Welcome to Keeping It Z, ESSENCE’s column where we touch on and analyze all things Generation Z. In this piece, writer Malik Peay talks about SZA’s debut album, ‘Ctrl’ and what it means to 20-somethings who are finding their way.
4 years have passed since the release of SZA’s Ctrl, a youthful exploration of love and growth. On June 16, the singer shared a 50-minute set for Amex Unstaged, performing several songs from the album for the first time in two years. I was instantly reminded of the album’s impact.
For me, Ctrl helped me become more positive about my queerness. Through it, I accepted the feelings of being an outcast, which sometimes follow being a part of a demographic that given to harmful stereotypes and ridicule. SZA’s energetic nature in songs like “Love Galore” and “Broken Clocks” inspired me to keep my head held high coming into young adulthood. While, “20 Something” and “Drew Barrymore” became the scores to my discovery of my identity.
SZA opened her show with “Supermodel,” a song about a toxic relationship, which is sadly pretty common for young people entering the world of dating. “I was dating this boy and I really liked him, and he just really had a lot of access to supermodels..He laughed at everything I tried to do. If I tried to sing, or if I thought I was too cute, he’d be like, ‘Haha, no’…Don’t think you’re above me,” she revealed to MTV in 2017. For the performance, soft guitar strums introduced her serenade of unfiltered vulnerability and spite that felt so familiar. Ctrl’s earnest lyrics are just as relevant to me as they were when they first were performed in 2017 and they’ve had an affect on others, too.
“I didn’t know how much Ctrl was going to impact me until I turned 20,” model Aerin Creer told Essence. “I was 18 when it released and my engagement with the album was superficial at first—like most things I did in my teens.” Creer then shared how a health condition changed her relationship with the body of work.
“When I turned 19, I had a brain aneurysm,” she reflected. “In the hospital I was given many devices to entertain myself but the only thing I genuinely remember listening to was the entire Ctrl album.” After she healed and felt empowered by this experience, she says, “Life after the hospital was never the same— and I mean that in the best way possible…I learned that being vulnerable isn’t weak. It is actually powerful.”
The enduring footprint that Ctrl has had lies within the artist’s capturing of the struggle we experience when trying to connect in this world.
Read Essence Girls United interview with Maya Alexus, the college graduate whose grad photos were inspired by ‘Ctrl.‘