“That is my greatest fear...that if I lost control, it would be...fatal.” - Intro
The opening quote to SZA’s latest chart-topping album, ‘CTRL’ sets the scene by revealing the heart of each song as soon as you press play; the fear of loss of control. The album serves as a twenty-something’s playlist, covering everything from infidelity, heartbreak, insecurity, and sexuality. Following the release of ‘CTRL’, SZA has faced scrutiny from many over the actions she’s confessed to--cheating on her boyfriend, dating women in the past, etc. However, while some took to twitter to slut shame SZA, others--namely, young women and femmes of color--heard their own voices as she sang lyrics such as “Leave me lonely for prettier women, you know I need too much attention for shit like that”.
The unfortunate part of ‘CTRL’ is that an album so vulnerable and unapologetic, soft but takes-no-shit, is destined to result in backlash towards the artist responsible. Any work of art made successful simply by empowering women and femmes of color is awaiting an angry mob of men who won’t let us get away with appropriating their favorite pastimes--sex, lies, and shamelessness.
“Lemme tell you a secret - I’ve been secretly banging your homeboy” - Supermodel
While some may disagree, feminism as a movement has entered a new stage. Women can not only do anything a man can do, but they can do whatever they want and not apologize for it. Feminism today has seen the resurgence of what’s called “Pro-hoe” culture. The goal of the ideology is to reclaim a word used to shame women for embracing sexuality, and encourage the power of choice in women when it comes to sex. SZA may not know it, but by making an incredibly personal body of work available for the world to hear and others to identify with, she has set the scene for her album to become a tracklist of anthems for the modern feminist.
“My man is my man is your man/Heard that’s her man/Tuesday and Wednesday,
Thursday Friday/I just keep him satisfied through the weekend” - The Weekend
SZA’s “The Weekend” has sparked debate specifically among queer audiences over whether or not the song’s lyrics could be alluding to a polyamorous relationship. In “The Weekend”, SZA sings about having a sort of “timeshare” relationship, in which she sees someone on the weekends, and they go back to their girlfriend on the weekdays. After listening to the song several times over, a decent argument could be made for both cases - whether this is simply a time-organized poly relationship, or a monogamous relationship riddled with cheating. Regardless of the form of relationship SZA is expressing in “The Weekend”, she expresses a feeling nearly everyone can relate to. As we stray further and further from the confines of a traditional monogamous relationship - whether it be through infidelity or healthy polyamory - what we want is the feeling of importance.
“I’m sorry I’m not more attractive/I’m sorry I’m not more ladylike/I’m sorry I don’t shave my legs at night” - Drew Barrymore
“Drew Barrymore” serves as the shining star of ‘CTRL’. Opening with mellow, almost boozy feeling chords, the intro shifts the album from the unapologetic “Doves in the Wind” to its complete opposite. “Drew Barrymore” is the album’s equivalent to stumbling out of a party after seeing that person you didn’t want to, and crying. Somehow within the first line, “why is it so hard to accept the party is over?”, SZA turns you into the friend guiding her out of the party, telling her it will be okay and holding her hair back. If “Doves in the Wind” is throwing your aint-shit ex's clothes out of the window and lighting them on fire, “Drew Barrymore” is the gut-wrenching cry afterward; begging to hear that you’re worth love. Aside from her string of apologies in the lyrics, possibly the most gut-wrenching lyric arrives with the chorus. “Is it warm enough for ya, inside me?” bellows from SZA’s voice with a soft echo. How many times do you still seek acceptance after shedding everything for someone? How many times have you felt that at your core, you are still not enough? SZA masterfully captures the conflicting emotions of knowing you deserve better in a relationship, but feeling so insecure and infatuated that you’ll take what you can get.
“Open your heart up/Hoping I never find out/That you’re anyone else/Cause I love you/Just how you are/Hope you never find out/Who I really am/Cause you’ll never love me” - Garden (Say It Like Dat)
There’s a universal fear we carry around with us, a secret we take to the grave - a fear of everyone else realizing that we’re frauds. In “Garden (Say It Like Dat)”, SZA is happy in the relationship she’s in. In fact, she’s head-over-heels in love, as you can hear in the lyrics “You keep me down to Earth/Call me on my bullshit/Lie to me and say my booty gettin’ bigger even if it ain’t”. On the outside, she is content. However, the more you uncover, (the further into the song you get), it’s revealed that SZA fears her partner “finding out” who she really is.Whether this is referring to the fact that she is cheating in the relationship, or her own insecurities, it doesn’t necessarily matter. SZA effortlessly expressed the double standard so many of us hold ourselves to and never really question within her chorus. While she worries about being able to maintain her facade for fear of being unlovable in her true form, she admits to loving her partner just how he is. What SZA has done here is turned her own situation into a mirror reflection staring back at the listener. From an outside perspective the audience can judge and deem it foolish of her to hold herself to such a standard without realizing that everyone around her -even her partner- is wearing a mask as well. What makes “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” so beautiful and effective is that anyone can see themselves in SZAs lyrics, and realize that they are not alone in feeling like you have to put on a persona to please others.
“20 something/All alone still/Not a thing in my name/Ain’t got nothin’/Running from love/Only know fear” - 20 Something
The closing song to ‘CTRL’ ties perfectly into the opening quote of the album, extending the fear of loss of control into a comforting ballad. “20 Something” speaks directly to anyone who can relate to the feeling of thinking you would have it together by now. SZAs ability to narrate the experiences of so many just by expressing her fears honestly is exemplified within the lyrics “Hopin’ my 20 somethings won’t end/Hopin’ to keep the rest of my friends/Prayin’ the 20 somethings don’t kill me, kill me”. Opening with light strumming similar to the sound of “Drew Barrymore”, SZA incorporates the messages of each of her songs into one almost diary entry-like song. SZAs trademarked minimalist and vulnerable style shines as a phone call with her mother closes out the album.
It is an artist’s mission to either transport the listener to another place, or use their art to hold the listener’s hand exactly where they are. SZA manages to do both with this album, using her vulnerability to make the listener feel the waves of conflicting emotions she is feeling, while also riding the sweet spot of generality so the listener can relate it to their own experiences. ‘CTRL’ is not to be overlooked as a masterpiece of softness, and flawed self-love. As we enter a time in which women and femmes are learning to honor their sexuality, vulnerability, and power, SZAs ‘CTRL’ serves as a 14 song list of anthems. So, to all the side chicks, the 20-somethings, the bad bitches, the broke bitches, and everything in between - this album is for you.
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