SZA’s long-awaited debut album is a little bit of a red herring. The Travis Scott featured lead single, “Love Galore,” teased with a cinematic music video that went consciously heavy on stylized gore. Together with the album’s title, Ctrl, it suggested a supreme battle of wills – maybe even some subtle metaphor on the masculine verse the feminine, or perhaps a nod to the power plays that occur in even the most intimate of relationships.
To some extent, the project provides that – songs like “Drew Barrymore,” which had some inspiration from Noname, angle toward emotive with a streak of sexual empowerment. Even the title, an homage to Barrymore’s past as a teen movie queen, help illuminate SZA’s intention to create a tapestry of heightened emotion and vulnerability underpinned by the sometimes confusing need for male validation.
Yet over the album’s 14 tracks the TDE songstress also paints a more nuanced picture, one in which control becomes secondary to a voracious desire for love and intimacy. In turn, love and intimacy become the catalyst for the loss of control. As Travis Scott’s brutal faux murder in the “Love Galore” video demonstrated, infatuation will make you do crazy things. SZA never backs away from re-introducing that narrative. Instead she confronts the complexity of modern love head-on: lying, cheating, boyfriend-sharing and all.
Ctrl‘s first offering, “Supermodel,” immerses the listener into high drama almost immediately. “Let me tell you a secret / I been secretly banging your home boy,” SZA riffs in a velvety, almost teasing tone that is completely at odds with maliciousness of her statement.
As she shared with Entertainment Weekly, it’s an unapologetic confession to an ex who made the wrong choice between her and Vegas on Valentine’s Day. It’s also the sort of line undoubtedly destined for meme-hood or the perfunctory tweet on “savagery.” Yet in the same song, SZA pivots away from the kind of blind rage that makes revenge sex seem like a good idea, to the real root issue – that she has loved, trusted and been hurt in return.
It’s an oft-repeated theme throughout the album, which sees the songstress laying bare her insecurities while trying to navigate finding the control that was wrenched from her by her perceptions of love and those she has loved. Perception is what is truly at the core of Ctrl. When SZA gets truly transparent about her emotions she is at her best.
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