Chief Culture Editor
The first time I listened to New Jersey born singer Sza’s (born Solána Rowe), debut album Ctrl, I felt a beautifully disarming mixture of uneasiness and joy. I could tell by listening to the album’s first two tracks, “Supermodel” and “Love Galore” featuring Travis Scott, that the album wasn’t going to sound like anything I’d ever heard before, and it definitely wasn’t going to fit neatly into one genre. Sza herself describes “Love Galore” as a “tropical bop,” while the rest of the album has hints of R&B, indie rock, and soul. But the beats themselves weren’t the only things that left me feeling slightly uncentered.
Within the first fifteen lines of the album’s first track “Supermodel” Sza sings, “Let me tell you a secret/I been secretly banging your homeboy/Why you in Vegas/All up on Valentine’s Day?.” In the first two lines, Sza tells her ex that she’s secretly been hooking up with his best friend, exhibiting the self-assuredness that the album’s title leads you to believe will recur throughout the album. But in the next two lines she almost immediately retreats, dispiritedly asking him why he’d leave her on Valentine’s Day. And she only continues to draw away from her defiant stance as the song continues. Later, angrily belting, “Leave me lonely for prettier women/You know I need too much attention/For shit like that,” Sza seems to know what her needs are, and wants to gather the strength to secure the upper hand, but doesn’t seem ready to let go yet. You feel a little bit satisfied that she hooked up with her ex’s best friend, but remain eerily aware that the spite that that takes to execute means she’s definitely not over it. (That really happened, by the way. In an interview with EW, Sza admitted she had sex with her ex’s best friend and wrote this song hoping he’d hear about it.)
If my subconscious was searching for a neater narrative in the next track (and I assume based off of my penchant for listening to popular music that it probably was), “Love Galore” featuring Travis Scott definitely didn’t deliver it to me. Sza cites the song “Kokomo” as being an influence on the track’s tropical beat and sings to an old hook up “I said farewell/You took it well/ Promise I won’t cry over spilled milk.” She promises not to cry over a relationship she compares to something as inconsequential as spilled milk, but does anyone who ends something with an intimate partner want the other person to take it that well?
That being said when she later croons, “Why you bother me when you know you don’t want me?/Why you bother me when you know you got a woman?/Why you hit me when you know you know better?,” it’s clear she doesn’t really want him to keep trying either, probably because she knows he doesn’t want anything serious.
In an interview with Genius, when asked about regretting past relationships, Sza says, “Regretting a dude? It’s just a mess. I have to pretend you didn’t exist ever now, because you took it so far. You hurt my feelings, I’m embarrassed, you’re wildin. Now you just have to disappear out of my life.”
These kinds of messy endings with boyfriends, (or more aptly put, hookups) are laced throughout the album. But rather than writing an album full of sad, self-pitying ballads, Sza displays writes a compilation of songs that display her desire for sexual freedom and her desire to to experience relationships with men that aren’t that serious, while still requiring a level of intimacy with and respect from her partners. And in my opinion, the sentiment accurately captures the attitudes (or maybe aspirations) of a lot of women in their twenties. But even when you know a relationship is casual, it still has the ability to make us feel fragile. Sza understands this perfectly.
While relationships continue to be a central theme throughout the album, Sza addresses other issues people in their twenties face as well. In the album’s fifth track, “Prom,” she starts the song off, “Fearin’ not growin’ up/Keepin’ me up at night/Am I doin’ enough?/Feel like I’m wastin’ time.” Your twenties, are the time where you build the foundation for the rest of your life, (so some people say). You’re trying to build a career, build relationships, and build your own opinions of the world. There’s a simultaneous reluctance to grow up too fast and a realization that you have to grow up or you’ll fall behind. Sza herself has been extremely open about her struggles as an artist to release music she’s proud of and her personal struggles to find a relationship that reflects her ideal balance of casual and intimate. And that’s what makes her as an artist and the album Ctrl so special.
Rather than trying to project an image that she’s either on the perfect path to achieving her goals, or that she’s an unfocused mess that we need to take pity on, she is perfectly comfortable to display herself as someone who’s living somewhere in between. And that’s what made me so happy about while listening to these songs. Most of us are living somewhere in the in between, and why does that always have have to be a bad thing?
So regardless of whether or not you’re someone who’s comfortable with grey areas, I encourage you to listen to Ctrl, because, at the very least, it’ll give you a chance to hear something you’ve never heard anything like before.