SZA once considered retiring from music before she even released CTRL, the album that changed her life. In 2016, she tweeted that she was anxious and that there was "a lot going on" in her life.
"I'm still miserable. My world got so much smaller so fast. I have so much to write about. I feel like I'm in a cage. I'm making the best album of my life for this next album and I know that... because it's going to be my last album."
Here was this absolute goddess of a woman, rich in fan support and with a booming career on the horizon, laying out her insecurities on full display for the world to see (and talking about quitting her dream, no less).
While the rumors were concerning, it was also oddly refreshing to witness a person of her caliber being so honest. In the prim and perfect world of celebrity, it is rare to see stars in such a vulnerable state.
But it is that very vulnerability that constitutes the magic and wonder of SZA. She fearlessly reveals all of her issues, from self-doubt to infidelity to womanhood, without glossing them over. Everything she sends out into the world is sincere and authentic. With her, what you see is truly what you get.
SZA primarily speaks about her lived experience as a woman, but it would be wrong to assume that her art only has relevance to women. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that her cardinal message is far more universal than what can be seen on the surface.
That being said, let's dispel that fallacious assumption once and for all: Yes, men can like SZA, and they can learn a lot from her, too. We are all human after all, and neither men nor women are exempt from moments of vulnerability. The only difference is that emotional openness seems normalized only for the latter and not the former.
In modern society, it is generally more acceptable for women to be emotionally liberated and run free with their feelings. While they are still criticized for it at times, it is to a much lesser extent than what men would typically endure.
When men are sensitive, it is seen as a form of weakness. Even today, men who are "in touch with their feminine sides" are often met with raised eyebrows and slanderous chatter. Unfortunately, many people today still hold on to the belief that being emotionally liberated is "sus" and highly malapropos if you're a man.
That brand of toxic masculinity comes from both sexes. Though men are the prime enforcers of this conservative rule, women are also guilty of its perpetuation. Saying things like, "I could never date a sensitive guy," or "Men don't have feelings," simply sends the message that it is not okay for men to be, well, human.
I, for one, am a man and I love SZA. As a perfectionist, I instantly connected with CTRL. Like most creatives, I often have trouble breaking free from my control-freak tendencies. Telling myself that I am "at least putting myself out there unlike other people" is not reassuring enough to shake the uncertainties that often cloud my mind.
At times, I will deliberately refrain from evincing any true emotions out of fear that they may be misconstrued or scorned. I deal with unpleasant feelings by numbing them, and as a result, I end up missing out on a lot of opportunities to be great.
It is incredibly daunting to submit oneself in a position where one is fully susceptible to public scrutiny. How can anyone lay bare the most protected thoughts in their mind when the world is so merciless?
I may never be able to quell that insecurity, but it is comforting to know that I am not the only one suffering in misery from it. Something as simple as the first, off-key strum of the guitar in Supermodel is all it takes to convince me that imperfection can be bliss. Through her music, SZA reminds us that vulnerability is freedom; and that freedom is so, so powerful.
Her best songs are the ones about finding the silver linings in not-so-ideal situations. She reminds us that it is perfectly okay to make mistakes and that there's nothing wrong with accepting things as they are, even if they do not meet your expectations. After all, to live in fear is to not live at all.
I find it funny how SZA's music always seems to find its way into my life when it is highly relevant. Good Days was released around the time when I was dealing with broken friendships and the struggle of deciding between leaving a toxic situation and staying despite the chaos. When SZA said "Tryna make sense of loose change/Got me a war in my mind," I really felt that.
I also respect the fact that SZA is a true artist. To me, an artist is someone who can create new worlds with sound, lyrics, and melody. They have the uncanny ability to touch your soul by tapping into the very themes that shape your life. SZA excels at this.
While I like to dabble in music myself, I am far from an artist. I am a singer, first and foremost, and that is only a small part of musical artistry. While I believe I am wholly capable of writing my own lyrics and possibly my own melodies, I am not at a level where I am confident enough to fully dive into the creative process.
That is largely the reason why I cover songs by female musicians. The chief purpose of a cover is to take an existing song and put a unique twist on it. I do not yet have that skill, so singing female-led songs in a male voice is the one way I can add something new to the original songs.
SZA, on the other hand, creates these melodies that I have honestly never heard of before. I remember listening to Love Galore for the first time and being blown away by the chorus progression. Panic! At The Disco's Brendon Urie reacted to it too and he said: "I'm so impressed. It's not even like I'm looking to get impressed, it's just good music, like good-feeling music." I was just like, "Same man, same."
In a world that is dominated by the same four-chord pop music and mumble rap, SZA is a breath of fresh air that inspires us to do the opposite of what society wants: be far from ordinary.
"Everything you're going through still matters, even if you have absolutely no one to talk to about it."
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