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SZA’s lyrics validate my experience as a Black woman

todayApril 7, 2024 2 3

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The five years between SZA’s 2017 debut album Ctrl and the much-anticipated sophomore album, SOS (2022),were marred by controversy with her label Top Dawg Entertainment, rumors, and false promises about release dates. But at the same time, according to a variety of social media posts and public interviews, those five years offered SZA an opportunity to wrestle with what it means to be a famous creative, produce work, fail, be insecure, desperate, sexual, Black, and a bit little weird. 

Still, with each album, SZA has defied stereotypes and developed a cult-like following for fans of alternative R&B. Her strong, unapologetic lyrics about self-discovery, fantasies, love, anxiety, and situationships have put her on top of charts and set her apart as a genre-setting champion. More importantly, her lyrics (and visuals) have upset numerous men but resonate sweetly and truthfully with many Black women, including myself.   

I’m a few years older than SZA and a single parent living in Wisconsin, working at a global corporation. SZA is a global superstar from a small town in New Jersey. We don’t live the same life, but her music provides me with a powerful sense of belonging, connection, and comfort that I don’t always find in other artists I keep in heavy rotation. Those artists include Felix Ames, Alice Russell, Naomi Sharon, Troy Tyler, Emeli Sandé, and yes, Taylor Swift. 

Through her edgy, and honest lyrics, I understand SZA’s position, perspectives, vulnerabilities, fears, and push back about adhering to societal standards that are built on a culture of white supremacy.       

SZA boldly represents everything I thought was wrong with me. Her bravery is beautiful, and inspiring to me to ensure that I live unapologetically and am honest about my feelings. During the day, I’m a mom to an active teenage son and a professional writer, both responsibilities I take seriously which often leaves me tired with little room for myself. At night, I retreat to the next episode of The Orville, or a chapter in the book I’m reading. 

Although they are important, my responsibilities, both personally and professionally, do not define all that I am. Like SZA, I’m constantly on a journey of self-discovery and pushing back against what society thinks I should be. SZA’s presence and lyrics on both Ctrl and more so, SOS, have given me the boost I need to lead a more honest multifaceted life out loud. SZA’s capacity to speak specifically and unapologetically about everyday topics is very refreshing. Admittedly, I’m more familiar with SOS, I don’t skip songs when it’s steaming in the background while I’m working, I tune in when I’m sad or sorting out my feelings, or when I need to feel validated.

And no matter how many times I listen, I fall more and more in love with the truthful, grittiness of her words and how she weaves through matter-of-fact tones and emotions in her voice. Songs like “Drew Barrymore” first draw you in with its easy drumbeat, you can’t help it but to nod your head. And lyrics like, “I get so lonely, I forgot what I’m worth/We get so lonely, we pretend that this works” are a gut check.

Then dive into “Broken Clocks” with its haunting musical intro. SZA jumps right in, leaving nothing to be desired. She motivates me while discussing the demands of balancing capitalism and relationships. “Run fast from my day job, runnin’ fast from the way it was/Jump quick to a paycheck, runnin’ back to the strip club.” And then, “I was down for whatever and then some/you gon’ make me late to work again.” 

These are just two examples of many, where SZA validates my Black experience as a woman in this world.  So when I saw that SZA was announced as a headliner at Summerfest, first, I doubled checked the date on the calendar to make sure it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke, then I set a calendar alarm to buy tickets when they go on sale to the public on April 10 at 10 a.m.

Although Summerfest is in my backyard, I haven’t been to the festival since I worked there as part of the grounds crew when I was a teenager. The atmosphere isn’t my vibe—the largely outdoor downtown music festival draws swaths of people from the suburbs, the overabundance of beer that flows could probably fill Lake Michigan, and then you add in Milwaukee summer weather that only happens for about eight weeks a year.

SZA will headline the American Family Insurance Amphitheater on Saturday, June 22, 2024. For this over-tired, often insecure, proud Black mom to breath the same air as SZA in my hometown will be such a treat and reassuring that we all should live bold, authentic lives outside of what society expects of us.  


Written by: Rae Johnson

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Get your tickets now for just $10 in advance or $15 at the door and join us at 220 East Pittsburgh on May 10th.