Two years ago today, one of my favorite albums was released and it took the world by storm. SZA’s debut album, Ctrl, not only became the soundtrack to a lot of our summers, but it also sparked Twitter conversations and thinkpieces everywhere. From the topic of sharing men with other people to the topic of SZA’s own sexual adventures, I think it’s safe to say that this album definitely cemented itself into our personal histories as an album to remember and to always come back to.
I remember anxiously waiting for Ctrl to drop in 2017 and blasting it from my speaker at 12:01am, instantly falling in love and relating to each song on the track list. I remember the moment I had first heard the skit that kicked off “Supermodel.” I was like, “Finally, somebody understands me!” As I continued to listen to every song featured, I related even more and more to Solana and her words. I found myself relating to the insecurities in “Drew Barrymore” and “Normal Girl” and also to the feelings of love in “Garden (Say It Like Dat),” while fearing relating to the feeling of being lost in “20 Something” and the feeling of having to share like in “The Weekend.” This album not only made me dance, cry, and really think about who I am and who I want to be, but it also inspired me to write about how I relate to my favorite songs and what exactly they mean to me. If you’ve yet to check my Series Sunday posts, now would be the time to do so!
So it has officially been two years since Ctrl was released (and a year since I began my Series Sundays) and you’re probably what Ctrl means to me now. Well, it honestly means a lot more now that so much has changed in my life since June 9, 2017. First, I just want to start by saying that this is an album that I don’t want to always relate to. I feel like this goes for every album or media that is relatable as well, I don’t want to always relate to what I felt when I first heard or saw it. I want to grow and be able to look back and feel the growth I’ve had since that first moment of exposure to it. I don’t want to always that I was the type of girl he could take to his mama or feel like I’m too stoned to pay attention. I definitely don’t want to be a 20 something with nothing to my name either. I’ve seen a few Twitter thinkpieces about this concept and this album specifically and I absolutely agree with the fact that maybe we shouldn’t be relating to Ctrl as much as we are but this is just the reality of our lives. This is our truth and how we live and we should embrace it but only for right now. Things will change and we can’t relate to “Drew Barrymore” forever, no matter how much we love the song.
However, as of right now, I still relate to this album heavily. The intro and outro messages from her grandma and her mother still feel like thoughts I’ve had and the lessons I’ve learned. The words to “Normal Girl” still resonate heavily and the still sing my heart out to “Anything” while dancing in the mirror. Over these past two years, I’ve gained a newfound appreciation for a few of the songs, whether it came from relating to some lyrics for the first time or really taking the time to block out the lyrics and appreciate the production. I’ve even had moments where I related to lyrics for all new reasons. As far as the artistry of the project is concerned, there have been days where I just let the instrumentals be the soundtrack of my day and I love watching all the visuals that came from the singles and more. I really enjoyed the stories that were told in each of the music videos and the cinematography in each of them is stellar. I also love watching SZA’s carefree black girl fun along with each of the actors she cast in every single one.
I love the freedom of the content and pure black girl vulnerability of this album that makes it so relatable but I love the upbeat nature of it that makes it an album we can dance to and sing to to help us get out of our feelings just a little bit. Now, don’t get me wrong, this album isn’t just full of insecurity and reminiscing about not-so-pleasant memories, there’s a huge amount of women empowerment in this album. “Doves in the Wind” takes the cake, in my opinion, for empowerment, but I believe “Supermodel” could a close second based on the first verse alone. You also have to remember that everything is about perspective. I love the first verse of “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” and I really relate it to all the people that keep me down to earth like the women that raised me, my sisters, my best friends, my line sisters, etc. rather than relating it to a significant other. Overall, the main thing about this album that makes it so memorable for me is that it showcases vulnerability from a black woman in an era where our strength is magnified and put on a pedestal as if we’re superheroes. SZA swooped in to remind everyone that we have insecurities too, we have our own shit to deal with on top of feeling pressured to be so perfect and fit specific stereotypes so that we don’t encourage other stereotypes. This album is authentic as fuck and whether you relate to any of what SZA sang or not, you have to admit that she laid her heart out for the world to see and you can’t do anything but respect that.
Each song has a special place in my heart and, of course, all for different reasons, but I love that this album covers a lot of my own thoughts and personal emotions more than most of the albums I’ve ever listened to. That’s a pretty top tier type of thing to say but it’s my truth. The only albums I love as much as this one are Solange’s A Seat at the Table and Paramore’s After Laughter. This is an album I could listen to every day on repeat and not get sick of it. I’m truly surprised that I don’t have any Trillers to this album but maybe today will be that day.
In the future, I hope that this album continues to be a beacon of hope for all the black girls that feel like they need to hold their emotions together or hold them in. I hope that this album continues to be a part of your self-care Sunday playlists and summer jams (“Go Gina” is perfect for a summer day in the sun, I promise). I hope that I grow from constantly relating to the lyrics and I hope her next project is just as powerful and skillfully arranged.
So that’s what I think about Ctrl. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.