SZA's 'Ctrl' Proves That Vulnerability Is Liberation

June 21, 2017

Solána Rowe is killing it on new album and GroupieU is loving it.

Listening to SZA’s Ctrl feels like diving head first into the gray area of your dating life; it’s this weird place where your sexual urges sometimes consume your desire to find someone you would like enough to consider a second date, all while figuring out the kind of love you deserve. That’s the beauty of SZA’s latest album and her music; she sings about the things people write anonymously to advice segments like The Read's listener letters, and she says the things that might be embarrassing to share with a friend over too many glasses of wine.

This album shows us the obvious; your 20s are going to be full of mistakes, sometimes trying to be someone’s supermodel, painful truths and moments of clarity. Fans get raw emotion and stories that sometimes hit painfully close to home like 90’s inspired r&b slow jam “The Weekend.”

So let’s start with what we don’t need: your judgment, and your “Well, would you share your man?”-scenarios. This honest reflection of complicated attempts at finding something real shows us the beauty of experience without holding back. If you enjoyed the album, can’t get enough of the reviews, or watched interviews with SZA talking about the album, shame could’ve blocked an entire blessing for fans and r&b lovers.

When you hear songs like “The Weekend” and call it the “side chick song,” you can’t stop listening to, you’ve missed the point. SZA clarified this for the people in the back who jumped on the overt theme on Breakfast Club. She said the term “side chick” is “male bred” terminology. As a woman in the era of “Scandal,” the side chick shade is always real. It’s a predicament that often challenges your self-worth simply because of the “home” you’re supposedly, “wrecking” and just makes you look like the bad guy (or girl). In reality, some women aren’t even aware that they are the “side chick” or shamed for having more than one partner. We are socialized to think that it’s only “OK” for women to talk to one partner at a time, or at the very least, they should settle for being their favorite. The term “side chick” puts one woman on a pedestal even if the common denominator hasn’t necessarily made anything exclusive.

So Twitter relationship gurus, please, pump your brakes! Aside from your personal feelings about situationships, cheating, etc., "The Weekend" and the album are not about your ideas of what a “self-respecting woman” should do.Just like SZA said, it’s about what makes you comfortable and confident; If that’s dating multiple men, who are also dating other people, it doesn’t have to be an ordeal. If you’re big on exclusivity and don’t want to kick it with someone entertaining their options, cool, sis! Do you! This album also doesn’t set a new standard for how women should operate or what should be deemed “OK”; SZA is simply sharing a different perspective, her perspective.

Admit it, sis. There’s something freeing about listening to “Doves in the Wind” or “Drew Barrymore” and feeling like someone finally understands why you always answer that late night text; how that “fling” turned into a thing you couldn’t shake for a while; why loving yourself is a hard thing and feeling unappreciated by f*ck boys and free spirits is a fool’s errand when you’re just trying to “bust it open for the right one” in the words of SZA. Listening to this album—if you’re really listening—there really should be no delineation of right or wrong, just the acceptance of perspective.

Listeners come into contact with this hierarchy as they listen to the album feeling “conflicted” over SZA’s lyrics or her explanation of the side chick. You aren’t part of “pick me” Twitter, but you never want to feel devalued as the “side chick,” right? Many of us know the feeling. But sometimes being the “good girl” who waits until she’s in a relationship just isn’t enough or satisfying. Women are sexual beings; if you think that means SZA or any other woman forfeit “wifey” status for expressing that, you’re what they call a misogynist and you should seek help. Because women shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for being human, and women are imperfect. That means, yes, some of us get caught up in situations and disappoint ourselves.

If we shame women like SZA (or any woman) for opening up about their experiences, we aren’t really expanding on the conversation about sexual freedom. When I say sexual freedom, I mean the idea that woman can in fact just want sex. In the words of Blavity writer Bee Pollard, “if my sexual freedom makes me a hoe, oh, well!”  Pollard references Patricia Collins,’ Black Feminist Thought, where Collins said we’ve created a  “sexual hierarchy.” It’s comprised of “Dividing women into two categories—the asexual, moral women to be protected by marriage and their sexual, immoral counterparts—served as a gender template for constructing ideas about masculinity and femininity.” So basically, we’ve created a sexual sunken place; a place where women can’t admit what feels good or make mistakes without feeling like their self worth or respect won’t be compromised.

Overall, Ctrl is about being honest with yourself; that’s the real meaning of control. And it should never really be up to us to decide how all women should act, think or feel. If you need any more encouragement to do your own thing unapologetically, in the words of our beloved ‘SZA’ Solána Imani Rowe, "Go, Gina"!

by Nia Decaille

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