by Payton Renegar and Sam Betsko
At midnight on Dec. 9, SZA brought us back to the excitement of listening to her new album after waiting five years since “Ctrl.” The office was not disappointed. This experimentalist album showcased her range — breaking out of complete R&B and gifting us with sounds of feminine pop and early 2000s with the classic style SZA fans know and love.
With sounds that required gasps and excitement at first listen, or sighs at the nostalgic feeling of heartbreak, she gave fans the ultimate complexity of feeling independent while missing a partner.
The highs of the album left the office feeling on top of the world. The second track, “Kill Bill,” was the perfect mix of chilled and positive. The lyrics and beat provided a catchy toon. This song will quickly rise to a redeemable “repeat” song. It’s the type that has the potential to either go viral or become a cult classic.
“Love Language” also shows potential that the previous does. The excellent vocals, with gut-punching lyrics like “show me how to connect with you,” leave a pit in the listener’s stomach. SZA showcases the feeling every young adult knows well — the desperation to make a relationship work so much that the partner is willing to sacrifice themselves to save it.
Leading us down the stairs to the depths of SZA’s most intimate moments, “Blind,” “Special,” and “Too Late” all scream the self-doubt and bargaining that even the most confident women feel at times. SZA shows the deepest parts of her self-doubt in these songs — a feat that artists rarely can do without the feeling of superficiality. She sings about the hardships of losing someone that became an entity in her everyday life. With lyrics such as, “I hate that you made me just like you,” the listener is transported to a moment in their life where they felt the same — feeling a true connection to the R&B singer.
While the office witnessed her low points at midnight, we also celebrated her reminder of self-independence. The songs such as “Conceited,” “Gone Girl” and “Smoking on My Ex Pack” caught a glimpse of the confident, sexy SZA that fans are so familiar with. In these songs, the listener is reminded of the rebirth after a breakup — the resilience that is found in women when they realize they’re better off alone and happy than with someone that isn’t worth their time. The self-assurance lyrics such as, “He’s screamin’ get back together, I’m screamin’ back of the bus” in “Smoking on My Ex Pack” is the ultimate revenge, better off without, independent anthem.
While the majority of the songs were a masterpiece, with the complexity of human emotions, some songs felt as though they were fillers such as “Seek and Destroy” and “F2F.” Though the album did not disappoint, it was difficult to review this album when comparing it to “CTRL” — which contained only hit-worthy songs. Much like FKA Twigs’s latest album “Caprisongs,” it was hard to follow after her iconic album “Magdalene” from 2019. After SZA’s iconic “Ctrl,” she worked hard to recapture the magic of the previous album, and it shows.
Regardless of the songs that did not live up to the high expectations that SZA sets for her music, the experimentation is commendable, using a vast range of featured artists such as Travis Scott and Phoebe Bridgers, while venturing past the typical R&B that the singer is known for. This album gifted listeners with new favorites for a wide variety of emotions while those that didn’t make the list of favorites deserve another listen until the album is fully digested — appreciated for the holistic complexity that it is.