represents lesbian love, joy and heartbreak — her latest EP “Falling Out / Falling In” features an accompanying music video series that weaves a queer storyline through the already lyrically poignant tracklist.
“Most of the art that I make centers queer love,” she said. “One day that won’t need to be a definer anymore. But at the time we are right now, I think it’s important that at least some artists are okay with that.”
As a young queer person herself, Hoetzel turned to Lady Gaga for representation, citing her boldness in her music videos and commitment to helping the queer community as a huge inspiration to her current art — something as simple as hearing Gaga say the word ‘lesbian’ on the radio was instrumental to Hoetzel coming out. Now, Hoetzel herself has become an icon for younger queer generations.
“At the Anaheim show, there was a dad and his daughters,” she said. “One of them was ten, and she was already out — she already knew that she was gay. I got to meet her, and the fact that she got to come to my concert and look at me like a Harry Styles, like all these young girls are able to at boy band camp concerts, was just so incredible.”
Hoetzel isn’t the only source of representation — she praises artists such as Chappell Roan, MUNA, boygenius, Maddie Zahm and The Aces for their talent and queer visibility. She’s heartened by the growing space for queerness in mainstream pop culture, thanks to the modern accessibility of creating art.
“For a lot of artists there’s no middleman anymore, especially if you’re independent,” she said. “There is so much more authenticity out there, because we have platforms like TikTok and YouTube and Instagram, and audiences can definitely smell bullshit from far away. They know. They can feel what’s authentic. Audiences get to decide who they want to platform and who they want to boost up. I think that’s really cool. There’s so many more authentic representations of the queer experience now than there ever were before.”
Still, she recognizes that there is room for growth, especially in the film and television world. As a filmmaker herself, Hoetzel hopes to be part of this progress — she may have made her name as the music video queen, but her penchant for film is broader than its ties to her musical identity.
“I feel like I’m finally getting to the point where I identify as both (musician and filmmaker),” Hoetzel said. “For the longest time, I have had impostor syndrome as a musician, because I definitely feel like the film came first for me. Music was always something that was in my life and was a big passion, but it was more of a hobby.”
Live performance is one contributor to Hoetzel cementing her identity as a “real” musician. Fresh off a North American tour with Bebe Rexha, it’s clear that her live presence is just as moving as her online one. Her success is a direct result of her ambition — Hoetzel has always been a go-getter.
“Just put stuff out there,” she advised. “You have the outlet to do so, so put stuff out there and see what sticks, and start to talk to and communicate with the people that resonate with your work. Don’t be afraid to take risks.”
Rather than playing it safe, Hoetzel is an expert at doing what inspires her. Her risk-taking has clearly paid off — and with a new EP and music video series on the way, fans can be sure the mastery and mysticism will only continue.