Opinions, Pop Culture

Influential Tunes: How SZA helped me find CTRL

As an eighth-grade girl trying to understand who she was and where she’s off to next, accepting change was something that I had always struggled with.

Music for me was an escape. It was a way to cope with the unexpected. By using streaming services like Spotify and Soundcloud, I was able to find new artists and develop a more distinct sense in what I liked listening to.

Artists like Frank Ocean, Drake and Rihanna filled my playlists. I loved that they all had a unique sound and was excited to hear what they were going to come out with next.

But it wasn’t until Rihanna dropped her 2016 album, “Anti,” that my life would change forever.

As I listened to the album for the first time, I was immediately entranced by the opening track, “Consideration,” featuring Rihanna and SZA.

From the lyrics to the melody, hearing the way that the two singers complimented each other was pure bliss. I knew that I had to learn more about the unknown woman featured on the track.

Solána Rowe, better known as SZA, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and raised in Maplewood, New Jersey.

Not only does she have an amazing voice, but she’s also humble and true to herself. She’s beautiful, intelligent, confident and super in touch with her femininity.

I discovered her EP, “Z,” shortly after hearing her for the first time on “Anti.” But it wasn’t until her 2017 album, “CTRL,” that I truly learned who SZA was.

From going to a small, private school for the entirety of my life, the adjustment to public high school was hard. I spent most of my freshman year trying to figure out where I fit in and who I could trust.

It was a constant battle. I never felt like I was good enough. And as much as I didn’t want to admit it, being thrust into this new environment made me anxious. I wanted to grow but felt like I couldn’t, so once again, I turned to music.

SZA’s debut album, “CTRL,” was released just before my sophomore year. She explained its meaning in an interview with The Breakfast Club.

“Ctrl is a concept,” she said. “I’ve lacked control my whole life and I think I’ve craved it my whole life. I couldn’t really arrive at it and I’m not really looking to arrive at it anymore. I’m just happy to be present. If you focus on the way you feel in the now and what you do with the now, I feel like it leads to having true control in the future.”

Throughout my teenage years, control had always been something I struggled with. As assignments piled up and my schedule got busier, feeling overwhelmed became my new normal. The constant chaos in my head made me feel like I could never catch up, and in turn, unhealthy habits ensued.

I had entirely lost my grip. I would look in the mirror and hate who I saw. From not sleeping to not eating, the ways I would cope with my lack of control were different compared to others.

But at a time when I felt completely lost, I was able to find “CTRL.” The 14-track R&B album that touches on love, lust, insecurity, and acceptance, soon became the soundtrack to my life.

SZA’s ability to be vulnerable through her music was fascinating to me. After listening to the opening track, “Supermodel,” all I could think was, “how could someone who seems so confident feel so similar to the way that I do?”

“Why I can’t stay alone just by myself? Wish I was comfortable just with myself. But I need you, but I need you, but I need you.”

There’s something that is so powerful about being able to share your insecurities in an open and honest way. In these lyrics, SZA talks about her struggle with being alone and how she needs constant reassurance to avoid feeling self-conscious. She revisits these feelings in Garden (Say It Like Dat).”

“Open your heart up. Hoping I’ll never find out that you’re anyone else. ‘Cause I love you just how you are. And hope you never find out who I really am. ‘Cause you’ll never love me, you’ll never love me.”

These lyrics hit me like a truck. As someone who also struggles with being vulnerable, hearing SZA describe her doubts as she gets closer to someone was validating.

SZA, like many others, is afraid of being alone. She wants her significant other to be open with her but is scared to do the same as she feels like she won’t be accepted.

Letting someone see who you really are is scary but accepting yourself is even scarier. All my life, I felt like I didn’t have control, but after finding SZA’s music, I didn’t feel alone. I felt like I was going to be okay, that there was more to life than worrying about the unknown.

Georgie Smith (left) and SZA (right) at Wayfarers Chapel in Palos Verdes, 2019.
Georgie Smith (left) and SZA (right) at Wayfarers Chapel in Palos Verdes, 2019. Photo credit: Georgie Smith

Looking back, I’m proud of the person that I have become since finding “CTRL.” It helped me process my emotions and brought me comfort when times were hard.

“CTRL” helped me love myself again, and for that, I couldn’t be more grateful.

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