Music can be healing while stimulating emotional responses to the listener. In this three-part series, we take a look at SZA’s debut album, Ctrl. Specifically, her lyrical themes of sexuality, self-love, and control present this vulnerability that makes the album so hard-hitting and iconic.
The album starts with, “Supermodel,” where SZA discusses her own insecurities and getting revenge on her ex who didn’t appreciate her— disappearing to Las Vegas, abandoning her on Valentine’s Day.
According to SZA, it is one of her favorite songs on the album because she wasn’t overthinking the song, as if it were a real slice from her subconscious. At the beginning of the song, we hear a skit from SZA’s mother saying “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.” Throughout the album, we will hear these little skits from both her mother and grandmother giving messages about control, respect, and dark thoughts. These messages set the tone for what each song is about, which is a similar style is found in The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, whom SZA is constantly compared to. The audience gets to experience the sensation of reading someone’s diary, there’s this presence of privacy. With privacy comes control, the name of the album, which can be seen as a reference to Janet Jackson’s album with the same name.
SZA sets the scene of Supermodel by saying “I'm writing this letter to let you know I'm really leaving, And no, I'm not keeping your shit.” The aspect of control plays a huge part in this song because she’s trying to rein in control of things that she is able to control. She can’t control the relationship anymore—this man has moved on, got new hobbies, new friends, and “even a new hoe too.” But SZA can control how things end and so she controls the situation by having the final say. She’s exerting her newfound control by telling him that once she’s spoken her piece she’s closing the chapter of them and not looking back. But the kicker is that her piece is “lemme tell you a secret I’ve been secretly banging your homeboy.”
In the end, this song is about the finality of this relationship. Prior to SZA metaphorically closing the casket, she lets her ex know that he does not get the satisfaction of thinking he had more control in the relationship.
She questions, “Why am I so easy to forget? It can't be that easy for you to get like that,” to really emphasize how little she actually meant to him because he was able to move on so quickly. SZA’s codependency and lack of self-love have been weaponized against her as we see in the chorus “leave me lonely for prettier women . . . you know I need too much attention for shit like that.” She states she could be his supermodel if he believed and saw it in her but then we see this vulnerable realization where she says “I don’t see myself.” She questions herself “why I can’t stay alone just by myself? Wish I was comfortable just with myself” thus why she goes down this almost pleading and miserable “but I need you, but I need you, but I need you.”
As toxic as it is, SZA took back control, by sleeping with the friend of her ex-boyfriend. She says the reason she stayed with him—despite him treating her poorly—was because “the dick was too good” convincing herself that she felt good by his temporary, physical love. Staying with a man because he was good at sex brings in the concept that SZA is lowering her own expectations in love in order to not be alone. SZA using the “dick was too good” as an excuse can be seen as a protective mechanism—in order to minimize the depths of her attachment— limiting him to only be good at sex. Sex and sexuality are both used as an outlet to produce the endorphins and dopamine required to get her through another day of this unfulfilling love. The themes of control, self-love, and sexuality in SZA’s lyrics give the audience the sensation of vulnerability that made the album so well-loved.