Before the release of the album Ctrl in 2017, if you said the name SZA, you’d probably be met with a confused stare and an “excuse me?” Now, she’s a prominent name in female R&B, with a diehard fanbase who's hung onto her every word for the past five years—even though it’s been just as long since she’s put out a full–length project. Her debut release captured the world’s attention, with her lilting yet strong vocals leading Ctrl to five Grammy nominations and widespread critical acclaim. The album’s timelessness has allowed her to maintain relevance without putting out fresh content: it appeals to listeners from ages 13 to 30, with relatable lyrics and comforting tunes that apply to middle school drama just as well as a mid–20s break up. 

Listeners have been anxiously awaiting SZA’s sophomore album since it was first teased in 2020. After three years of silence, she dropped two singles, presumably excerpts from her new project, which of course never arrived. In 2021, reporter Tony Lee of NBC News posted a snippet of an interview he conducted with SZA on TikTok, in which she confirmed there was a new album coming out that same year. The video garnered nearly 600 comments that all reeked of general annoyance, including: “oooo she love to lie” from @willianagrande and “SZA lies for fun I won’t believe until my 3rd listen” from @topsudo. 

At the 2022 MET Gala, she told a Vogue reporter that “the album’s finally ready to go—more than I’ve ever felt before. So this summer, it’ll be a SZA summer.” A fan called her out on Twitter in July, saying “Congrats on the collab but Summer is almost over and there's still no album @sza. Please don't tell me you lied again." Catching the artist’s attention, she responded with “it's 100% punch and rca [record label] on this one. I wanted the summer. They wanted more time. Atp I'm just tryna have a good time stress free lol." The news that it was actually her record labels causing the delay hasn’t spread quickly, yet, she’s still managed to keep a loyal fanbase and maintain her relevance. Ctrl’s relatability and all–age appeal is how she’s managed to do so. 

“Normal Girl” is the quintessential song for anyone who has felt like they never quite fit in, as SZA croons about trials and tribulations of existing in society as a Black woman. “I wanna be the type of girl you take home to your mama / The type of girl your fellas they be proud of [...] I wish I was a normal girl,” she sings longingly. She craves to be the girl it’s acceptable to settle down with, not forever fated to be someone’s “dirty little secret.” She also touches on how as a Black girl, no matter what you do, you’re never going to be seen as the “standard”—we still live in an overwhelmingly Eurocentric society, and anything that differs from the typical white model is labeled as an other and cast aside. Sadly, this is a phenomenon that girls can start to notice as young as middle school, and continue to realize in different facets through high school and college as well.

With an abrupt switch in tone at the tail end of the song, she proudly proclaims: “this time next year I’ll be living so good won’t remember your name / I swear.”  Becoming the anthem for anyone getting over a tough breakup or coming out of a situation where they weren’t treated as they were worth, SZA’s positive attitude and focus on the future resonates with anybody who’s been feeling a little too hurt recently. 

“20 Something” is where young adults find their home. SZA validates the feeling that it’s okay to reach this age where you're supposed to be an adult but still feel a little lost or childlike—“20 something, all alone still / Not a phone in my name / Ain’t got nothing,” she sings over a strumming guitar. She displays that you don’t need to have it all figured out—in fact, it’s perfectly normal not to.

Somewhere along the bridge to adulthood is where “Prom” lies. Speaking to anyone going through a transitional period in their lives—college, high school, a first job, or the song’s titular reference—SZA is “fearing growin up [...] promise to get a little better when I get older.” A more upbeat track with an easy–to–dance–to beat, she manages to make growing pains a pop song anthem.

And then, of course, SZA’s talent alone can simply entice her listeners. Even if there isn’t an inherent personal connection, older adults can also enjoy her music for her standout vocals—the album covers a range from R&B to pop with indie influences. There’s a song for everyone on Ctrl, as long as you’re willing to listen to find it.