No Skip Saturday: Sza’s Ctrl

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I’ve never been an album listener. Since I was maybe 14 I’ve been obsessed with making playlists to fit every specific mood, taking one or two songs from an artist or an album and listening to those at all hours of the day. For years when I was asked what my favorite album is I found myself at a loss, since I really just did not listen to albums all the way through. Senior year I started driving a lot more than I had been, and my 2005 Toyota Corolla didn’t have an aux system (tragic, I know.) Instead of my curated playlists, I was forced into a life of CDs unless I wanted to listen to my phone speaker inside the cup holder. I listened to a few albums but still never got into being an album-all-the-way through person. In quarantine, however, I’ve become much more of an album and artists person as I spend a majority of my time sitting in my room working, writing, reading, or going on walks. I spend two months this spring going through the artists I love and finding my favorites songs of theirs, and have found a new appreciation for a good album as I started reviewing 2020 releases for fun. That being said, it’s still hard for me to find an album I genuinely enjoy listening to from start to finish. An album with no bad songs is hard to pull off for any artist, but as time’s gone on I’ve found several that really resonate with me, first of which being Ctrl by Sza. 

I’m sure most if not all of the readers have heard of Ctrl. I hate to say that I was late to the party, but I didn’t start truly appreciating this album until recently. I think the album is perfect to cover in times like these, especially for me as I go through some personal issues, but for all of us in college who are feeling some sort of loss of self as the pandemic continues. I’ve seen so many memes recently about Ctrl being a coping album for many people (see the ones below!) Not gonna lie, that’s the main reason why I’m talking about the album this week. While each song tells a different story, in some way it all relates back to the themes of growing up, feeling somewhat isolated and alone, and moving on from bad situations and relationships.

photo from @on_a_downward_spiral on ig
photo from @on_a_downward_spiral on ig

Part of the reason the album resonates so strongly with me is because of the deep vulnerability expressed lyrically through every single song. The album is honest, the album is grounded, and the album deals with themes I’ve been dealing with especially in the last few months: lost love, navigating personal identity, growing up, body image issues, etc. Sza lyrically expresses what feels at times like a diary in song form, discussing topics we think but don’t often say out loud, such as her lines about body insecurities in “Garden (Say it like dat).” When you strip away the (wonderful) beats, you’re left with a deeply personal and introspective lyricism that strikes a cord with young women everywhere. 

The album additionally means so much to me right now with her continual themes of reflecting on all of her past relationships — something I’ve been taking part in recently. In every song I resonate strongly with her messages on this topic Dealing with insecurities in relationships goes through multiple songs, such as in “Supermodel” where she sings “Why can’t I just stay alone by myself, wish I was comfortable by myself, but I need you” and then in “Garden” says “You know I’m sensitive about havin’ no booty, havin’ no body, only you buddy, can you hold me when nobody’s around us,” tying in the themes of insecurity within herself, relying on relationships and needing that reassurance. We see through many songs the theme of coping with being done dirty in relationships (something I unfortunately know all too well) and how she deals with this feeling of inadequacy and finding meaning within herself. 

My favorite track on this album is “Drew Barrymore”. Sza takes this song to explore her insecurities, pursue her identity, and accepting poor relationships in her loneliness. The line that sticks with me most is “lonely enough to let you treat me like this, do you really love me? Or just wanna love me down, down, down.” Drew Barrymore being synonymous with insecurity and searching for identity makes the song all the more powerful and relatable as someone who has struggled with finding my identity in the midst of an emotionally draining relationship.

While I do have favorite tracks on the album (“Drew Barrymore”, “Normal Girl,” and “Supermodel”, the best way to listen to this album and why I view it to be a “no-skip” is listening to it all the way through. Each track flows effortlessly into the next and all go back to this deeply personal theme of identity exploration, navigating life as a young woman, exploring and reclaiming femininity and sexuality, and dealing with past relationships. Sza has strong features in several songs from Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar, James Fauntleroy, and Isaiah Rashad. Each of these features adds to the overall album and none feel out of place. She also features snippets of phone calls with her mom and grandma, serving as interludes between the different tracks and providing good transitions. Listening to this album all the way through is a therapeutic and emotional experience, and I cannot recommend it enough (especially if you are feeling at all lost in your current stage of life.) This album is truly a no-skip work of art, and I hope you enjoyed my take on some of the themes. 

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