A reminiscence and analysis of SZA's CTRL
It was a pleasure to revisit this album for the sake of this post. CTRL by SZA is one of my favorite albums of all time and undeniably a modern classic that offers many points of relation for listeners, delving into themes of loneliness, self-preservation and acceptance.
The entire album is an illustration of the troubles of our twenty-somethings: relationship problems, an overabundance of insecurities and what being a self-actualized adult entails, especially while in the initial stages of adulthood. What allows this album to most effectively explore the themes mentioned is that the songs featured act as a chronological timeline of lessons SZA learns throughout her twenties.
The album kicks off with "Supermodel," a song that portrays a breakup between SZA and someone else. It's clear there is bitterness in the split as well as vengeance and pettiness. The listener can assume SZA, upon reflection, is probably not proud of some of the things mentioned in the song, like having relations with her ex’s friend as revenge. As a result of what is perceived of her ex easily moving on from her SZA asks, “Why am I so easy to forget?”
Initially, SZA begins this album and her early twenties insecure. At this point in her life, she seems to be the kind of insecure to do things she knows she’ll regret later just to prove a point or to get back at someone; however, her pettiness is ultimately at the expense of herself. (relatable)
In her article for Pitchfork, Clare Lobenfeld describes CTRL as being, “about sexual freedom while still having your hunger for intimacy to be taken seriously.” Lobenfeld’s description of the album is spot on and would explain why SZA begins the album with a song like "Supermodel."
Moreover, songs like "Prom" serve as a notable point of growth for SZA as she begins to remove herself from the ineffective pettiness and childish games with temporary men. Upon getting older SZA says she is "Fearing not growing up" and makes a "Promise to do better" for herself going forward.
At the midpoint of the album comes the song “Go Gina.” The name of the song is inspired by the character Gina from the show Martin, who has characteristics of being Martin’s professional and forgiving girlfriend. In addition, Gina is known for being the voice of reason in the show, foiling hot-headed or impulsive characters like Martin and easy-going characters like Pam.
In an interview with the Breakfast Club, SZA describes the song as, “If [Gina] lived like Pam, [she] might have [had] more fun.” So when the song says, “you need some get right mama,” SZA is expressing to herself that she needs to loosen up and stop being so uptight because life is too short; additionally, she’s young and has nothing to lose by adding just a little spontaneity to her life.
Occasionally, SZA features her mother and now late grandmother throughout the album to offer useful advice on life, dating and how to manage one's self-esteem that gives the album an added layer of personal intimacy not exclusive to just SZA. Any listeners and fans of CTRL can take something constructive away from the album that also relates to their life, problems or accomplishments.
Furthermore, the album concludes with “20 something,” a slowed down and reflective song that assesses the experiences and lessons of SZA’s twenties so far. The hook of the song states, “20 something, all alone still, not a thing in my name.” Her on-and-off again relationships are approaching a permanent end and SZA fears what is to come from life going forward. This song is one that features her mother's advice. Her mother's words closing the song and album state,
"And if [love's] an illusion, I don't want to wake up. I'm gonna hang on to it because the alternative is an abyss, is just a hole, a darkness, a nothingness. Who wants that? You know? So that's what I think about control."
The sentiment shared in the song is relevant for many people in their mid-twenties who often have these quarter-life-crisis. People tend to spend their younger years more invested in others rather than themselves which interrupts the personal growth necessary for our young adulthood. Nevertheless, through all doubt and insecurity SZA honors her journey while concluding the album, repeating “God bless them,” referring to her twenties.
Overall, CTRL is a fantastically vulnerable and honest album that will stand the test of time, as the themes featured in the album will always be relatable for every future generation of twenty-somethings.