SZA has long outgrown the need to be introduced as Kendrick Lamar's TDE labelmate. Her evolution from metaphorical songwriter to blunt wordsmith thrust her into the mainstream. Ctrl, SZA's debut album, released in June, soared to the third position on Billboard's album chart. She jolts the listener on the very first track, “Supermodel,” singing, “I've been secretly banging your homeboy” over sparse guitar. She returns to themes of infidelity on “Love Galore,” featuring Travis Scott, and her most controversial song, “The Weekend.” Cheating anthems have been done before, but rarely do we hear a female artist sing about time-sharing a partner while expressing no attachment to anyone. SZA's longing and resignation in her quest for a committed lover reverberate throughout the multigenre album, which ranges from the '90s pop of “Drew Barrymore” to the dark, jazzy hip-hop of “Pretty Little Birds.” Ctrl is built for repeat listening, because SZA's songs know you before you know them. Her lyrics and far-reaching musical palette form a mirror that reveals the unspoken vulnerability within us all.
Credit: Mathew Tucciarone