Photo: DeShaun Craddock

My Summer Crush: Falling in Love With the Music of SZA

For me, discovering new music is like falling in love. It begins with a giddy infatuation, usually the result of one irresistible song, and matures into a deep affection and respect for the artist at large. I always remember the song that got me hooked, the one I replayed over and over until the sound, the lyrics, and the message were imprinted in my brain. I attach a sentimental value to the artist after this first song. That’s how I fall in love with music. And this summer I fell in love with SZA.

The first song that I heard of hers was “Drew Barrymore,” from her debut album Ctrl. It was suggested to me by the fate of analytics and, having no expectations whatsoever, I clicked on the video. I think that seeing the music video was a good introduction to the song itself and had a lot to do with my immediate captivation, as well as my usual dissection of song lyrics.

The video is a beautiful tribute to New York City, showing clips of SZA on the streets, at local eateries, and subway stations. It’s quirky and unglamorous but maybe that’s why it feels so authentic. Much of the video is cloaked in darkness, although it’s anything but ominous. The stark contrast between shadows and concentrated light conveys the raw city aesthetic that blossoms at night. SZA thrives in this spotlight, surrounded by a group of friends as she explores NYC. The candid style of the video gives off a playful effortlessness that feels a lot like nostalgia.

When I listened to the song, I was immediately attracted to the relaxed, swaying rhythm and the pleasant hook in the chorus. However, I found that the lyrics to “Drew Barrymore” were not necessarily as feel-good as the video. SZA addresses her insecurities about not being good enough for her partner and appears to plead for his approval. And yet, there is something artificial about her apologetic insistence: “I’m sorry I’m not more attractive. I’m sorry I’m not more ladylike. I’m sorry I don’t shave my legs at night. I’m sorry I’m not your baby mama. I’m sorry you got karma comin’ to you. Collect your soul, get it right.”

SZA is anything but sorry for her failure to meet society’s standards for women. The song draws attention to the sexist expectations of women to measure their own worth by their ability to please others. Her tongue-in-cheek attitude permeates throughout the relaxed music video, which focuses on SZA relishing in the city, rather than brooding over an unsatisfying relationship.

“Drew Barrymore” is the fourth track on SZA’s album Ctrl, which came out in early June. After becoming obsessed with this song, I began looking at the rest of the track list as well as watching performances and interviews with SZA. Before I knew what I was doing, I was transcribing one of her interviews in the notes section of my phone.

When asked whether or not she cares how much money her album makes, SZA replied, “Chasing money or focusing on money is—it’s impossible. It’s like creating resistance…because you want it too bad and you’re not allowing the flow of whatever’s supposed to happen to happen. If you’re chasing money, you can’t be chasing your purpose…it’s blocking you; it’s blinding you.”

This message was something that I needed to hear. It’s inspiring to find music artists that are just that—artists, having the itch to create in order to work through something or to better understand the world that we live in. It can be exhausting to navigate through the money-grabbing records of the entertainment industry, and it’s reassuring to find someone like SZA, whose focus is on creating a sonic experience that represents her genuine perspective.

Not only is SZA earnest in her musical creations, but her talents also extend beyond the cleaned-up studio versions of her songs. In a live performance of “Love Galore,” the second track on Ctrl, one can see that her voice is still unbelievably controlled and powerful. Her vocal runs follow a mesmerizing ebb and flow and each line is articulated with such charismatic feeling. There is something striking about the way her performances deliver the unexpected.

Since my introduction to SZA, I’ve become a fan of her music, her voice, and her public persona, which makes it all the more exciting to delve into her new album, Ctrl. It’s fourteen tracks long and worth listening to, if only to get a taste for SZA’s unique sound. Each track is intent on carrying the sincerity of the artist’s narrative. Unlike most summer albums, this one will outlive the season it was born into.

And I’ve got it on repeat.

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I am a student at UC Davis, currently working toward a B.A. in English (with an emphasis in creative writing) and a minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies. I especially enjoy the works of Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, and William Shakespeare. My affinity for the arts is evident in my support of local bookstores, museums, and theaters. Besides reading and writing, I live for discovering new music and revisiting classic jams from the 70's, 80's, and 90's.

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My Summer Crush: Falling in Love With the Music of SZA

For me, discovering new music is like falling in love. It begins with a giddy infatuation, usually the result of one irresistible song, and matures into a deep affection and respect for the artist at large. I always remember the song that got me hooked, the one I replayed over and over until the sound, the lyrics, and the message were imprinted in my brain. I attach a sentimental value to the artist after this first song. That’s how I fall in love with music. And this summer I fell in love with SZA.

The first song that I heard of hers was “Drew Barrymore,” from her debut album Ctrl. It was suggested to me by the fate of analytics and, having no expectations whatsoever, I clicked on the video. I think that seeing the music video was a good introduction to the song itself and had a lot to do with my immediate captivation, as well as my usual dissection of song lyrics.

The video is a beautiful tribute to New York City, showing clips of SZA on the streets, at local eateries, and subway stations. It’s quirky and unglamorous but maybe that’s why it feels so authentic. Much of the video is cloaked in darkness, although it’s anything but ominous. The stark contrast between shadows and concentrated light conveys the raw city aesthetic that blossoms at night. SZA thrives in this spotlight, surrounded by a group of friends as she explores NYC. The candid style of the video gives off a playful effortlessness that feels a lot like nostalgia.

When I listened to the song, I was immediately attracted to the relaxed, swaying rhythm and the pleasant hook in the chorus. However, I found that the lyrics to “Drew Barrymore” were not necessarily as feel-good as the video. SZA addresses her insecurities about not being good enough for her partner and appears to plead for his approval. And yet, there is something artificial about her apologetic insistence: “I’m sorry I’m not more attractive. I’m sorry I’m not more ladylike. I’m sorry I don’t shave my legs at night. I’m sorry I’m not your baby mama. I’m sorry you got karma comin’ to you. Collect your soul, get it right.”

SZA is anything but sorry for her failure to meet society’s standards for women. The song draws attention to the sexist expectations of women to measure their own worth by their ability to please others. Her tongue-in-cheek attitude permeates throughout the relaxed music video, which focuses on SZA relishing in the city, rather than brooding over an unsatisfying relationship.

“Drew Barrymore” is the fourth track on SZA’s album Ctrl, which came out in early June. After becoming obsessed with this song, I began looking at the rest of the track list as well as watching performances and interviews with SZA. Before I knew what I was doing, I was transcribing one of her interviews in the notes section of my phone.

When asked whether or not she cares how much money her album makes, SZA replied, “Chasing money or focusing on money is—it’s impossible. It’s like creating resistance…because you want it too bad and you’re not allowing the flow of whatever’s supposed to happen to happen. If you’re chasing money, you can’t be chasing your purpose…it’s blocking you; it’s blinding you.”

This message was something that I needed to hear. It’s inspiring to find music artists that are just that—artists, having the itch to create in order to work through something or to better understand the world that we live in. It can be exhausting to navigate through the money-grabbing records of the entertainment industry, and it’s reassuring to find someone like SZA, whose focus is on creating a sonic experience that represents her genuine perspective.

Not only is SZA earnest in her musical creations, but her talents also extend beyond the cleaned-up studio versions of her songs. In a live performance of “Love Galore,” the second track on Ctrl, one can see that her voice is still unbelievably controlled and powerful. Her vocal runs follow a mesmerizing ebb and flow and each line is articulated with such charismatic feeling. There is something striking about the way her performances deliver the unexpected.

Since my introduction to SZA, I’ve become a fan of her music, her voice, and her public persona, which makes it all the more exciting to delve into her new album, Ctrl. It’s fourteen tracks long and worth listening to, if only to get a taste for SZA’s unique sound. Each track is intent on carrying the sincerity of the artist’s narrative. Unlike most summer albums, this one will outlive the season it was born into.

And I’ve got it on repeat.

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