Sincerity is SZA’s strongest suit on CTRL, the debut album from Top Dawg Entertainment’s one and only R&B anomaly with her heart on her sleeve.
On CTRL, SZA is an open book basking her vulnerability in all of its glory, in such a tone that is unabashedly blunt but with an underlying presence of timid anxiety. Instead of letting her experiences harden her, SZA chooses to find strength in showcasing her own vulnerability and all that she can’t control; read like a diary on an album so long awaited it has to be the Frank Ocean – Blonde of 2017 for your girl — and my favourite record of the year for good measure.
SZA’s evolution as a musician began from her roots as a young, impressionable teenage writer, where she would pen poems that would eventually gain melody and adopt the format of song by accident. Her songwriting technique still resembles that of a heart spilling, erratically revealing writer though, where she speaks always candidly and confides with full clarity to her listener.
Despite it’s male-oriented TDE features, CTRL is most certainly for the girls, an auditory diary brimming with delicate secrets and revelations. On ‘Doves in the Wind’, SZA and Kendrick discuss the worth of a woman over floaty, celestial instrumentals, and standout lead single ‘Drew Barrymore’ gets personal about insecurities harboured as a woman and all that she feels she can’t live up to (“I’m sorry I just need to see you, I’m sorry I’m so clingy / I don’t mean to be a lot”).
On final track, the acoustic, salving ’20 Something’, SZA’s innermost pleas are divulged, “Praying my 20-something’s don’t end / Praying to keep the rest of my friends”. The 26-year-old prompts a tender takeaway that it’s okay to not have your life put together when you feel like you should, we’re all just figuring it out on our own clocks. While so many place high significance on teens coming of age, SZA recognises the complexity of young adulthood here, that is often ignored during the competition, that is growing up and finding yourself. But over the course of her tumultuous navigation, she proves that despite encountering hardships only you can harness the power to be in control of yourself.
There’s a shining, therapeutic quality about CTRL that hits home for me and renders deeply personal as a fellow introvert female. SZA’s unfaltering falsetto vocals and intimate poetic touch is a spot she and only she is upholding in contemporary R&B; and her empowering, raw dialect embodies all the makings of a typical introvert told through an extroverted lens. CTRL is sensitive, shy and insecure, but above all else, free of all inhibition.
Words: Laura McInnes