Rounding out her incredible breakout year, singer-songwriter-healer SZA spoke withPitchfork’s Matthew Schnipper about finding herself and her sound on her GRAMMY-nominated debut, Ctrl.
In comparison to her previous EPs, SZA’s vocals are commanding and powerful on Ctrl, but even an uptick in quality, sound and performance didn't stop "fans" from firing off harsh commentary that, the singer says, forced her to self-assess her work.
“When people trash you, you’re forced to look at yourself and be like, ‘OK, you have to get better,’” she explained. “What does getting better mean? Well, you don’t know what getting better means. Stop trying to figure out what it means and watch the process and just learn.”
SZA's process centers around presentness and accepting a lack of control to help her regain some semblance of it. While an artist should never put the onus strictly on themselves—it's impossible to please everybody in this industry—we have to underscore SZA’s bravery as she crafted her debut album. No artist wants to spend years confronting and undoing their flaws, facing their fears, and making themselves emotionally uncomfortable, but SZA took up the task knowing her music would be better for it—and it was.
“I was just like, ‘I feel like I’m disappearing into the ether, like I’m not important,’” she added. “At times, I was like, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t make this.’ But that anger turned into commitment into being.”
That commitment translated into some of the best, most specific yet universal songwriting of the year. Now she’s connecting with her audience in a wholly more impactful manner, realizing that she has the power to support and heal her listeners through her own experiences. Though she’ll never be able to escape the people that “trash” her music, SZA now has the confidence to parse out critique from hatred.