SZA’s Comeback Proves It’s Okay to Not be in “Ctrl”

Cody Corrall | June 2017

This is an installment of Eff Your Boys Club, a bi-weekly column highlighting and discussing the marginalized voices in music.

SZA is back with a vengeance. The 26-year-old R&B singer shocked the world in 2012 with her debut project, See.SZA.Run, which she put together in nearly a night. Since then, she released another EP, S, which made her the first and only woman under the Top Dawg Entertainment record label, which boasts talents like Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q. To this day she is the only woman and R&B artist on the label.

In 2014, SZA released her third EP, Z, which featured the voices of Chance the Rapper and fellow TDE artist Isaiah Rashad. During that year she lent her ethereal, honey-like melodies to other artists with a feature on Rihanna’s “Consideration,” as well as writing credits on Beyonce and Nicki Minaj’s “Feeling Myself.”

It’s been three years since the release of Z, and fans have been waiting desperately for something new from SZA: something like Ctrl.

Ctrl is SZA’s first full-length album, and while it stays true to the values of her previous work, it is clear that she has evolved as an artist in her absence. She teased her newest project, originally called A, to be released in the summer of 2016, but she held off to make sure it was perfect.

Ctrl is nothing short of a triumph. It is one of this year’s most anticipated releases, and it does not disappoint. Diehard fans as well as first time listeners can find joy and desire in her modern, disconnected soliloquies.

SZA has invented her own genre: two parts R&B, one part chillwave, with dashes of Billie Holiday, Björk, and Toro y Moi. While her sound is nothing short of unique, what puts Ctrl above the rest is her undying desire, and how beautifully it manifests in each track.

Throughout the album, there’s never a sense of contentment or assurance. She’s still very much navigating life and love in all of its ups and downs. She’s unsure of the weight she puts on her own feelings, if they cloud her judgement, if she loves too much.

It would be a disservice to say that Ctrl is just about relationships, but that just speaks to how high SZA prioritizes human connection and intimacy. She spends most of the album conflicted, with lines like “why you bothering me when you know you don’t want me” and “long as we got love” appearing right next to each other in her duet with Travis Scott titled “Love Galore.” In “Broken Clocks,” the listener is brought back to SZA’s old flames, as her lyrics are underscored by voices of men, while she questions herself and her past relationships.

But, with her various uncertainties comes acceptance. SZA is a self-proclaimed perfectionist, and she’s coming to terms with the fact that there are some things out of her control. Her mother is a large component of this album, and she is dealing with control in the same way SZA is.

Her mother starts the opening song, “Supermodel,” with a fear of losing control, and sets the tone for the rest of the album. Her nurturing voice navigates several songs with snippets of wisdom, which mirror SZA’s lyricism.

In the last song, “20 Something”, SZA bares her soul and pauses life for a moment to take it all in. “God bless the 20 somethings.” Amidst all the chaos and the things she can’t change, she can hope to be at a better place by the end of it all.

Ctrl is about the contradictions of life. She struggles with the things she can’t control, but she’s learning to accept it. It’s very much a “fake it to you make it” prayer disguised in an experimental R&B masterpiece.