Back from her 3-year hiatus, SZA returns with her debut album Ctrl, an album filled with raw, honest-to-God story telling that speaks about tainted romance and modern day relationships with deeply personal lyrics. Pushing the boundaries of R&B by blending sounds with other genres, SZA’s album beautifully shows us what it’s like to be in love with someone who isn’t yours and gives us a glimpse of her journey to gaining back control.
Originally titled A, Ctrl was supposed to be released last year in 2016 as a continuation of her first and second EPs, 2013’s S and 2014’s Z. She told Entertainment Weekly that this would be her most straight up album back in 2016, and she wasn’t kidding.
“This album is just straight up laying everything to bed. I’m talking a lot of grimy shit, but it’s truth. I’m exposing a lot of skeletons of mine.”
In the beginning of the year, SZA teasingly released “Drew Barrymore”, as a reminder that the album was soon on its way. On April 27th, she released another single, “Love Galore” featuring hip hop artist Travis Scott on her Soundcloud, along with a wonderfully dark, seductive video the next day.
Ctrl wastes no time, and dives straight into the point with “Supermodel” where she opens with a confession about sleeping with her ex’s friend as revenge for ditching her to go to Vegas on Valentine’s Day. The best part? He didn’t even know about it until the album came out. Her third single “Doves In the Wind” featuring Kendrick Lamar, released just hours before the album, is an ode to vaginas: “Real niggas do not deserve pussy/ meaning it’s more, you see right through the walls/ain’t talkin’ about pussy.” In an age of disposable sex, an age of hit it and quit it, romance is on its way to a quick flat line and is only a matter of time before it’s pronounced dead. Last week in an interview with The Breakfast Club, SZA said “There’s a lot more that I can give you besides pussy, that can build you.” She sings about Forest Gump, the kind of guy who saw women for more than just their bodies and how he deserved a “box of chocolates” for being a genuine guy, asking us “Where’s Forest now that you need him?”
The idea bleeds into “Drew Barrymore” and “Normal Girl”, SZA sadly crooning about not being good enough, not being lady-like enough and being so lonely, you put up with anything. It’s also a stinging reminder of the facade people put up, especially on social media and the struggle to keep up the act behind phone screens. She seems to change the tone on “Broken Clocks” as she leaves her lovers to focus on other things but like most heartbreaks, gets lost again in “Anything” but seems to be trying to find a way out in “Wavy(Interlude)” featuring James Fauntleroy.
Pop-disco sounding “Prom”, along with frighteningly true “20 Something” are about the harsh realities of growing up and the horror of not knowing what the hell you’re doing with your life. SZA relates to us all by singing along the lines of “Stuck in them 20 somethings/Good luck on them 20 somethings/But God bless these 20 somethings.” Some of my favorites included controversial, side-chick anthem “The Weekend”, beautifully mastered beats perfect to vibe to in “Go Gina”, trumpet filled “Doves in the Wind” featuring Isaiah Rashad and plain ol’ love song “Garden(Say It Like Dat)”.
Unlike her previous projects filled with figurative lyrics, metaphors, and whimsical play on words, Ctrl is gritty, in your face, and serves as an open diary of her soul; a vulnerability so many artists are afraid of and don’t have the guts to show. SZA takes accountability for the mess she’s made in her life but instead of letting it control her, takes power in it. She proves that there is strength in vulnerability, beauty in the mess and that life is just one big game of creating the illusion of being in control anyway.