The long-awaited album Ctrl finally dropped and the wait was understandable. Understandable, due to the rawness of her lyrics; SZA didn’t mince her words when it came to her insecurities especially concerning her role and positions within her relationships. The album’s title Ctrl is notable as most of her songs speak about lacking control, an echoing of the creative process that she endured.
The creative process that SZA went through with the album is also a point of interest. No doubt, SZA made led some changes with the overall sound she was working with. Compared to her previous work, she has opted for a more minimalist sound, including the decision to remove reverb. Additionally, she still had to have her album taken away from her throughout its creation. Her self-doubt resulted in her managers having to hide her album so she wouldn’t delete completed tracks. However, this honest admittance of low self-esteem has been a notable element throughout the album, the vulnerability of her lyrics alongside her experimental sounds has created a haven for many to find shelter in.
The album opens with ‘Supermodel’, a song aimed at her ex, where she lays her insecurities bare. Unashamedly and even with a hint of anger, she admits the many flaws in her past relationship and the scars formed from it. She croons “I could be your supermodel if you believe” signalling her desperation for adoration despite her flaws and the obvious faults within this relationship. Her defencelessness against her low self-confidence is a sentiment that anyone could relate to, making it a good choice as an opener.
Next, ‘Love Galore’ featuring Travis Scott is one of the most known songs on the album due to the catchy lyrics such as “why you bother me when you know you don’t want me/ why you bother me when you know you got a woman” over its tropical alt R’n’B beat. In the century of fuckboys, the lyrics resonate with many including myself. However, the song reveals that this ex was more than that; he was physically abusive. Despite, the artwork explaining ‘Love Galore’ as an acronym, it is obvious that song was named ironically as SZA experienced anything but a galore of love in this relationship. Nonetheless, she attempts to move past this ordeal, paying homage to the 90’s show The Gilmore Girls as she asks for Valium and a paper towel.
‘Doves in the Wind’ features Kendrick Lamar where he and SZA crudely sing about the power of ‘pussy’ sampling Busta Rhymes’ song, Turn me up some. ‘Drew Barrymore’ is without a doubt, where SZA’s feeling of low self-worth is most pronounced. The song is hazy with slurred guitar chords, as she accepts that the party is indeed over but nevertheless she isn’t partial to Netflix and chill session in a desperate attempt to keep her ex-partners interest.
From ‘Drew Barrymore’, we continue to the 90’s pop-disco influenced track, ‘Prom’. This is one of my favourites on the album, due to change in theme. Instead, of talking about bad bonds and her waning self-confidence, she sings about her enjoyment in living in the present with little care to her direction into the future. After that brief departure from sticky relationships, we return to this theme with ‘The Weekend’. The song chronicles her time as the infamous ‘side chick’ however this time she sees her role of one of empowerment. In the song, she describes herself as ‘the weekend’ suggesting that she is the most fun out of the 2 women involved in this triangle. For SZA “time-sharing” a man is almost inevitable in this age so ‘The Weekend’ again, is brutally honest and in retrospect, quite a gloomy account of her relationship.
‘Go Gina’, marks the halfway point in the album, where she ironically speaks about her lack of self-control. Referencing 90’s sitcom Martin, SZA cheers on the anxious and uptight, to let themselves be free – of course with the aid of weed. Her lack for self-control caused her to attend three separate colleges due to being too high to attend class at her first one. Therefore, ‘Go Gina’ may be a song to encourage but also highlighting her self-deprecation as well as her self-appreciation.
‘Garden (Say it like that)’ plays a game of hide and seek with her partner, in fear that if he finds out about the real her the love will die. Through ‘Broken Clocks’ SZA steps out again from wallowing in her broken relationships, stating that her time is precious and she needs to direct her energy into her work. In the song, she sings “All that I’ve got, pieces and pages/Talking a lot, sorry I’m faded/Think I’ve forgot, you love me/You love me/You love me”. She realises that her drug use has distorted her memory of the truth and, combined with her insecurity, means that she indeed forgets she is loved.
In ‘Normal’ and the last track on the album ’20 something’, SZA explains her musings in the album and confesses that times have been rough and she prays that herself and others can make it through their formative adult years.
Overall the album deserves its accolades, despite the wordplay and fanciful phrases she is clear in her expression. Battered and bruised through faults of her own and others, her vulnerability is endearing and relatable and it will be interesting to see her narrative in her next album.
Will she get on her road to recovery or will another life event cause her more insecurities?By Adaobi Nezianya