SZA – She Gets It (Story)

Published on February 9th, 2018

SZA: She Gets It

The first time I heard SZA’s CTRL my coworker and I were, as usual, enveloped by pine trees driving the windy road to the only good bar in town, Pete & Peters. We were in Lake Tahoe, working and living on a cabin rental property. To the guests, we were innocent young women between degrees with a love of nature, but what they didn’t know was that we were often answering their calls and fixing the wifi on little to no sleep, due to Lake Tahoe’s impressive night life, full of young and single locals in search of adventure. I entered a pool of complicated flings with mountain men those few months, and CTRL easily became the soundtrack to the summer from its first track, ‘Supermodel,’ in which the R&B/Soul star sang relatable lines like, “Why am I so easy to forget like that? It can’t be easy for you to get like that” and “Leave me lonely for prettier women, you know I need too much attention.” SZA’s music had the sexy sound and feel of my nights off, along with the insecurity that inevitably comes along with a summer like this. It’s no surprise that SZA was the most nominated woman at the Grammy’s this year, as this openness and honesty has set her apart.

Though this vulnerability is arguably her greatest strength, SZA is obviously not the only singer to make herself vulnerable in music today. Beyonce and Rihanna not only have empowering songs about being sorry they’re not sorry and men needing them more than the other way around, but also about how emotionally effected they’ve been by relationships. In Rihanna’s ‘Never Ending’ off her 2016 album Anti, she sings, “We lost connection…come back to me, so I can feel alive again” and in ‘Sandcastles’ from Beyonce’s Lemonade, we hear “I scratched out your name and your face, what is it about you that I can’t erase?” These women have made themselves vulnerable too, by admitting they need a guy to feel good, and that they can’t get over someone no matter how hard they try.

I listened to Beyonce and Rihanna before I ever listened to CTRL, so then why did I feel like SZA was the only person that summer to really understand how I felt when the hiker I’d been skinny dipping with broke it off, or how fake nice I was at bars to a genuinely sweet girl who was into the same new guy I was? If SZA isn’t the first to be vulnerable in her approach of the female dating experience, why did I listen to her album all the way through for the first time and think: Finally somebody gets it! As I’ve explored this idea further, I’ve realized that what sets SZA apart is not that she is vulnerable. It’s that she is the only one who is pulling vulnerability off, because she’s taking it to a different level. SZA doesn’t compartmentalize feelings into specific songs like the others, whose albums go back and forth between confidence and empowerment and being sad or confused about men, rarely, if not ever, overlapping.

SZA’s way of combining confidence and insecurity is especially evident in her music video for ‘Drew Barrymore’ in which she lays on a couch surrounded by the remnants of a party, her hand on her inner thigh singing “You came with your new friend and her mom jeans and her new vans and she’s perfect and I hate it” and later almost naked in heels in a laundromat, sings, “I’m sorry I’m not more attractive… I’m sorry I don’t shave my legs at night.” SZA’s music shows that you don’t have to be completely secure to be sexy, you can be jealous of others while still knowing you’re hot, and you can be nervous about where you stand with a guy, while being the one in control. Further, SZA hits on ideas we don’t often hear in music or from celebrities, like the expected maintenance of the female body before sex. Her honesty about the body along with jealousy, attraction, and loneliness is almost brutal, as she sings lines like “I get so lonely, I forget what I’m worth…we get so lonely, we pretend that this works…I’m so ashamed of myself think I need therapy.” She’s not just singing about being alone or wanting somebody. She’s saying she feels ashamed. These lyrics completely expose her.

But CTRL is not brilliant only because of lyrical “shock factor.” It’s not just what she says that makes SZA so great, it’s how she says it, with her voice that makes you feel exactly what she feels, and the beats behind it that get you dancing in the car. You’re not only rocking out, feeling her hurt and her adventures, but you’re also feeling refreshed, because you know the words you’re singing along to are the truth. This honesty translates into relief for listeners like myself, who feel or have felt similar ways, but have never heard somebody else—somebody famous—take emotions this far.


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