★★★★★: SZA's 'Ctrl' is a joyous celebration of female fragility

The singer's debut album was worth the wait

Recent events concerning some prominent female figures in pop music might lead you to believe that there's little substance in a lot of their output.

In a drawn-out feud comparable with Mayweather versus McGregor, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift fought it out for the title of 'Pettiest In Show'.

Perry released clap-back track Swish Swish with Nick Minaj, and Swift re-gifted streaming services with her back-catalogue - the day Perry released new album 'Witness'. Ouch indeed.

And while it was entertaining to watch the whole thing play out, it kicked off a commentary on female artistry and rivalry - just how healthy is it actually to spectate on something so passive aggressive, something seemingly anti-feminist?

So, SZA's debut album 'Ctrl' couldn't have come at a better time. She approaches the topic of female competition, specifically in the context of relationships, in a particularly refreshing manner.

The wait for this album was a long one - even for SZA herself. Long stretches of album delays and conceptual reworks (the original title was 'A', to follow a series of themed mixtapes), as well as extended periods of of self-doubt meant she almost quit the business.

It's almost surprising then, just how self-assured 'Ctrl' is, while still maintaining a level of vulnerability and openness. 

Having previously described her musical style as a hybrid of jazz-influenced R&B and self-described 'glitter-trap'. It's this production that makes 'Ctrl' an Alice In Wonderland trip through female growth. 

Coolly confident 

It takes a ballsy artist to borrow influence from supergroup Wu-Tang Clan - something she acknowledged in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

"I got a lot of crap for being named SZA but not being affiliated with Wu-Tang, and being a girl," she said. "People were like, 'Who the fuck do you think you are? How dare you?' Even to a point where I wondered, would anyone from the Wu respect me?" 

There's an authenticity to every moment on this album where she asserts her worth - Doves In The Wind, despite a dodgy verse from rap kingpin Kendrick Lamar, is a dominating parade of sexual empowerment, with a nice little Forrest Gump reference thrown in for good measure.

Similarly, The Weekend sees her flip the script on the concept of being the other women, or the 'side chick'- demonstrating sexual prowess in a way that makes a statement, not a song and dance about a woman in control of her body and her choices.

But it's not all strength and power - 'Ctrl' provides an almost perfect balance of vulnerability and confidence. Supermodel's lyrics speak volumes - "Leave me lonely for prettier women/You know I need too much attention for shit like that/I could be your supermodel if you believe."

SZA's is fully in control of her narrative though, sliding in a slight at an ex who ghosted her on Valentine's - so naturally, she slept with one of his friends.

"Let me tell you a secret/I been secretly banging your homeboy/Why you in Vegas all up on Valentine's Day?"

The start of a journey

What's most exciting about this project is probably what's still to come from SZA. Something this polished, something this eloquent, something this passionate - it tends to come only come along once in a while, and spells good things for an artist's career in the long-run.

While 'Ctrl's is obviously a very personal journey of self-discovery, thematically, it will resonate across the board. It's honest, while remaining accessible. 

SZA's 'Ctrl' presents one of the most introspective looks at humanity, love and growing up, examines female rivalry in a way that is unusual for mainstream releases the majority of the time, and most importantly, just sounds really really good.