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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The staff of Mother Jones is rounding up the decade’s heroes and monsters. Find them all here.

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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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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