After Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN, SZA’s debut album CTRL is probably my favorite project of 2017. R&B is my favorite genre, but with new age acts most of the projects that have gained commercial success haven’t really brought anything new to the genre, except for maybe H.E.R and the SZA’s fellow TDE label mate SiR. On Friday 9th June however, SZA changed that, her debut album has peaked at “No. 3” on the The Billboard 100, selling “60,000 units” in its first week.
Not only is it her dreamlike vocals that make her debut project so great but also her honesty, the hard hitting truths and the great writing that really steals the show on this project; at times it’s so honest that it may even surprise you, especially when you realise just how insecure she is. On tracks such as the album’s opener ‘Supermodel’, she quite sadly pens:
“I could be your supermodel if you believe
If you see it in me, see it in me, see it in me
I don’t see myself”
I think insecurity, the need for validation and lack of self-love play a big part in this project, and it’s nice to see her eventual growth and acceptance as you make your way through the album. SZA’s always been known to be a great writer, writing for big acts like Beyonce and Rihanna in the past but prior to this project, I feel we were yet to see her fully showcase her writing prowess on a project of her own, which I feel really shows her growth. On ‘Z’ and ‘See.SZA.Run’ I feel SZA’s writing is a lot more metaphorical rather than literal, for example in her track with label mate Kendrick Lamar, ‘Babylon’, the whole track is laced with religious imagery and undertones in its entirety, on the bridge she writes:
“Bring on the thorn and crown (here)
The crown is incredibly symbolic because it refers to the crown Jesus Christ was wearing, painfully digging into his head at his public crucifixion. Genius.com states that the “very public and extreme act of crucifixion is a metaphor for pain” and the “embarrassment that comes along with another failed relationship isn’t just for SZA to see, but for everyone around her to experience”. While these metaphors were all nice and interesting to direct, and these are still good projects, I felt at times she focused too much on the metaphorical side of things which took away that reality factor. Even in her interview on The Breakfast Club, which I advise all SZA fans to watch she herself says “I’ve never really talked about relationships in a direct way. I used to be very metaphorical, very figurative, and also just kind of scared to talk about the way I felt in a literal way.”, and I feel on CTRL she seems to have completely shed that fear.
My standout tracks on this album, are pretty much all of them but if I had to select my favorites they would have to be: Supermodel, Love Galore, The Weekend, Go Gina and Doves In The Wind. I think CTRL is a wonderful project, and I think it’s probably a relatable project for a lot of young women, it shows that even women living the good life with money and fame, whom you would think are always extremely happy are real people and experience real feelings and have the same problems and insecurities that you have and it’s okay to feel that way sometimes. SZA finds love for herself on this album and I would hope the love she finds herself, would be an example for others, showing that it does get better, if SZA can do it, you can too. I think with this project SZA may have set a standard for other R&B acts to follow, hopefully, we can look forward to a lot of great new music from across the genre.