Review: The 5 Best Tracks from SZA’s “Ctrl”

After what seemed like an everlasting hiatus, rhythm and blues songstress SZA is back and better than ever with her debut full-length album “Ctrl,” which she released on June 9.

Debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, “Ctrl” features extremely chill vibes, explores romantic themes, and experiments within the R&B genre. Even though just about every song on SZA’s exhilarating debut is a must-listen, here are five tracks from the album that somehow manage to be a cut above the rest.

  1. “Supermodel”

The record’s first track opens with a short speech from her mother about control and a lone, distorted guitar riff that plays on throughout the piece, leaving SZA’s raw vocals as the driving force. With melody that is all over the place, giving no hint of where it will go next, this opener is nothing short of exciting for listeners.

Lyrically, this song is a spiteful yet introspective ballad featuring SZA dissing her  ex-boyfriend for leaving her on Valentine’s Day and addressing her own insecurities when it comes to love.

Minimal percussion comes in near the end of the last chorus, and that is what makes this song so special. In an age where so many artists rely on heavy beats to keep listeners engaged, “Supermodel” manages to be a thrilling track based on vocals alone and shows that SZA, not the background music, is the one in control on this album.

  1. “Drew Barrymore”

Opening with a very mellow guitar riff and a relaxed, laid back beat, SZA’s assertive vocals are again the focus of this song. She also incorporates orchestral instrumentals throughout the song, creating a vulnerable, emotional atmosphere.

“I get so lonely, I forget what I’m worth/ we get so lonely, we pretend this works,” she sings, matching the vulnerable tone of the music with an account of a messy relationship. The chill vibe of the background music disguises this emotion-rich tune as a slow jam that could be played at any party.

  1. “Go Gina”

This empowering, chillwave jam has a very free feel and does not really have any type of structure to it. SZA’s smooth flow, steady beats, funky bassline, and what sounds like bicycle bells ringing in the background, give the track an urban sound that would make anybody want to strut their stuff down the city streets.

“I belong to nobody/ Hope it don’t bother you/ You can mind your business,” sings SZA, refusing to be objectified for the way she dresses. Using the phrase “go Gina” as a way to emphasize how good she looks, she shows that there’s no reason for someone to be ashamed for the way that they look or how they dress.

  1. “Prom”

An alt-pop standout, with “Prom” SZA effortlessly covers the many stresses that come with growing up.

“Fearin’ not growin’ up/ keepin’ me up at night/ am I doin’ enough?/ Feel like I’m wastin’ time,” she sings, worrying about how fast time and life are going by. She later sings about using love as a way to escape the pressure of getting older.

The song’s pulsing synths, blipping rhythms, and a soaring chorus make it a pop gem, and the lyrics concerning a fear of aging give the track potential to become a relatable anthem for young people.

  1. “20 Something”

Similar to “Supermodel,” the last song on “Ctrl” features SZA’s raw vocals accompanied only by a muffled guitar riff. A 26-year-old herself, “20 Something” is a song written for those who are also in their twenties.

“Hopin’ my 20 somethings won’t end/ hopin’ to keep the rest of my friends/ Prayin’ the 20 somethings don’t kill me, kill me,” sings SZA, saying that her twenties are both the best and hardest years of her life so far.

After the track ends, listeners will her her mother giving her final thoughts on the idea of control, which she had given small speeches on in different tracks throughout the album. “That was beautiful mommy, that was perfect,” SZA lovingly replies after her mother finishes, providing a heartwarming ending to the journey that is “Ctrl.”

Photo by Mary Nichols (DJ Fusion/FuseBox Radio Broadcast). This photo has been cropped from landscape to portrait. Check out the original photo here:

2015 AfroPunk Festival - Brooklyn, NY (2015)



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