SZA has always been a good, solid artist but up until about a year ago you never would have predicted that she was bound for greatness. Her contribution to Rihanna’s ANTI, Consideration, seemed to mark a shift in her. She arrived with confidence both vocally and lyrically, leaving the wispy falsetto behind in favour of something far more powerful. CTRL sees her take that mode and extend it over an exceptional full length.
From the acoustic, bare-boned opener Supermodel, it’s clear that SZA is bringing it vocally. She oscillates between soaring and fast-paced wordplay, making even the most minimal of beats enthralling. Lyrically, she’s caught between confidence and anxiety, attempting to become comfortable with herself. She pairs lyrics like, “Wish I was comfortable just with myself,” with, “I been secretly banging your homeboy,” displaying the toil between power and doubt.
SZA leaves no stone unturned on CTRL. Drew Barrymore tackles self-worth with powerful poignancy, Love Galore deals with infidelity with a flirty playfulness and Garden (Say It Like That) is a love song centred around insecurities. These are all built on a bed of sparse, subtle R&B beats that put her voice front and centre.
Elsewhere she proves she can kick it with the boys, going toe-to-toe with Kendrick Lamar on Doves In The Wind, flipping his use of “pussy” to say that men who trivialise pussy are pussies themselves. That cut sounds like it would’ve slot into DAMN. effortlessly but SZA claims it as her own, delivering arguably better verses than K.Dot.
SZA concludes the album on 20 Something concluding that despite all these anxieties, doubts and trials, she never wants her “20 somethings” to end. That’s the takeaway from CTRL. Embrace what you’ve got because the alternative of not being on earth is “an abyss”, as her Mum says at the end of the album.