Amika Moser celebrates the imperfect softness of SZA’s debut album, CTRL…
SZA has been in the music industry for a long time, having written hits for both Rihanna and Nicki Minaj. However, her name became known through the release of Ctrl, her debut studio album. Released in June 2017, the album is still charted on the Billboard 200 proving it remains culturally significant. She’s just released the music video for “Garden (Say it like Dat)”, an emotionally vulnerable song from her album in which she questions whether or not she is worthy of a relationship despite her insecurities – something that feels too real in an often overly artificial world that always seems to seek perfection. The album as well as the song’s presence show us that SZA’s Ctrl is timeless in its own delicate and exposed way.
In an interview with the Breakfast Club, SZA recounts why she decided to name her album Ctrl. She explains that she’s both lacked and craved control her whole life and once she realised that the whole idea of control was a fantasy, it helped her focus on the present. This theme is clear throughout the whole album. SZA embraces the fact that she’s insecure, imperfect and not always someone’s first choice. The songs travel through her feelings on love, confidence and insecurities.
Vulnerability is still a key theme in pop music but Ctrl transmits it in such a powerful way. Whilst SZA’s songs still depict a woman that feels confident through her nonchalant attitude to sexuality in songs like “The Weekend” or “Doves in the Wind,” these are juxtaposed with more insecure moments. Songs like “Drew Barrymore” and “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” highlight SZA’s insecurities about not being enough for someone. She emphasises her body insecurities and being unsure of her self-worth. Sometimes, in songs like “Supermodel,” she contradicts both the feelings of wanting to be independent with the idea of desperately needing somebody. SZA is such a vital force in the industry because of these contradictions, the way she fluctuates from feelings of confidence to the insecurities that she wholeheartedly embraces. Most artists in the charts provide poppy and confident music, which seems a lot more contrived. Hearing Ctrl’s vulnerability both lyrically and melodically feels more refreshing in comparison to the sometimes artificial songs that dominate the radio.
Another extremely important aspect of the album is SZA herself, specifically the struggles she went through releasing the album. She’s admitted in several interviews that she wasn’t proud of the finished product, having written over a hundred songs for the album but ultimately her label pressured her to release Ctrl. If anything, SZA’s lack of confidence in her own album even further echoes the idea that imperfection is normal and something to embrace. Whilst she doesn’t embrace the media as outspokenly as other artists, her interviews and her social media further amplify this idea of a complex woman in tune with her feelings, whether they be filled with self-confidence or the struggles of going through adulthood. Once again, she embraces the lack of control that she feels. It’s another testament to the fact that art is meant to feel flawed. It influences us to see past our doubts to further our creativity.
Ctrl is celebrating its one-year anniversary and the album still remains on countless playlists proving that longevity is thriving despite streaming sites that prioritise singles. Ctrl has been praised by young women, especially ones of color, as “an album that reminds us of our self-worth when we need it the most.” SZA embraces the vulnerability of her mental state and romantic situations, turning it into something beautiful and honest. As young women in a world that seems to always expect perfection and confidence, through her music and her personality, we are reminded by SZA that accepting your sometimes flawed and honest self should be a priority. After celebrating a cover shoot for the Fader, SZA took to Instagram to tell her fans “believe you are worthy and stay soft.” These words feel truly meaningful because for SZA just as for the rest of us, softness is what makes us who we are.
Words: Amika Moser