SZA Vulnerability, Freedom, Revelation: CTRL
With the dynamics of both the genres of R&B and Hip-Hop consistently changing, there tends to be an obvious disconnect in what people associate as genuine, purposeful, feel good music, and watered-down, meaningless tunes that simply sport amazing beats. Jersey’s very own, Solána Rowe, (also known to the world as SZA) attempts to break down that barrier and delivers the utmost liberal, transparent, concrete music with her debut album, Ctrl. I mean it even had Diddy completely zoning out in his crib and that says something.
With an outstanding performance at the 2017 BET Awards, a monumental tour (which started a little over a month) hot collaborations with the likes of Maroon 5 and even Lorde, a spot on one of the hottest upcoming HBO show’s (Insecure) soundtrack, daily increasing fan base, and utterly contagious free spirit, the 26-year-old, first lady of TDE has instantly taken over the music scene and etch-a-sketched a place into all of our hearts.
It has been only a little over three months since her debut (and potentially last) album Ctrl was released and it is still so very necessary. If there was one word to describe this album, that word would be raw. It is personal. It is open. It tells a story. Ctrl oozes with sexual freedom. It switches the gender roles and liberates women. It tells them, “You can be who you want to be, do what you want to do, and live your life to the fullest regardless of anyone’s judgement.”
This theme is instantly seen in the first track, “Supermodel.” Produced by Pharrell Williams and SCUM, the song begins with a recording from the artist’s aunt.
“That is my greatest fear, that if, if I lost control or did not have control, things would just be… fatal.”
The song plays as a letter to an ex who played her. “I’m writing this letter to let you know I’m really leaving. And no, I’m not keeping your sh*t.” She opens up even more continuing, “Let me tell you a secret, I been secretly banging your homeboy. Why you in Vegas all up on Valentine’s Day? Why am I easy to forget like that?”
From here, Ctrl tells a narrative that women across the nation relate to. One of the album’s hottest singles, the Travis Scott assisted, “Love Galore” The song echoes this same theme of sexual freedom and liberation as Sza bellows,
“Why you bother me, when you know don’t want me? Why you bother me, when you know you got a woman?”
Those lines themselves speak to the youth of today. Relationships are not what they once were. People do not value the sacredness of a bond like our parents’ generation and those before it. Many young women long for something real. They are tired of the games, of being played, essentially exhausted in it all.
As the journey on the emotional rollercoaster continues we reach, “Doves In the Wind.” The K. Dot assisted record delivers immense 90’s nostalgia. The percussion alone is enough to reel you in before the opening lines, “Real n*ggas do not deserve p*ssy*.” The “Ctrl” theme is reinforced as she plays on the 1994 film, “Forrest Gump.” She is looking for the real men, those like Gump, who were not desperate or in dire need for the physical action but just a connection. She is looking for her Forrest.
With the help of Lamar, the song is sexualized even more to show that men will basically do anything for… well you know. “N*ggas’ll lose they mind for it, wine for it, dine for it, p*ssy. Spend time for it, see no colored line for it, p*ssy!” She uses this song for self-expression and praise to women. She literally compares the female anatomy to that of doves in the wind; she reclaims her power.
The ride edges further along with the album’s very first single, the 2015 released, “Drew Barrymore.” Here, Sza reveals another side of herself showing her insecurities and flaws, one of them being low self-esteem. Just as the chorus bellows “Warm enough for ya,” the somewhat
somber song ironically produces this warm, summer time vibe. Sza uses these flaws and insecurities to empower women and takes what was meant to tear them down and turns into something beautiful that produces growth.
As the album nears the halfway mark, one of its more… controversial tunes arrive with the highly contagious, “The Weekend” track. Sza effortlessly sings about a “situationship” in which she may be unknowingly (or knowingly) sharing her counterpart with two other women. She knows it is wrong but like most wrongdoings in our lives, it feels good. She proudly expresses that while he may be stuck in his dull “9-5” routine, she is the excitement in his life, what he looks forward to; in other words, she is the weekend.
Even in her wrong, she still possesses control. She tells her lover, where to be, the day, and time. While many may exhibit disapproval for the lyric in the tune, it speaks truth. It does not hold back any curtains to the window of her life.
Ctrl is all about vulnerability. Just like the sour patch kids candy, Solána switches from this sweet innocent bubbly side to a more rebelling, somewhat bad side. She knows her actions are not always right, but that is the beauty that is Ctrl. She takes pride and accountability in the good and the bad; she owns it.
Vulnerability takes precedence in the second half of the album with tracks such as, “Broken Clocks,” “Normal Girl,” and “Garden (Say it Like Dat).” Sza opens up about various flaws or insecurities and obstacles that have held her back in her life at some point. Whether it be about having “no booty” in “Garden”, not having her time wasted with meaningless relationships in “Broken Clocks,” or being the type of girl that can be introduced to someone’s mother in “Normal Girl.”
Just as the tone was set for its beginning, Sza immaculately ends her album with the soul bearing, vastly relevant and relatable “20 Something.” This track is a personal favorite because she puts everything on the table. She makes herself human for everyone to see. She speaks to the journey that is, our 20s. This journey is not always easy. In your 20s you continuously seek your identity, who you are, who your friends are, your love life, stability, happiness and more. Your “20 Somethings” are a time to be young and free without restrictions or limits.
She shows that even she does not have everything together. In the song she chants, “Hopin’ my 20 somethings won’t end. Hopin’ to keep the rest of my friends. Prayin’ the 20 somethings don’t kill me.” With our 20s comes many lessons, much learning, heartbreak, trials, tribulations, and more but they are such a memorable part of our lives and some are not blessed to get all the way through them.
Ctrl creates the soundtracks to both men and women’s lives that they did not even know they needed. In its essence, this project is one of the purest, most diverse, clearest pieces of the year. The album manages to create art that can be appreciated from its beginning to the end.
The record is not restricted to just one genre as it contains various elements ranging from R&B, electronic, Neo soul, pop, jazz, Hip-Hop and more. Solána thank you for such a raw look into who you are. Thank you for your spirit and being… you.
Ctrl is available on streaming services and on iTunes. The bubbly sensation is currently on her “Ctrl” tour as it pushes all the way through December, with shows in both the United States and Canada. The tour will also feature artists, Ravyn Lenae and Smino.