“SZA makes side-b*tch music.” “SZA reminded me it’s dumb to approach a side-chick”. “Lol when rolling stone says u make side-chick anthems”. Google search the name ‘SZA’ (real name Solána Imani Rowe) and the probability of seeing the word ‘side-chick’ alongside it is incredibly likely. This talking point is, of course, related to the release of her critically-acclaimed album Ctrl, released in June of this year.
Interspersed with lyrics such as “I’ve been secretly banging your homeboy” and “my man is my man is your man… I just keep him satisfied through the weekend”, it is, I concede, entirely possible for someone to shallowly interpret this album as the side-chick Holy Grail. In the culture where stealing someone’s significant other suddenly became the ‘done’ thing, we get excited when somebody so prominent, yet grounded, is extensively candid about it. The sheer extent to which SZA exposes herself, however, proves to me that this album cannot simply be heralded as the ‘side-chick album of 2017’.
The downbeat, slightly out-of-tune opening guitar chords of the album courtesy of ‘Supermodel’, sets the scene for the next forty-nine minutes. This isn’t going to be a fluffy, multi-colored journey of bright lights and electro-synths. Here are the first few lines:
‘I’m writing this letter to let you know
I’m really leaving
And no I’m not keeping your sh*t’
This instantly rips off the band-aid for anyone potentially listening to this album for comfort after a difficult break-up. SZA’s soulful vocals bear more than visuals ever could; she’s experiencing a pain a lot of us women know all too well. She feels irrelevant. “Why am I so easy to forget like that?”, a hallowed call which resonates with girls and women around the world. This theme of frustration and melancholia continues throughout the album.
“Drew Barrymore”, for instance, bears the lyrics
‘You came wit’ your new friends
And her mom jeans and her new vans
And she’s perfect and I hate it.’
Conveying that, once again, our girl feels left out in the cold. This then gives context to the, perhaps, “sleazier” songs like “The Weekend” and the Kendrick Lamar-assisted “Doves in the Wind”. These songs are a product of a lonely soul; a soul that craves love and affection. Intimacy is a drug, and SZA attempts to score in any which way she can. The melancholy is even detectable in more up-tempo songs like “Normal Girl”, in which she confesses;
‘Wish I was the type of girl that you’d take over to Mama,
The type of girl I know my Daddy, he’d be proud of’
against some major synths and booming kicks. To write this album off as an ‘album full of side-chick anthems’, would be a disgusting underestimation of the lyrical talent of the great SZA. I think James Fauntleroy put it best in “Wavy”, the eleventh track of the album when he said;
‘I was wavy
And I was drowning’.
The entire album is SZA’s wave to us; her cry for love, her need for affection. And that, for me, is why it is one of the best albums of 2017.