With a unique style and unique voice, SZA drops her debut album, Ctrl. The Jersy singer, who recently signed with RCA record label earlier this year (under Top Dawg Entertainment), does not disappoint with an album that is reflective of jazz, r&b, soul, hip-hop, and the newly popular trap soul. The 14-track album is full of melodic music that covers an eclectic multitude of sounds. Themes that are featured throughout the album focus on how SZA views relationships, love, insecurities, and self-love and self-discovery. On an interview with The Breakfast Club, (click here for full interview) SZA states, ” The album is a release, over the last four years I’ve been burying friends, family members, burying how I feel about myself, how I feel about the world, how I feel about God, how I process information, like I’ve been growing as a human being and I didn’t even realize that I was kind of in a box. Most of the album is me talking to me.” It’s hard to believe that SZA never intended to make music her career, but with Ctrl (which is also the name of Janet Jackson’s third solo album), she has definitely made her mark on the music industry.
SZA opens up her album with addressing the idea of control and sets the tone for a lot of songs within the album. The first song, Supermodel, begins with SZA’s mother saying That is my greatest fear. That if, if I lost control or did not have control things would just, you know, I, would be fatal. SZA has tweeted that Supermodel is probably her favorite song on the album and how she is being extremely candid with her emotions and experiences; discussing the insecurities she felt during a relationship though she wishes she could just be comfortable with herself, though she needs the attention and validation she semi receives from her relationship. The plucking and acoustic background of this song help to create that intimate feeling with nothing to focus on but the strumming and SZA’s raspy voice.
She uses this same type of theme in songs Garden (Say It Like That), Anything and Wavy Interlude. SZA mentioned in her Breakfast Club Interview, “I think all women are [looking for approval] from the person they like it’s weird. You could be this hella confident person, but if the one person that you want to find you beautiful doesn’t find you beautiful it kind of doesn’t mean anything. It just negates all these things, even [though] all these things are still true; you’re still beautiful you’re still gnarly. So, I basically took this idea of you know, when you want a man he’s unattainable you want his attention you want his favor you want to be the apex of his taste level all these natural feelings.” SZA’s appeal stems from a message that is relatable to the average women, while also providing music that’s in a class of its own compared to other sounds currently out.
Though she expresses vulnerability when discussing her insecurities in relationships, SZA finds her confidence in songs Love Galore and The Weekend. These songs have an almost empowering “I do what I want” feel to them. Love Galore featuring Travis Scott focuses on guys who aren’t honest and like the idea of a person, but not necessarily the essence of that particular person. On this song, SZA admits those type of dudes annoy her and how she really doesn’t need them in her life. The Weekend has been dubbed the side chick anthem of the summer, due to the song expressing how she can no longer just see her lover on the weekends but she needs some affection during the week as well. SZA explains, “What I’m actually saying in the song is my man is your man like we share the same dude. Saying that I’m aware, and I don’t care. I’m not trying like, I don’t need to be his girl … all of us are just out here trying to get different things for different reasons, and my particular reason is get here and do what you said you was goin’ to do. I think it’s like taking the power back. Because women aren’t supposed to do nothing but like cry and feel weird like ‘Oh my god, I don’t have no nigga,’ ‘he’s not my man’, but it doesn’t matter enjoy your life, focus on what’s important to you, It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It’s about comfortability it’s about being confident with yourself.” I don’t agree with the message behind the song (because I don’t share nothing but Jesus), but I am all for the part that speaks on being comfortable and confident with oneself.
Normal Girl and Drew Barrymore both allude to how the quirky and goofy qualities SZA posseses are considered endearing and fun within the aspect of a relationship. Normal Girl is not just seeing SZA at her full confidence by accepting that she’s not like the normal girls her beau is used to seeing, but that is why she appeals to him. Now, she’s not throwing shade on normal women (or women who are just more put together and organized etc.) because a part of her is actually admiring them, while remaining content with her own quirks and uniqueness. Drew Barrymore, which was SZA first single off the album, was named as such due to the originality and fun quality that Drew Barrymore (the actress) brings to Hollywood and entertainment.
SZA remains completely overt and candid with her lyrics in the songs Doves in the Wind, Go, Gina and Broken Clocks. Doves in the Wind is graced with a feature from a rap legend in the making, Kendrick Lamar. The meaning of the song often gets bypassed due to the constant use of the word pussy. However, the meaning of the song is more in the second line of the song than the first which states, Real niggas, do not deserve pussy/ Meaning it’s more you see right through walls. Breaking this down, SZA is explaining that pussy isn’t the only thing that she can offer a man, and seeing right through her walls is in regards to her emotional and mental barriers (The Breakfast Club 2017).
Go Gina is a nostalgic reference for us 90’s babies to the hit TV show Martin.. As we all know one of Martin’s key phrases used when talking to Gina was “You go, girl!”Plus Gina was always perceived as the more refined and composed one out of the girls. SZA poses the question what if Gina lived like Pam, she might be more laid back and have more fun; “like go, Gina live your life and don’t be afraid to be crazy. (The Breakfast Girl, 2017). I don’t know about you, but I think we can all agree that we need to get a little crazy sometimes. Broken Clocks deals with having to find the balance of work life and romantic life; something that is relevant to almost all millennial struggles (seeing how we all want to be successful in our careers).
One thing we must discuss before the completion of this review is the amazing showing of musicality featured on each track. The sound on this album is different than previous records we have heard from SZA. She explained on The Breakfast Club Interview (2017) that the reason this album sounds so much differently than previous recordings is due to the fact that she is understanding music better. “I don’t think I consciously changed the sound, I just think I didn’t know what my sound was like, I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to make sonically or what I was trying to achieve or what I was attracted to sonically.” I think the SZA’s eclectic musical tastes are reflective in each track she makes and the mood that she wants to evoke.
The song Pretty Little Birds featuring Isaiah Rashad starts off focusing on that self-love and is laced with beautiful poetic metaphors. The lines You are but a phoenix among feathers/ You’re broken by the waves among the sea/They’ll let you die, they’ll let you wash away/but you swim as well as you fly. Even though the rest of the song eludes to another love interest this part sticks out to me the most. This section is about being successful and rising above during times of adversity and life’s trials and tribulations. This theme is further reiterated in the chorus Pretty little birds, pretty little birds/ Do you mean every word, you mean, every word?/ Pretty little girls, pretty little girls/ We hit the window a few times. This can mean so many things, breaking barriers as women of color, or even just sometimes failing but still flying hoping one day to break through.
Bringing another vibe most reflective of a disco-pop era is the song Prom, which speaks on SZA’s insecurities about her lack of maturity in a relationship and in her life; a topic that I can definitely relate to. The song also reflects on how prom is the last big event before graduation, the moment where you are essentially maturing and growing (moving from high school to college, from a place where you are surveyed 24/7 to a new place where you have freedom and understand self-discovery). A 90’s baby like myself, SZA bares her soul on 20 Something. I can speak from experience that being in your late 20’s (which SZA and I both are) in this day and age is so different that what are parents went through. 20 Something talks about what 20 somethings go through; how we don’t have our lives together, we are single, trying to keep your friends close, etc. I love that this is the last song on her album because the phrase God Bless the 20 somethings kinda makes you feel like everything will be alright.
SZA’s album was raw and a musical journey from beginning to end. SZA mentioned on The Breakfast Club, “I think singing from my perspective of the world, where I felt trapped in myself and around my friends and guys I couldn’t explain it. I never talked about relationships in a direct way, I’m used to being very metaphorical, very figurative and also kind of scared to talk abut the way I felt in a literal way.” Thank goodness she learned how to be overt because this album is raw and some of the best work from SZA. Make sure to follow her on social media, and download her album on Itunes now!
My Favorite Tracks on the Album
I’m happy to report the whole album is dope! So, there are no favorites at the moment.