At 8:30 a.m. on a chilly spring morning in Los Angeles, the singer Saweetie, wearing a yellow Gucci sweatshirt and leggings that both covered and enhanced her famous curves, emerged from a white Mercedes G-Wagon and walked tentatively into a photo studio. She seemed distracted. On that day, Saweetie’s hit song “Best Friend”—a joyous, who-needs-men rap with Doja Cat—had reached almost 100 million streams and counting. The video for the song, which Saweetie had conceptualized, begins with the two women lounging poolside in bikinis and stilettos. A man—the comedian King Bach—saunters up and propositions them, but they are decidedly not interested. Their thought bubbles crowd the frame with phrases like “toxic masculinity.” “You don’t want us,” Doja Cat says flatly, as Saweetie rolls her eyes. “We’re freaks.”
The independent, girl-power mood of “Best Friend” was soon mirrored in Saweetie’s real life: On March 18, the day before the W shoot, the press reported that Saweetie unfollowed Quavo, her longtime boyfriend, sending the Internet into a tizzy. Saweetie and Quavo, a member of Migos, were a rap power couple. Since he first slid into her DMs in 2018, they had been showcasing their love with expensive gifts (last Christmas, Quavo gave Saweetie a custom Bentley) and extravagant trips in private planes. Even before they met, Quavo was Saweetie’s celebrity crush (“I like his hair, his face, his lips,” she once said). He was equally attracted to her: “I seen her on my Explore page. I was like, ‘Damn, who is this?’ ” Quavo once told GQ. As an opening flirt, Quavo sent a snowflake emoji, which was a nod to both Saweetie’s uniqueness and her first hit, “Icy Girl.” Saweetie responded with the bowl of noodles emoji, her homage to “Stir Fry,” a Migos song. Following their first date, in Atlanta, which included a visit to Magic City, the famous strip club, Saweetie and Quavo were very publicly in love.
Until they weren’t. While getting her hair done for the W photos, Saweetie tapped out a kind of breakup statement on her phone: “I’m single. I’ve endured too much betrayal and hurt behind the scenes for a false narrative to be circulating that degrades my character,” she tweeted. “Presents don’t band aid scars and the love isn’t real when the intimacy is given to other women. I emotionally checked out a long time ago and have walked away with a deep sense of peace and freedom. Excited for this new chapter of elevation.”
To be clear: Saweetie was sending this message of liberation from the makeup chair while our stylist, Zerina Akers, was asking her which look she wanted to wear first. Saweetie seemed quiet and self-contained, and didn’t show any signs of sadness or emotional distress. She didn’t seem to notice that the Internet was going crazy over her tweet. “I’ve learned that the world doesn’t stop for anybody,” Saweetie told me later. “And it’s for sure not going to stop for me just because I got my heart broke. I was grateful to be doing the photo shoot. I was like, I can deal with all this later.”
Valentino Haute Couture top, shorts, and boots; Oscar de la Renta earrings.
Armani Privé top, pants, and belt; Castlecliff earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
After a few hours, Saweetie changed into a sleek black Celine gown and started playing DJ. “If I have the right music, I’m good to go,” she said to no one in particular. She ordered up some classic Earth, Wind & Fire, and then “Stop! In the Name of Love,” by the Supremes. Saweetie struck a perfect Diana Ross pose: head tilted just so, body positioned in a frozen dance move. Her aunt, Whitney Harper, who works with her, said, “She’s going through so much, and you would never know it. I don’t even think she knows that the words to this song are true to the moment she’s in. But Saweetie is strong, and always has been. That’s her way.”
Growing up in the northern California towns of Hayward and Sacramento, Saweetie, whose real name is Diamonté Harper, was originally interested in playing sports. “I made a name for myself as an athlete,” Saweetie, who is now 27, told me on the patio of the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills a few days after the photo shoot. She was dressed in her usual high-low combo: white bike shorts and a pink sweatshirt, worn with lots of diamond jewelry, flawless makeup, and very long nails that, on this day, were painted a deep red. She took a ginger wellness shot out of her tiny lime green Lady Dior handbag. “In first grade, I was a bigger girl,” she continued, “and they told me that the cheerleader uniform wouldn’t fit me. So I went home, and I looked at myself and decided: I’m just going to play sports.”
Saweetie held up a bejeweled hand, which was surprisingly large. “These big hands are a blessing,” she said, laughing. “I was the quarterback for my powder-puff football team. I had to have big hands! I was named Female Athlete of the Year. Being a jock was really empowering.” And yet, when the boys tried to recruit Saweetie for their team, her grandmother—the same one who had given her the nickname Sweetie, which morphed into Saweetie—said, “No, you can’t play football with the boys.” “She didn’t want me to get hurt,” Saweetie recalled. “But playing sports taught me a lot that I still use today: You have to catch the momentum, and it’s the same in music.”
Her family—Saweetie’s father is Black and her mother is Filipino-Chinese—is connected to both sports and entertainment. Saweetie’s grandfather played for the San Francisco 49ers, and her uncle is MC Hammer, the OG rap superstar. Despite the success of her relatives, Saweetie didn’t want to depend on their help. So when, at 13, she began writing poems that could be set to music, she didn’t tell anyone. Instead, she concentrated on going to college, first attending San Diego State University and then transferring to the University of Southern California, where she majored in communications and business. “I’ve always been a hustler,” Saweetie said, swallowing her ginger shot in one gulp. “And at USC, they taught the art of negotiation and persuasion. I thought, I need these skills.”
Gucci dress, earrings, and gloves.
Schiaparelli dress and shoes; Uncommon Matters ring.
In her senior year, Saweetie began making videos of herself rapping in her car, which she shared on Instagram. “I was living in rooms that I found on Craigslist,” she said. “And that was a scary thing. I got tired of the lifestyle where my bank account was at zero. So I gave myself a year in L.A. to be discovered, and I decided that if I didn’t get discovered, I would go back to the Bay Area. In the ninth month, I was signed to Warner Records, and they released ‘Icy Girl’ in 2017.”
“Icy Girl” was a big hit, but, more important for Saweetie, the concept of “icy” became central to her mantra of success. “Icy means confident. Icy means strong. Icy means independent. Icy means you are in charge of your life in every way,” Saweetie said, as if she were giving a PowerPoint presentation. She paused. “I am icy.” The video for “Icy Girl,” in which a very blonde Saweetie raps the words while staring down the camera, was an instant sensation. “It caught like wildfire, and it was a lot to take in,” she said.
Prada dress with slip; Annie Costello Brown earrings; Versace ring; Gucci shoes.
Chanel romper and belt.
When they were first getting to know each other, Quavo wrote to Saweetie: “You an icy girl. You need a glacier boy.” She was definitely intrigued. Her 2019 song “My Type,” with its suggestive lyrics (“Eight-inch big, ooh, that’s good pipe... That’s my type”), was perceived as an ode to Quavo. Saweetie will not discuss their relationship or what went wrong, but a week after our conversation, TMZ unearthed a video that was shot in the elevator of her apartment building. In the clip, Saweetie and Quavo are tussling over an orange suitcase, and in the fight for control, Saweetie slips and falls to the floor. Quavo does nothing to help her. Eventually, the doors open, and Saweetie limps out.
According to statements put out by both Saweetie and Quavo, the incident took place last year and was not the reason for their breakup. Not surprisingly, given her forward-motion philosophy of life, Saweetie was not interested in dwelling on the past. “I have goals,” she told me repeatedly. “In quarantine, I did a lot of mood-boarding. I had mood boards for fashion, music, and lifestyle. Lifestyle would be, what kind of cars do I want to have? What kind of house? When do I want to have kids? If I want to be a fashion girl, how far do I go with that? If you want to be successful, you have to be detailed in life.” Saweetie paused and showed me her phone. The screen saver read “900 million.” “I want 900 million dollars,” Saweetie explained. “I look at Rihanna. I look at Kylie. I look at all the girls who are working in the worlds that I’m in. I kind of averaged out the money between all these women I admire, and 900 million is the number. So if I’m having a bad day, I’m just like, 900 million, girl! Go!”
Celine by Hedi Slimane dress; Khiry earrings; stylist’s own gloves.
Hair by Nikki Nelms; makeup by Deanna Paley; manicure by Tom Bachik at A-Frame. Set design by Heath Mattioli at Frank Reps.
Produced by Alicia Zumback at Camp Productions; production manager: Patrick Mapel; photo assistants: Jason Willheim, Peter Wintersteller; digital technician: William Joos; retouching: Two Three Two; fashion assistant: Christian Barberena; production assistant: Raquel Martinez; set assistants: Donovan Novotny, Dave Spacone; tailor: Irina Tshartaryan at Susie’s Custom Design, Inc.
Back at the W shoot, Saweetie’s favorite look was a provocative Gucci gown featuring shimmering hearts that barely covered her breasts. “This is icy!” Saweetie exclaimed when she saw it. She was at the end of a long session, but was still surprisingly energized. “Work is what I love most,” she said. “What separates the greats from the pack is endurance. And resilience.” Halfway through the day, she had told me that she’d stopped reading the online commentary on her breakup with Quavo. “I could give my attention to something that could drain me,” she explained, “or I could focus on what would empower me. And that is this shoot.”
As she turned and looked at her backside in the mirror, Saweetie started to pose. Her hair was styled into an elegant 1960s bouffant pageboy. “Maybe I should wear my hair like this on the cover,” she said, referring to her debut album, Pretty Bitch Music, which is set to be released in late summer. “The world is going to be shocked by my new music,” she said. “From now on, I think they’re going to be shocked by everything I do.” She smiled. “Shocked in a good way. Shocked in a way that makes the world pay attention.”
This story appears in W: Volume 3 2021, The Music Issue. Get the latest issue of W here.