SZA’s rise is out of ‘CTRL’

Cover art for SZAs album Ctrl. Belonging to the label Top Dawg/RCA

Cover art for SZA’s album “Ctrl”. Belonging to the label Top Dawg/RCA

Solána Imani Rowe, better known as SZA, is an R&B singer and songwriter who has recently climbed the charts with her latest single, “Good Days”. Maybe you know her from her other chart-toppers “All The Stars”, “What Lovers Do”, and her most famous album, “CTRL”. Her music style is “heavy in my mind”, that’s for sure. SZA incorporates and experiments with alternative, soul, hip hop, and indie styles, creating her unique sound in the R&B genre.
Before she pursued music, Solana’s early days consisted of her home in New Jersey, growing up as an orthodox Muslim and studying marine biology. Soon enough, she dropped out of university and swapped Solana for the stage name “SZA”, to stand for either savior or sovereign, Zig-Zag, and Allah.
Her early music career began with her recording music written to stolen internet beats. She constantly experimented and took inspirations from other artists to develop “See.SZA.Run.” and “S”. Following those two EPs, she was signed to Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) as the label’s first female artist. She released her first studio album titled “Z”, and her most famous and known album, “CTRL”.
The beauty of “CTRL” is that, somehow, after three years of keeping this album on shuffle, each listen feels like the first. SZA expresses herself with honesty, revealing her greatest fears, insecurities, and vulnerabilities that come with her identity as a young black woman. The first track, “Supermodel”, starts with SZA’s mother speaking that her greatest fear would be to lose control, which is essentially the theme for the whole album.
She explores the meaning of self-love and expresses her struggles with it. In “Supermodel”, SZA seeks validation from men because she struggles with loving herself: “I could be your supermodel if you believe if you see it in me…I don’t see myself”. The dreamy and groovy “Garden (Say it Like Dat)” is about her questioning if she is even deserving of a relationship. She fears she is too emotionally difficult to deal with, hoping that her partner will “never find out who I really am” because “You’ll never love me”. Furthermore, in “Drew Barrymore”, she compares herself to other women and continuously apologizes for not being attractive, ladylike, and warm enough. SZA wishes to be more feminine and ladylike in Track 12, “Normal Girl”. She wants to be “the type of girl you take home to your mama” and the “type of girl, I know my daddy, he’d be proud of”. This song speaks of her identity as a black woman. Her wish to fit in and be “normal” is her wish to feel desired, loved, and accepted in a white favoring, patriarchal society. Her raw lyrics in these songs are powerful to all audiences but especially healthy for young women to hear. Women are constantly faced with criticism on their actions, looks, hobbies, and reputations and SZA’ s blatant honesty on her insecurities helps young women to feel understood.
Solana constantly feels like she is running out of time. In “Prom”, she fears she is not maturing fast enough, but promises, “to get a little better as I get older”. She continues feeling stuck in the past while everyone around her moves forward in “20 Something”. The start of adulthood is marked with many changes and the uncertainties those bring. She feels unaccomplished even after 20 years of life and growth. She finally tries to take ‘CTRL’ of her working and love lives in “Broken Clock”. Still, she sometimes feels like her life is consumed by schedules and demands, that her sense of time is broken. “Go Gina” is SZA’s reminder to herself that she should be proud of all her hard work, but still remember to simply live and enjoy every day.
SZA takes control in her narrative as a female of color as well, breaking from an idea of being a “Normal Girl”. In “Doves In The Wind”, SZA defines women as “doves”, peaceful and loving, and that they should be seen as such. She aims to change the typically misogynistic view of women, which is especially seen in hip-hop music. SZA and Kendrick Lamar use purposeful lyrics to assert that women need to be respected and are more than their sexuality. In “Love Galore”, SZA puts herself first. She speaks that she is better without being with an old partner. She “won’t cry over spilled milk” and let her insecurities own her because relationships end for a reason. SZA shares her experience with an unloyal man and a different perspective with it on “The Weeknd”. She does not take her role in this man’s life as disrespect towards her, but instead owns it and is confident in what she wants from it.
Now, SZA is ready to follow up to 2017’s Ctrl with another album confirmed to be released this 2021 year. She reported her album is being carefully put together every day from different places in her spirit. In the meantime, already released singles “Hit Different” and “Good Days” can be enjoyed in the meantime. SZA’s rise has been well deserved and her fans are confident she will rise even more in the next album of her career.