The best way to maintain control is to let go. We must let go of fears, expectations, burdens, and anything else that hinders our growth in order to remain in control. In her long-awaited debut album, Ctrl, SZA takes us through her journey of learning to let go with 14 liberating tracks.
Listeners were first introduced to the album in January, when she released Ctrl’s first single, “Drew BarrymoreÛ. On this song the first lady of TDE delivers a tongue-in-cheek apology for not measuring up to all of the expectations placed upon her as a woman. Her sorry-not-sorry air seems to vanish on “Supermodel” and “Normal Girl” as the singer reveals some very real insecurities that surround her perception of self and her relationships with the men in her life.
These insecurities take a backseat as the singer rest comfortably in the sample of Justin Timberlake’s “Set The Mood” for her indulgent and self-confident song “The WeekendÛ, which sits on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for 21 weeks and counting. After watching a few interviews of SZA on her radio tour for the album, I realized that she and I share the same dislike for people referring to this song as a “sidechick anthem” because that label oversimplifies the complexity of emotions, thoughts and experiences that Ctrl was created from. During her interview on Power 106 LA, the talented songwriter said “Ctrl is more of a concept than a title. I wanted to control the way people saw me and thought of me. I wanted to control the way life was going, I wanted to control the pitfalls and the pain. But it’s not possible and I think once you lose enough, you allow yourself to relinquish control. Also, I used to be very metaphorical, very figurative and just kind of scared to talk about the way I felt in a very direct way. This album is a release.” The listener can feel that release as SZA’s vocals loosen to a blasÌ©, laidback tone on “Go GinaÛ, a reference to the television show Martin and an ode to the Ginas of the world that just need to let loose one time for the one time. The 10th song on the album, “AnythingÛ, mimics that same carefree vibe of being up for any adventure that this journey of self-discovery takes her on.
The second single from this album of unpredictable ballads, “Love GaloreÛ, opens with the unmistakable sound of Travis Scott’s voice as the rapper attempts to express what he needs. SZA finishes his thought for him and then literally finishes him in the almost-sultry music video that quickly turns dark. Continuing with the theme of complicated love, SZA connects with labelmate Isaiah Rashad on “Pretty Little Birds” and together they paint a beautiful, yet heart-wrenching, picture of a love that nearly destroys both lovers and leaves the relationship hanging by a thread after suffering multiple blows.
The 28-year old alternative R&B singer gets another TDE nod from rapper Kendrick Lamar as he tells her “SolÌÁna, middle fingers, speak your truth!” to end his verse on “Doves In The WindÛ, a song about the power behind a source that Lamar describes as the undefeated heavyweight champ. And to that I say… #FactsOnly. SolÌÁna heeds K-Dot’s advice particularly on “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” which happens to be my favorite song on the album and arguably the most vulnerable of the 14 songs. “Garden” is an intimate letter penned to those closest to the young artist as a reminder that she is grateful for and is still in need of all the love and support that they give her, especially on the rough days. In fact, SZA’s mother and grandmother can be heard delivering life lessons in the midst of conversation throughout the album. Songs such as “Prom” and “Broken Clocks” detail the struggles that SZA and every other 20-something encounters when trying their best to navigate life. These challenges are best summed up in the album’s closing song, “20 SomethingÛ, when SZA sings “Good luck on them 20 somethings, God bless these 20 somethings” for herself as much as she sings it for you and I.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this album is its duality of introspection and relatability. The theme of storytelling paired with a level of honestly that is almost fearless, allows us to feel seen and maybe even exposed in some cases; but either way, SZA is reading aloud a page from each of our diaries in this deep-cutting yet tender album. Ctrl is a lesson of letting go and when you learn to do so, it may just result in you being grammy-nominated 5 times over.