Jul 19, 2021
Sage Adams on being a young, Black, queer creative—and working with SZA
On this episode of 'Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast' Adams breaks down a career that is even more impressive for having started at 19
Most people don’t DM celebrities expecting a reply. Even fewer slide in hoping to land a job. But in 2016 when Sage Adams sent Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter SZA a message on Instagram complimenting her outfit, the two hit it off—and Adams wound up being the creative director on SZA’s 2017 album “Ctrl”—at just 19.
“It’s one of those things that shows if you don’t put yourself out there, you won’t get what’s meant for you or the things you’re destined to be a part of,” says Adams. “I really, really liked SZA’s style and I related to her has a person … I don’t really listen to music.”
Adams is this week’s guest on “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast: and—as it happens—is on our inaugural list of Brooklyn’s 50 Most Fascinating People, out last week.
A gender non-conforming artist, curator and collaborator, Adams, who still works with SZA, became fast friends with the singer, bonding over a mutual respect of the other’s style. But the job quickly became so much more than style, which was challenging for a kid—not yet 20—with a paucity of Black creative directors they could look to for role models.
“Being a creative director is not just sitting around, wearing cool outfits,” they say. “I had to learn how to do stage design. I had to learn how to coordinate visuals with lighting. I had to learn how to do timing on lighting. Doing drawings for album covers. It was really an all-encompassing full visual job.”
When not working with SZA, Adams also does creative work for brands including Nike and Facebook, which they find creatively fulfilling—except when coming face-to-face with virtue signaling by brands, or even outright exploitation of young artists. We unpack that dynamic in the interview.
Adams, who grew up in Brooklyn and went to the prestigious progressive independent Little Red School House in Manhattan, is also a founder of Art Hoe Collective, a platform that promotes works by queer artists of color and other marginalized people through Instagram and gallery shows.
“I’ve never wanted to perform gender,” Adams says of their own non-conforming identity.“Dysphoria-wise, I feel more comfortable going outside wearing a hoodie than wearing a dress. But online, it’s fun. It’s dressy …I don’t want to be limited.”
Finally, it’s not entirely true that Adams doesn’t listen to music: They are a huge One Direction fan, and is almost not ashamed to admit it. Listen to the podcast for all of that, and more.
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