Heroes of the 2010s: SZA

We have vastly different experiences, but she gave voice to my millennial femme anguish.

SZA

Daniel DeSlover/Zuma

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What did we do before SZA released Ctrl? Where did we turn in the hard times? When a boy stood us up, when a friend let us down, when we couldn’t get out of bed? Were there artists so raw about their mental health issues or about feeling unlovable? I certainly didn’t know any. SZA saved my life.

The first and only female artist signed to Top Dawg Entertainment (alongside Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q), SZA blew up in 2014 with a record called Z, 10 ballads so syrupy and sad that one had to wonder, “Is this chick okay?” Later that year, her song “Sobriety” answered “no.” Estranged from her father, a disappointment to her mom, she admits to smoking six blunts a day, unable to stay sober. My college best friend and I nodded along somberly, hacking our lungs up in between bong rips and processing family trauma. SZA bore her pain so bravely, it helped us do the same.

We have vastly different experiences, yet I feel as if SZA and I became adults together. While I was in turmoil about my gender, she dropped “Drew Barrymore,” the first track off Ctrl, expressing and even owning a neediness I was coming to understand as a common femme experience: the frustrated longing for men to fill me with the validation I wasn’t giving myself.  “I’m sorry I’m not more ladylike,” she crooned sardonically. “I’m sorry I don’t shave my legs at night.” SAME, girl, I thought to myself, a non-binary mess, lighting another spliff in the bathtub.

On Twitter, she’s everyone’s relatable therapist, with Big Scorpio Energy. She’s moody and abrasive, but only because she’s so tender inside. Her radio smash “The Weekend” was about being the other woman; “Doves in the Wind,” the power of the pussy. After Ctrl came a much-vaunted Coachella performance and her buoyant hook on Kendrick’s Black Panther soundtrack. She says her next album’s coming “soon as fuck,” but two and a half years after its release, plenty of us still aren’t over Ctrl. On the album’s final track, she prays that she’ll survive the trials of her 20s. Same, girl. Same.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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