SZA finally dropped her album, CTRL, which was apparently long-awaited by everyone but me. I had never been much of a SZA fan but after listening to CTRL, I am officially hooked.
Per usual, my review will be half musical assessment and half anecdotal narrative, based on the emotions and memories this music evoked.
CTRL had an encompassing effect on me, as if the emotions it stirred up within me came from all directions. While SZA sang about her damaging relationships with men, I thought about the times I’ve been hurt by men and even women in the same ways. But conversely I thought about the times when I was the one inflicting that same hurt on someone else.
On Being Hurt
The album starts with a clear theme, opening with dialogue from SZA’s mom speaking about losing control. Then SZA begins Supermodel with a faux sense power stating she’s leaving her man and his “shit.” But this quickly unravels as she poses a question in aside, “Why am I so easy to forget like that?” This spirals into a complete surrender of that control and deeply vulnerable proclamations:
“Leave me lonely for prettier women,
You know I need too much attention for shit like that.”
“I could be your super model if you’d let me.”
And a repeated, “I need you.”-SZA, from “Supermodel” on CTRL
Needless to say, I was neck-deep in my feelings after just the first song. The same vulnerability can be heard on Anything when SZA begs the question, “Do you even know I’m alive?” along with a penetrating stomp-and-clap feel.
The tenderness of these lyrics spun me back to my late teens, when most of my love was unrequited and most of my love interests were the type of dirty men SZA mentions on Broken Clocks.
Ironically, the sorest memory I have on being ignored and emotionally manipulated was done by a woman, not the boys I chased in high school. We hit it off during a school visit over the summer leading up to freshman year. In the Fall, we arrived on campus and we both quickly found out she was out of my league. Then she started to govern her actions accordingly. Occasionally she’d play into my funky little feelings to get what she wanted out of me, which was usually small things like weed, a borrowed jacket, a Big Gulp from 7/11.
Once she randomly asked me to hold her hand while we were out with friends. I thought I was #inthere. But I noticed she kept glancing at another girl in the group, a girl she’d been involved with. She only wanted to hold my hand to make the other girl jealous. If only SZA had dropped CTRL for me back then. A little while later I finally let go of that hopeless crush. Then I started dating women who actually liked me, and whom I inadvertently hurt.
On Hurting Others
Already drowning in my feelings after Track 1, silly of me to think SZA would let up on the next song. While I was busy swaying to the melody, SZA snuck in and hit me with the question of the century on Love Galore.
“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?-SZA, from “Love Galore” on CTRL
Apparently I wasn’t the only one affected by the lyrics (see video below.)
So after listening to the song, I really sat down and wondered: Why do I bother her when I know I don’t want her? The “her” in the question being the women I’ve led on (both intentionally and not.) And the answer to question being, shallow selfishness.
Fast forward 3 years from that embarrassing, freshman year crush. I’ve recently found myself in the pattern of entertaining women I’m hardly compatible with for the sake of it. My last romance was a brief fling of this nature. I knew after the first date I had no romantic interest in her, yet I kept dating and having sex with the girl. That was wrong and immature of me. And now every time I pick up my phone to text an old flame or message a new Tinder match who I know I have no intentions of actually dating, I hear SZA ask me “Why you bothering her?”
The song that struck even deeper with me was 20 Something. It was SZA who begged,
“Why you ain’t say you was getting bored? Why you ain’t say I was falling short?”-SZA, from “20 Something” on CTRL
But I heard it in the voice of my first love, who cried the same questions to me at the end of our relationship. We were together for about a year. I became overwhelmed and was not emotionally mature enough to know it, let alone communicate it. So I checked out of our relationship mentally. I heard “Why don’t you take me out any more?” and, “When was the last time you touched me?” many times but didn’t take the chance to come clean.
I continued our relationship after having fallen out of love with him, while he laid next to me every night under the assumption I was being honest. It took nearly an entire year post-breakup just to forgive myself for hurting him that badly. SZA went right on ahead and dug all those feelings up too.
The album has a tidy ending, with SZA’s mom wrapping up her sentiments on control and SZA thanking her. CTRL felt like a conversation between mother and daughter, obviously, but also between SZA and her situationship-chasing younger self. I was moved by her vulnerability; I feel like I grew with her through this music.