Not even my crocodile tears can fight against the passing time I’ve spent as a quasi-adult, and trust me, I’ve tried.
Recently, SZA incited an absolute brawl when she rereleased Ctrl. Painstakingly relatable and sincere, the album has amassed a cult following, which has proven to its listeners our collective of experiences and feelings aren’t unique.
While its massive reach is somewhat comforting, there’s something isolating about reliving such universal feelings on your own. If everyone feels this way about coming of age, then why is it so terribly lonely experiencing adolescence?
For me, it’s this bizarre out-of-body experience every college student has when they’ve realized how many years have passed since they’ve graduated high school. This epiphany was radically brought about by listening to the deluxe version of Ctrl.
My first experience listening to Ctrl was nearly five years ago at the ripe and unfortunate age of 15, my 16th birthday in the summer to follow. “Love Galore” featuring Travis Scott would float to the top of the steam from my shower after soccer practices. I’d cry to “Anything” about my terribly terrible high school relationship, as if I knew anything comparable to what SZA was singing about at 15.
Now, five years later, I am 20, nearly 21, and I still don’t know much about anything. Both ages serve as an awkward and ambiguous timestamp of achievement and growth — and years later, I find not much of me has changed.
When I attempt to rationalize life, I try to convince myself that’s the uncomfortably real and dangerously cool aspect of SZA’s music, particularly Ctrl as a whole. The common relationship mishaps of a teenage girl simply turn into the ones of a 20-something. As much as we’d like to grow out of our old selves, into something better, perfect, we never really change.
Most of Ctrl is about wanting to be something else. On “Normal Girl,” SZA’s powerhouse vocals belt about being more intune with the male gaze and who everyone else would like her to be. “Supermodel” has SZA at her most vulnerable, wishing she was or had the qualities of a model. My personal favorite, “Prom,” reflects on SZA not calling her mom, as she promises herself to get “better as she gets older” and asks herself if she is enough.
Most of the album consists of these questions or intimate realities, realizations or relationships many young women have sparred with. Each anthem deals with one personal yet universally felt imperfection to the next, a constellation of tumultuous feelings and insecurities.
SZA’s mother says it best on “Supermodel”: “That is my greatest fear, that if, if I lost control, or did not have control, things would just, you know. I would be … fatal.” Control issues often coincide with my anxious tendencies, and I sometimes feel so out-of-control and overwhelmed because of my inability to be perfect. I wasn’t ever going to be a perfect daughter, student, girlfriend. The feeling of being “almost” perfect, like I was missing something in order to be perfect, is what really challenged me. It’s laughable to re-read this, to consider that anything or anyone could ever really be perfect.
But, for so many of us, social media has twisted our perception of reality. That Instagram influencer may not be perfect, but she sure does look like she’s having a better time than the rest of us.
What Ctrl taught me, then and now, is to surrender to the lack of control. I thought I could manifest perfection in my adult life if I only tried hard enough. Yet, I’m realizing now, I’ll always come up short to the perfect version of myself in my head — and that’s okay.
“Jodie,” the deluxe album’s last track, feels like a wiser SZA speaking to herself. “It’s just trees in the wind,” she sings over a quintessential SZA beat, relishing in similar muddled convictions.
Five years ago, I couldn’t have ever imagined I wouldn’t be playing soccer or that I’d be broken up with my high school boyfriend or that I’d go to community college before getting into UC Berkeley. None of my life now was ever part of my plan before, and I’m still coming to terms with that. Ctrl is about the lack thereof. It’s about being scared of change and not ever changing. It’s about wanting so badly to be something else, only to be fully embodied as yourself.
A little unhinged, vulnerable and heartbreaking, SZA’s record will forever perfectly encapsulate fighting my imperfectionism. And one day, I’ll write the perfect column, but I’m just not there yet. Maybe in five more years.