Let’s be honest, one of the most difficult activities to do nowadays is finding worthwhile music, the kind that’s played to mean something and not just make a quick buck. Not to mention that today’s technology makes the process even more painstaking (there are probably countless generic songs being uploaded to Soundcloud as you read this). But once luck throws you in the right direction, victory becomes even more satisfying. “Supermodel,” the opening track of her debut LP “Ctrl,” is both a testament to SZA’s capabilities as a songwriter and one of those rare gems you find on that Lucky Road.
Looping guitar chords are the first sounds that greet listeners on this three-minute journey, somehow clunky and subtle all at once with their gloomy dissonance as SZA recounts one of the biggest tragedies of her love life: “Why you in Vegas/ All up on Valentine’s Day?”
Refreshingly honest and purging her bottled emotions, the breakout artist has an intimacy that complements the sparse acoustic atmosphere established through the startling strums of the guitar. Betrayal is no stranger to the breakout artist, and she’s not afraid to announce that and allow her audience to see her real life, mortification and all.
The Top Dawg Entertainment signee also has a sass that knows no bounds listeners can relate with. After being left devastated, she clapbacks, “Why am I so easy to forget like that?/ It can’t be that easy for you to get like that,” simultaneously capturing those moments of deprecation familiar to break-ups and challenging her ex’s ability to swoon a woman considering the mistreatment the singer received. You could almost label the dig as some Shakespearean comic relief, especially when SZA predicts how her fans will react and is unapologetic about her remark (“Oh no she didn’t/ Ooh yes I did/ Oh no she didn’t/ I’ll do it again”).
In spite of her frustration with this experience, SZA is still human, aware of the fact that even the best of us can’t help falling back to the people who scarred and bruised us.
“Wish I was comfortable just with myself/ But I need you/ I need you/ I need you,” she admits, torn between the self-sufficiency instilled in her from an early age with music influences like Björk and the immortal nature of love.
There’s still strength in the confession, a courage that has to be mustered in order for an artist to own up to his/her self-doubt that inadvertently acknowledges souls recovering from a tattered love, letting them know that they’re not alone in their confused passion.
The best part of the Grammy-nominated track is the hook however, sonically and lyrically, where questions of self-worth and the ebb and flow of affection climax in three lines.
I could be your supermodel/ If you believe/ If you see it in me
Initially, SZA seems to pierce the sorrow that veils “Supermodel” with a declaration of assurance (strutting through a magical forest in high heels is almost fitting for the first line). But then she throws in a qualifier, and suddenly, her poise is controlled by the people around her, reminding us that a need for recognition to truly feel happy in one’s own skin can only be expected in this world where validation is granted through superficial screen taps and can be snatched just as easily. It makes the opening words to “Ctrl” even more potent: “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.”
Her word painting though, a technique where the shape of a melody parallels the mood of the lyrics sung (i.e. a descending scale accompanies words about heartbreak), is breathtaking and unique. Whether it was intentional or not, SZA shifts to her lower register whenever she sings “me,” and I’ve thought and still think that that last-second leap down is reflective of how confidence is a wavering path with its high and low points and how people view themselves with lower standards than society does.
And that’s what good music is – when everything has a meaning to you, each note and each word. And “Supermodel” does just that by immersing you into a moment that made SZA the person she is now and enabling you to find yourself in her world.