megan thee stallion harper's bazaar
Chanel cape, top, briefs, and belt; Bulgari High Jewelry earrings.
Collier Schorr

Megan Thee Stallion isn’t hurting for stage time. The 26-year-old rapper, just on the other side of her debut studio album, has bounced and high-kicked atop music’s choicest platforms—glittering in her strut at the American Music Awards, giving cozy glam and intimate on NPR’s Tiny Desk, and defending the rights of Black women on Saturday Night Live. But there’s another stage she can’t stop thinking about, one that’s a little more traditional. “I cannot wait. I’m going to have the biggest graduation party,” Megan says. She’s looking forward to wrapping up her final semester at Texas Southern, where she’s been working on a degree in health administration, taking online courses there since she transferred from Prairie View A&M when her career started taking off. “But when all of this happened, I’m like, ‘Wow, so nobody is going to see me walk across the stage?’ ”

“All of this,” of course, is our here pandemic, the reason Megan and I are squinting at screens—mediated by Zoom—instead of kicking back elsewhere. It is December, but we’ve each found the sun and good light: she in L.A.; I in her hometown of Houston …sort of. I admit that I’m in Kingwood, a suburban stone’s launch away from the Southside that she calls home. “Okay,” she replies, nodding, then offers kindly, “Same thing!”

megan thee stallion
Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello jumpsuit and choker; Bulgari High Jewelry earrings (worn throughout).
Collier Schorr

She comes on clean-faced and casual in a pink zip-up, long hair draped about her shoulders. She appears to be the alter ego of the glossy star who took over Coach on Rodeo Drive a few nights prior, filming the announcement of a holiday gifting program in partnership with the YWCA of Houston. (Megan became a brand ambassador in 2019.) A dispatch posted on Instagram shows Megan in the highest of cascading ponies, done all the way up with eyeliner, lashes, lip color, and contour—courtesy of the makeup artist she sees when she looks in the mirror. She does her own face often, and improving her skills are a source of pride. Lately she’s been experimenting with a softer, more natural approach. “I’m realizing that I don’t have to be in full glam every time you see me, because I’m just getting more comfortable with myself and more comfortable with my skin,” she says. “I know that I’m a person that everybody looks to, and they’re like, ‘Oh, Megan, she’s a confident woman. She’s so strong.’ But you have to go through things to become that person.”

Megan takes control of her image. Her version of authenticity includes the sides of herself that give dimension to her name: rapper, daughter, student, social media sensation. She is the woman whose infectious catchphrases (“Hot Girl Summer”), rhymes and choreo (see: the viral “Savage” sensation that swept TikTok), and impassioned words (her New York Times op-ed calling for the protection of Black women) manage to blaze through the swirl of cultural noise to create real moments. But it also includes the selves that were thrust upon her: the young woman mourning the passing of her mother and great-grandmother; or the woman recovering from injuries of a very public trauma, after she was shot last summer. Her control has been hard-won. She may not always get to decide what narratives follow her image, but the Megan we see is the Megan she wants to be.

“When everything first started,” says Megan, which is as good a euphemism as any for the current climate, she, like many, found herself stuck at the house, passing the time with no one to pass it with. “I was super nervous because I’m not an introvert,” she tells me. “I’m a person that likes to be around people, interact.”

megan thee stallion harper's bazaar
Prada coat and Femme L.A. sandals.
Collier Schorr

She misses that “nitty-gritty” cypher-anytime energy that fueled her craft from the start. But even those early days of “real lockdown,” she says, were far from idle. For a true songwriter, the pen never stops. The result was Good News, her debut album, released in November, most of which was recorded in her living room. “I feel like I was tested, and I’ve passed,” she says. Working in this pared-down format, she could keep improving the project at every stage in the process. It was a bespoke experience that she expects she’ll keep. “I’m not a perfectionist,” she claims. “But I like what I like how I like it.” She laughs.

I’m not a perfectionist. But I like what I like how I like it.

School is another constant in Megan’s life, where a similar discipline is required. During the inaugural #hotgirlsummer of 2019—a small lifetime ago—Megan was also having a #hotgirlsemester, in her own words. “Finishing my homework before my after-party,” she tweeted late one night. The attached video shows Megan cross-legged in front of a MacBook, ice twinkling on both wrists as she types away. Only a day earlier, she’d been spotted in the vicinity of Beyoncé’s mogul husband at a major press event; and two weeks later it was announced that she’d, indeed, signed on to Roc Nation management, home of artists like Big Sean, Meek Mill, and Mariah Carey.

This past fall was no less dynamic, with Megan balancing the public junket of an album rollout with a ramped-up course schedule. (“This semester, I was like, ‘Four classes. Let’s go.’ ”) But sitting here, weeks out from the Grammys—with four nominations, including Best New Artist—she is serene. “This is the calmest it’s ever been,” she says, “but it was crazy for a long time. I like a little chaos in my life. I like to feel like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I have to do this.’ ”

megan thee stallion harper's bazaar
Alaïa corset and bodysuit.
Collier Schorr

There is a brimming excitement in her voice, familiar to any senior when graduation is just a frog’s hair away—close yet so far. “You fought through the procrastination. You fought through crazy professors. You made it home the next day from the party and still went to class. You know what I’m saying?” I do—it’s about an honor well earned, soaking up the bliss with all the people who’ve helped you shine. Campus is key to the Megan Thee Stallion origin story. In 2013, as a freshman at Prairie View A&M, Megan Pete met Daren Kyle and Kelsey Nicole, alongside whom she became Thee Stallion. The trio were best friends until last year, when Megan and Kelsey fell out, narrated in public by diss lyrics, subtweets, and Instagram comments. Daren and Megan remain close. “She’s always been the It girl,” says Daren. “I saw her prancing around all happy and stuff, so I’m like, ‘Who is this?’ ” Back then she was too shy to share her rap skills one-on-one. At school, they made videos of the usual college-kid-loitering fare and posted them online. All in good fun. Except, “I always had this body, right?” says Megan. And, “the other girls were a little bam-bam too.” They were chastised, or at least that was the intent when a school administrator sat them down and rolled tape on a larger-than-life-size projection of the girls throwing ass.

But Megan approaches education seriously—a gift instilled by the matriarchs who’ve surrounded her life. Two of those anchors, her mother and her great-grandmother, both passed away in March 2019 (her mother died from a brain tumor). “Before my mom passed, she really would be on my butt about getting my degree,” she says. Her great-grandmother was always asking, “You are going to get them papers?” That line is a cultural thing: very Black and very Southern. As for her grandmother, who was a teacher, “she wasn’t trying to hear none of that rap stuff,” Megan says. That Megan’s mother and manager, Holly Thomas, was a rapper in her own right—recording with gangster flair in the early aughts under the name Holly-Wood—was no reprieve from pressure to reach her academic potential.

megan thee stallion
Valentino gown and Bulgari High Jewelry earrings.
Collier Schorr

Yes, rap is in her bloodline, a swagger not only inherited from her mama but absorbed, as in osmosis, from the hometown city she describes as “throbbing” with cultural influence. The icons roll off her tongue: “Slim Thug, Bun B, Paul Wall, Z-Ro, the S.U.C. … BeatKing.” And now Megan Thee Stallion. Two years ago, her five-year goal was to become a household name. (Done and done.) Now she’s looking further ahead. “I feel like when it’s all said and done, when people want to talk about female rap … they are definitely going to have to put my name up there with the OGs.”

Like her “Hot Girl Summer” sidekick Nicki Minaj or “WAP” scene partner Cardi B, Megan charts like a pop artist, reinforcing the foregone conclusion that rap music is pop music. I ask if she doesn’t consider herself a pop star as well. “I’m a rapper,” she replies. “Rap will always be my heart. That’s really what I love to do.”

Her creative collaborator, director, and choreographer, JaQuel Knight, is less modest. “She’s become beyond the rapper,” he tells me. “She knows where to come in on her vocals. She knows how to hop into the choreography. She knows her glam. Those are things that pop stars do.” Knight, who’s worked with Beyoncé since “Single Ladies,” would know.

megan thee stallion
Collier Schorr
megan thee stallion
Collier Schorr

The two began working together last year in preparation for Megan’s set at Coachella. Coachella didn’t happen, but the BET Awards, in June 2020, did. Filmed in a desert landscape tricked out like something out of Mad Max, Megan’s pre-recorded performance of “Girls in the Hood” and “Savage (Remix)”—directed and choreographed by Knight—was as sleek as any music video. “I’ve been pushing her hard to make sure that every time we step out, it’s elevation,” says Knight. “And that’s been really beautiful to see because it’s not the easiest.” He may or may not get affectionately cussed out during rehearsals. “Since she’s become the ‘Queen of the Knees,’ it’s on me to challenge her.”

I feel like when it’s all said and done, when people want to talk about female rap … they are definitely going to have to put my name up there with the OGs.

TikTok can’t get enough of it. People of all backgrounds are jiggling and bending and hitting 8-counts to her signature hooks. Woefully ignorant of what happens on that swirling mist of an app, I am sure Megan must be some sort of mastermind of social media.

“I wish!” she says.

Okay, or she must at least have a sixth sense that hit is coming on? After all, “Savage” and its subsequent remix (in tandem with fellow Houston native, Beyoncé herself) were unavoidable during the first months of lockdown, and paved the way for her first number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. She shakes her head. “I never know,” she says. “I don’t like to say, ‘This is my single, this is what we’re going with.’ I love all my music equally.” She’d rather let the Hotties decide.

megan thee stallion
Dior dress.
Collier Schorr

This is a sign of a secure artist. Megan’s control over her output is at a level many fight tooth and nail to achieve. She certainly has. But now Thee Stallion roams at will. “I feel like I’m in a really good situation,” she says.

“She knows where she’s going,” says T. Farris, a mainstay in Houston’s rap scene and Megan’s personal manager. He began working with her after her mother passed. Farris describes Megan as a solitary songwriter, inviting others into the session once she knows what’s what. They’ll take separate cars to the studio, he tells me, Megan riding solo and writing all the while. “I don’t ever see her write it down,” he says, “but when she gets there she’s got words to rap into the microphone.”

It all goes back to autonomy, that she can “wake up and be Megan Thee Stallion,” she says. “Can’t nobody tell me how to be the Hot Girl.”

megan thee stallion harper's bazaar
Collier Schorr
megan thee stallion harper's bazaar
Collier Schorr

In the op-ed for The New York Times, in October, Megan wrote about the severe scrutiny Black women endure for living fully in their bodies. “I choose my own clothing,” Megan wrote. “Let me repeat: I choose what I wear.” In these statements, I sense the echo of the reprimand an 18-year-old Megan Pete received merely for frolicking in shorts under the Texas sun. “It’s my body. It’s literally mine,” she reiterates over Zoom. I wonder what it would take for it to be that simple.

Looming but unsaid, on July 12, Megan was shot in the feet as she was exiting a vehicle in which she had been riding with rapper Tory Lanez and two others. A month after the incident, Megan revealed Lanez as the alleged perpetrator. She’d refrained from doing so at the scene out of fear that escalation by police could take their lives. That sacrificial silence became fodder for gossip; meanwhile, Lanez has been charged with felony assault for the shooting, and the legal proceedings remain ongoing. (Lanez pleaded not guilty in November.) It was a disorienting reminder of the vicious narratives lying in wait for Black women in distress.

Megan has intercepted the rumors with finesse for the most part, taking her story to the music—as on the unambiguous response track “Shots Fired” on Good News. “I don’t like getting online like it’s my diary… ranting and complaints,” she says.

megan thee stallion harper's bazaar
Balenciaga jacket and pants; Buccellati necklace; Femme L.A. sandals.
Collier Schorr

But silence is hard. Fans and critics christen role models out of artists who speak up, becoming incensed when that person does not live out an example they’d never claimed to set. “I feel like you cannot hold people to a God standard,” says Megan. She shakes her head. “You do not do that to human beings.”

Can’t nobody tell me how to be the Hot Girl.

How does she tune it out, I ask, tolerate the bullshit? “Even though I’m not working a traditional job, I still treat it like: ‘This is work. I need to work hard for this. I want to be here. I want to do this. I want to be Megan Thee Stallion,’ ” she says. “I feel like I know what comes with my job. If I took everything personal, then I would probably be somewhere curled up in the corner.”

California Representative Maxine Waters, the longest-serving African American woman in Congress, has her advice at the ready. The two women—dressed to the nines in peach and powder blue—spoke over Zoom in late January, after Waters sent Megan a letter in praise of Megan’s advocacy.

megan thee stallion harper's bazaar
Chanel top and Kit Undergarments thong.
Collier Schorr

In 1994, Waters had come out in defense of free expression in rap music—an age-old debate she relates to today’s squabbles over female artists staking their claim. (Yes, she’s heard “WAP.” Her take: “Now that’s audacity.”) “You young women have taken control of your art, and you’re defining it in ways that never would be defined by anybody else,” Waters says.

She encourages Megan and other Black women to “get grounded.” Meaning self-knowledge in a classic sense: “Know yourself.”

To Megan, that message springs eternal. No one need reconcile the Megan on the track with the Meg on the ’Gram, the student with the Hot Girl, the advocate with the artist. These have always been one and the same. She’ll still have fun playing up the gamut of selves that come along: the raw Tina Snow and supachill Suga are never too far away. I have a feeling we’ll see them again soon.

“My next project, I’m not going to tell you all who it’s going to be,” says Megan, “but she got something.”

Visit MeganTheeStallion.me/TexasRelief for a list of resources on how to help Texans affected by Winter Storm Uri.

megan thee stallion harper's bazaar
Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello jumpsuit and choker; Bulgari High Jewelry earrings.
Collier Schorr


Hair: Kellon Deryck; Makeup: Priscilla Ono; Manicure: Coca Michelle; Production: Connect The Dots; Set Design: Maxim Jezek

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This article originally appears in the March 2021 issue of Harper's BAZAAR, available on newsstands March 2.