WXTJ Writes! By Sabriya Sheikh: Why 20 Something By SZA Will Be My Anthem For The Next Decade And Then Some

It opens with the strums of a guitar. The melody is soon joined by the silky sweet voice of none other than SZA. “Ctrl” has been blaring in my ears since middle school, but as I have grown older, I begin to really understand the meaning of the album. The mumblings of SZA, or “SZAnese” as many of her fans have affectionately labeled her lines of lyrics, had not made sense to me as a preteen girl.

The track “20 Something” is one of the many on the album that tackles the issue of growing pains. It is joined by tracks like “Prom” (another one of my favorites) as well as “Normal Girl” which deal with the acceptance of coming of age, but more so, coming into one’s personhood. “20 Something,” however has stuck in my mind as I am the oldest of all teenagers—a 19 year old. These are some of the scariest years I have dealt with thus far in my human experience. I am in the uneven time between adolescence and adulthood. And it is terrifying. Life is full of uncertainty, yet something about “20 Something” soothes that fear that lives deep in my gut.

The first lyrics SZA brings to the table in this wonderful song are “How you ain’t sayin’ you was movin’ forward?” which is followed with “Honesty hurts when you’re gettin’ older.” She addresses the uncertainty that is these formative years, how we deal with criticism. Some embrace the criticism while others remove their words from their life completely, but we are still learning, still reflecting. The grief of growing older is something I have been struggling with. Somehow we are all of our former selves, yet none of them at all. Do we mourn who we were? Or do we thank the past for its lessons?

Her voice is ripe with nostalgia as SZA sings “I gotta say I’ll miss the way you need me.” The frustration of relationships ending and fading is prevalent throughout much of the song. Life ebbs and flows that way, like a river. Learning to accept endings has been difficult for me in my formative years. But we are always growing. SZA’s voice descends with “Why you ain’t say I was falling short?” and subsequently ascends with “How you lead me out so far away?” Finding out that there are issues in my life unbeknownst to me has to have been the most heartbreaking experience. I never feign ignorance, but when a person who you love and care for does not communicate their grievances, there is not much to be done.

She begs the question “How could it be?” which is accompanied by the namesake of the song being evoked with “20 something, all alone still not a thing in my name” to convey the odd nature of the decade. It is the transition between leaving your family to creating your own family or your “found family.” Leaving the care of your parents or guardians is the hardest challenge I know of. It is heartbreaking and lonely and hard. Learning how to create a support system of good friends around me is a challenge because not everyone wants to be there for you like that. And that is life.

SZA ends the song with a voice recordings from her mother. She says “and if it’s an illusion, I don’t want to wake up. I’m gonna hang on to it because the alternative is an abyss, is just a hole, a darkness, a nothingness. Who wants that? You know? So that’s what I think about CTRL, and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” The ending of “20 Something” is the end of “Ctrl” making it the culmination of SZA’s words and thoughts and feelings that she poured into the previous 13 tracks. These words from her mother have stuck with me through these last few years of my life. As I have had friendships and relationships come and go, I have found myself desperately holding onto the person I was with those people, but I will never be that girl again. It is out of my control.

Though “20 Something” is one of the saddest tracks on the album, it is an anthem for the growth we all undergo during our adolescence and early 20s. The song lets me know it will be okay. If SZA can do it, then so can I. Everyday is a new opportunity, and “20 Something” will kindly let me know that for the next decade and then some. Thank you Solana!

Sabriya Sheikh (she/her) is a second year who enjoys reading, writing, and talking. You can find her at the AFC where she lifeguards, or at Jeff Hall on Thursdays.

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