SZA’s (anything but) Awkward

We’re in the thick of that steamy, sticky summer humidity. And the rising temps and tensions are met with a big middle finger to the SCOTUS. As reproductive rights are directly linked to women’s sexual liberation, so it is written: hot and bothered weather calls for hot and bothered music. 

I can’t think of a singular album that celebrates being sexy, smoking weed, and confronting f*ckboydom head-on better than SZA’s monumental 2017 release Ctrl.

Ask neighbors, friends, concerned loved ones – this album absolutely rocked my world (along with everyone else’s) when it came out. Last month, SZA dropped 7 unreleased songs from the Ctrl era on the Deluxe edition, a welcome 5-year anniversary surprise for many fans anticipating her long-awaited next album.  

These songs fit closely within the big themes of Ctrl (control, insecurity, self-love). Plus we love SZA for her straightforward, no bullshit way of regaling sexcapades. Her lyrics are packed with double entendres, like in “2 AM”: “I never care as long as I come first, you come on time,” and excellent alliteration, “I conjure up that coochie for you/ Voodoo, Houdini.”

Like we see in the sister-track “Normal Girl” or the recently released “Miles,” SZA sometimes laments about wishing she was more like other girls (“And why can’t I be like everybody else?”). 

Listening activity: This song is gonna make you sweat.

She gets a 10/10 for relatability and vulnerability alone, especially in this week’s earworm “Awkward.” The speaker in SZA’s tracks often vacillates between embracing her sexual power and liberty, and giving in to romantic desires that have negative emotional consequences. Driven by feeling, SZA so clearly articulates how tempting in-the-moment satisfaction can be. In “Awkward” she sings:

It was worth it (Ooh, it was)
I would do it again (Hey)
I know you hurt me, but (Hey)
This is more than a friendship

Despite her hope to smooth things over post-hook-up, she doubts her actions: “Why did you let me do it?/I made it awkward.” Something about this honest slow jam is so sincere, with Solána’s beautiful voice also vacillating in tone and pitch throughout:

But can we still love on each other?
Can we still touch on each other?
Can we still not judge each other?

All love and no judgment – isn’t that what friends are for? 

As decades of media have told us, sex with friends is not always as straightforward as you might think. Like Billy Crystal so pointedly declares in When Harry Met Sally, “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” Whether we buy into that cishet thesis or not, in this case the speaker decides the deeper connection discovered here is worth the social ineptitude: “I think we’re ready for it, yeah, mmm/ Let’s keep it awkward.”

This song, and the other 6 treats, are just a cherry on top of an otherwise perfect album for you to listen to on repeat until SZA drops a new one. ‘Tis the season to lose your cool, so happy Ctrl anniversary to all who celebrate.  

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