An incredibly successful album, a series of stunning videos, and the style of a bonafide star – if SZA wasn’t on your radar before, she certainly is now.
If there has been one name on everybody’s playlists this month it is SZA. The American singer-songwriter formerly known as Solána Imani Rowe, released her long-awaited studio album Ctrl earlier this month. Throughout the last few years she has featured heavily on lists of ‘Ones To Watch’ and as the 14 track album proves, it has all been for good reason.
The music speaks for itself. To call her just another R&B artist seems lazy at this point. Her raw, almost ethereal vocal touches everything from pop to trap and the album is full of welcome surprises; from the bare percussion of ‘Supermodel’, to swelling strings and epithets of conversations with her mother serving as outros on a number of songs. It is a strikingly honest and relatable album in which the songstress bares all her insecurities.
Through 14 tracks she reveals that she has been cheated on, been the ‘other woman’, found herself, fought herself, and even made peace with herself. She laments that she will never be a ‘Normal Girl’ and resents the beautiful woman that fits in her mom jeans perfectly in ‘Drew Barrymore’. It is a powerful, personal statement that makes for a compelling, soulful album.
As with a majority of the most successful albums, Ctrl has been the outcome of years of hard work. SZA first caught the attention of Top Dawg Entertainment – the record label that Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q call home – in 2011. It wasn’t until her second EP, S, caught the attention of critics and audiences alike that the singer became the first woman to be signed by the label.
It has been three years since SZA released her debut album and she has been keeping herself busy. She has earned writing credits on the anthem that is Nicki Minaj and Beyonce’s ‘Feelin’ Myself’ and Rihanna’s 2016 album Anti. When she wasn’t helping write hits she was embarking on her world tour or supporting the likes of Jhené Aiko. The journey to a major new release was not all plain sailing however, and there was a suggestion that the artist would be stepping away from music late last year – which, looking at her newest work, would have been a real shame.
As if the music wasn’t enough – the visuals came along. SZA has a history of beautiful videos (see ‘Babylon’) but the two that have been released to accompany tracks from Ctrl have brought them into a new league. Whether it’s the visually-arresting shots of SZA and Travis Scott entangled in a sensual embrace covered in butterflies (beware the plot twist though), to the moment SZA and Drew Barrymore took their mutual love for one another to a new level when the actress made a cameo (in the video for ‘Drew Barrymore): a brief walk-on part with a knowing smile that sent social media into overdrive.
If that wasn’t enough she’s earning quite the reputation for her enviable style (see her Instagram) and her vocal support for the Muslim community, as well as using her platform to support and uplift women – particularly women of colour – in an industry that still has some ceilings to break and stereotypes to overcome.
Words: Gurnesha Bola