This month, SZA released the deluxe version of her debut album CTRL in observance of the fifth year anniversary of the album’s release. Featuring previously unreleased tracks, including an alternate version of “Love Galore,” which fans got an opportunity to hear during one of the Grammy-winning singer’s live performances, the revamped collection of songs has given fans a chance to reflect on life when the album first came out vs. now.
Despite the fact that only five years have passed, 2017 feels like several lifetimes ago. A series of personal and societal catastrophes have taken place over the course of the half-decade since CTRL was released. Relistening to the album recently activated a tender pang in my chest for the Black girl I was when the album first came out and all the Black girls that have similarly found themselves in the lyrics of Solána Imani Rowe.
In the opening track “Supermodel,” you first hear the voice of SZA’s mother saying “That is my greatest fear/ That if, if I lost control/ Or did not have control/Things would just, you know/I would be fatal.” From there SZA sings about finally laying to rest a relationship with a toxic ex. “I'm writing this letter to let you know/ I'm really leaving/And, no, I'm not keeping your shit.”
Throughout the entire album, we hear SZA wrestle with the heartache brought on by both a toxic relationship and the growing pains of being in your twenties. In “Love Galore” we hear her exclaim to her partner “why you bother me when you know you don’t want me?!” In “Drew Barrymore” she posits: “I get so lonely I forget what I'm worth/ We get so lonely we pretend that this works.”
It’s the disarming honesty that draws people into SZA’s world. We hear her attempts to gain some form of power in her relationship in “The Weekend” where she casts herself as an adulterous seductress who arranges the timetable with her man’s woman for when she can see her man.
Naming the album CTRL, despite it being so much about the loose, unmanageable time of your twenties, feels apt for all the contradictory moments when you’re just so desperately wanting things in your life to make sense. When CTRL first came out, I felt aimless. I was a 22-year-old college dropout who was worried I had ruined any chance I had at a fulfilling life. Listening to her song “20 Something,” in particular when she says “How could it be?/ 20 something, all alone still/ Not a thing in my name/ Ain't got nothin', runnin' from love/ Only know fear/ That's me, Ms. 20 Something/ Ain't got nothin', runnin' from love/ Wish you were here, oh,” that resonated with me the most. It felt like for the first time in my adult life I was no longer so consumed by the loneliness of assuming that I was the only one feeling this unbearable cluelessness.
The newer tracks don’t offer anything new by way of insight, only reaffirming the initial message of CTRL. A lot has changed since we first heard SZA singing about her sneaky links and love gone awry and about her love for Narcos and Tacos. But singing about the growing pains that plague so many Black women in early adulthood is why five years after its debut, during a time when music often fades into obscurity, we are still all under SZA’s CTRL.
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