Making a big name in mainstream music this year was TDE’s songstress SZA with her debut album, CTRL. Surely some fans were already privy to her and her music before her premier project, as she’s released 3 EPs since 2012, appeared on features within her Top Dawg Entertainment family, and co-wrote songs with Beyoncé and Rihanna, while others are just quite getting acquainted with the alternative R&B songbird. If you didn’t know her name before, you’re sure to know it now considering CTRL has stirred up quite a bit of conversation since it’s release in June and has earned the singer countless awards and nominations, including 2 Soul Train Award wins and 5 Grammy nods. With all of her talent, SZA has kept her name at the tip of everyone’s tongue over the course of 6 months, yet many are still struggling to make sense of her moniker.
Her real name is Solana Rowe, her stage name is SZA, similar to Wu-Tang’s own “RZA” and pronounced “sizzuh.” That’s right, not S-Z-A. Having a Muslim background, she formed her name from the Supreme Alphabet, with each letter given it’s own assigned meaning. Some have been quick to label Solana themselves in the name of “slut-shaming” when it came to hearing the songs in CTRL. But don’t get it confused, the “S” in SZA is not for “slut,” “side-piece“ and surely not for “savage.”
With her album “CTRL,” maybe the “S” in SZA should be for “searching,” as she takes us on a 50-minute journey in song seeking control in her life. She searches for more as a 20 Something singing abut self-esteem, relationships, and finding herself. In turn, she learns a valuable lesson the hard way that trying to control every aspect in your life is easier said than done and impossible. She’s no different from the rest of us attempting to have a grasp on life.
Hearing CTRL, there’s too many layers to this album to give it and SZA a label, and a lewd one at that. How is it that others have tried to criticize, slut-shame, and use the“S” in SZA as “side-chick?” Perhaps, it was because of her hit-singles “Love Galore” and “The Weekend.” She sings about playing her part with a man who has multiple partners. In these songs, SZA knows her role, plays it well, and is fully accepting of “feeling reckless” and “knowing it’s selfish.” Staying true to the theme on the album, she’s trying to own a situation that she felt suited her at the time. Instead of falling into the same foolishness of being mislead and manipulated by men who pursue many relationships, SZA takes the reigns for this ride looking for love according to her rules. However, she’s sure she’s deserving of way more as she’s accompanied by Kendrick Lamar on “Doves In The Wind.” Singing how there’s more that lies underneath the surface and between the sheets when it comes to sex, SZA shares her sentiments regarding intimacy, monogamy, and hopes of finding the one to cherish it all. She even revisits the concept of commitment again as she sings about it on “Normal Girl.” How can we shame her when she’s clearly just lacking the love she longs for? Could we say the“S”stands for “shameless” or even “sucker for love?”
Instead the “S” in SZA should be for“self-acceptance.” It takes her a while to realize at first as listeners hear Solana struggle to realize her self-worth throughout the album, especially in songs such as “Drew Barrymore” and “Garden (Say It Like That).” In addition, she expresses her insecurities on other tracks as she opens a letter to a former lover in “Supermodel” and admits to not feeling mature enough on “Prom.” But later, she finds her way as she sings about it on “Wavy” and hopes to make way from her mistakes on “Pretty Little Birds” with Isaiah Rashad. We could also say the “S”in SZA could be for “sustaining” or “self-sufficient” as we feel her need of independence on the album. At times, she feels lost in her work, attempting to find her place and purpose and speaks on trying to find balance social life, love life, and career on songs such as “Broken Clocks” and “Go Gina.”
But the “S” in SZA actually is defined by the singer as “Sovereign” or “Savior” and naturally so, as I found refuge in her voice relating to every word written. Much like SZA, I, myself, am on the same journey and felt as if her story was simply a page out of mine. If we are going to call her a“savage,” let it be in the name of her being a beast with her pen. In CTRL, the pen proved to be mightier than the sword, piercing me in the heart and soul perfectly.
As far as critics who have wrongfully named you or shamed you SZA, I stand with Kendrick Lamar when he said,“middle fingers up Solana, speak your truth!”
Have you heard “CTRL” by SZA? What would you say the “S” in SZA is for? Spill it in a comment.