While many of Sunday’s Grammy Awards went to deserving artists — Childish Gambino took home an award for “Redbone,” and Kendrick Lamar won four of his seven nominations — the glitzy night was not without snubs. One of the biggest disappointments? SZA, this year’s most-nominated woman, lost all five of her Grammy nominations.
SZA’s Ctrl is one of the most honest and gritty albums of the past year. At a time when female celebrities are sparking a revolution against sexual assault and inequality, Ctrl handles issues like love scorned and insecurity. She discusses reality through a fresh, unfiltered lens and avoids singing about niche topics like glamour and celebrity.
At Sunday’s Grammys, the Weeknd’s Starboy took home the Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album. Starboy was successful; the Weeknd is a powerhouse artist in tune with what his listeners want. Yet the album lacks songs about visceral, universal problems. It solely focuses upon his personal evolution as an artist — an isolating choice.
It’s worth noting that while SZA was nominated for five awards — three for songs on Ctrl, Best Urban Contemporary Album and Best New Artist — the Weeknd’s Urban Contemporary win was also his only nomination. Every aspect of Ctrl was commendable, clearly deserving of its multiple nominations by the Recording Academy. Starboy received one hasty nomination and yet was deemed the “best.”
Deliberately absent from Ctrl are any romantic ballads about the perfect relationship or sweet serenades of baseless optimism. Replacing these tired themes are tracks telling of dull days, jealousy and self-doubt. “Broken Clocks” is about feeling meaningless and being bored with mundane life. It’s a song about escaping negativity, conveying its theme through full, resonant beats and passionate vocals. “Drew Barrymore” talks about binge watching Netflix’s “Narcos,” eating tacos and being jealous of her ex’s new girlfriend.
With influential lyrics, immortal R&B beats and sweeping harmonies, SZA engages with her listeners by illustrating that her life is like ours. She is a real person who relates to real problems. SZA not only accomplishes this significant feat — she manages it flawlessly, culminating in one of the year’s best albums.
Best New Artist went to Alessia Cara, who took to Instagram yesterday with a heartfelt post defending her win. Her defense of her music as powerful and the product of hard work is respectable. The issue with Cara’s win is that she is not a new artist. She shouldn’t have been nominated in the first place.
Cara has been on the rise since the release of her debut album in 2015; she was snubbed for a 2017 nomination for Best New Artist. SZA is an artist who debuted last June and whose new tracks surprised the music community, with her first album already inciting comparisons to legends like Beyoncé and Rihanna.
SZA was also nominated for Best R&B Performance, losing out to “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars. While Mars’ hit is fluid and catchy, it clearly belonged in the category of pop. And how many more songs about clubbing, champagne and exciting sex will win awards against songs that pioneer for important cultural and personal issues?
“Supermodel” was possibly the best song of the year. Not only is the song a melodic collection of rap and singing with SZA’s smooth, breathy vocals glazing the track, but its message is crucial. In the song’s chorus, she sings “I don’t see myself / Why I can’t stay alone just by myself? / Wish I was comfortable just with myself / But I need you.” These lyrics, which blend together in a polyrhythmic flow, strike at universal fears of inadequacy and unhealthy desires for approval from romantic partners.
We’ve seen many artists take on body image and insecurity with banal, peppy tracks about how we’re perfect just the way we are. The problem here is that people who don’t believe they are perfect are reasonably frustrated by upbeat, skinny, beautiful artists telling them to love themselves. It’s not that easy.
What SZA does is powerful, vulnerable and relatable. In this song, and in this album, she shares that she, too, has stayed in troubled relationships to make herself feel valuable. SZA crusades for the average woman. Instead of trying to fix the issues with simple encouragement, she creates a community around the idea that people who sometimes feel underappreciated and needy are not alone.
SZA ultimately deserved at least one, if not all, of the five awards for which she was nominated Sunday. Her voice is unique — both in tone and message. From the struggles and topics she champions to the fervent, undisguised manner in which she discusses them, her music warrants acknowledgement. She upholds a new standard for the music industry — one in which rawness is valued over superficiality, where unpredictability and ingenuity challenge overused pop beats.
At least we know only great things will come from SZA, which promises that when she’s nominated in the future, she’ll ultimately receive the awards she deserves.