Whoever said high school should be the best four years of your life must’ve had a very boring twenties. The truth is, your twenties are the highest highs and the lowest lows you will ever experience. It’s a rush of freedom, frustration, and fun all wrapped into a decade. For a lot of us, your twenty somethings are the first time you’re no longer tied down and free to explore yourself and your self-expression. With all of this freedom to explore, we often encounter the feelings of loneliness and confusion.
Sometimes when you’re struggling, it’s great to listen to music that empathizes with your situation. Two incredible black, female artists have dropped albums that highlight the ups and downs of your twenties. First SZA’s inaugural album Ctrl was an immediate hit, featuring collabs with rappers like Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott. But her album also features singles that hit home for a woman experiencing the turbulence of being in your twenties.
First, the single Supermodel empowers women to leave their shitty partners and analyze societal standards of beauty and relationships. She “writes a letter” to her current ex pointing out the fact that she’s really leaving this time and even though she’s upset that she can’t love herself without a partner, she’s happier in her insecurities than she is in a relationship that feeds them. The music video features her dancing with her younger self. Throughout the album, she discusses her insecurities in her beauty and body, a theme that’s relatable and empowering.
Then Broken Clocks describes the day to day of all work and no play and wishing you had just a moment to breathe. With lyrics like:
I don’t eat, can’t sleep past 9 AM
Heartbeat make me feel young again
Can’t beat ’em, just join the party
I don’t wanna, don’t need nobody
SZA describes the feelings of independence after having a “big girl job”. She’s exhausted and yet liberated.
Her singles Garden and Love Galore express the frustration of hoping to find a good fish in the sea and only reeling trash. In Garden, SZA vulnerably describes her list of traits her perfect partner would have. Again, she hopes her partner will reassure her despite her insecurities stating:
Call me on my bullshit
Lie to me and say my booty gettin’ bigger even if it ain’t
Love me even if it rain
Even when we’re “grown ups” we want someone to reassure us and tell us we’re beautiful when we don’t feel like it. SZA is raw and open about the low points of being a woman in your twenties, despite fame and success.
Finally, SZA ends the album with a track lamenting on those “20 Somethings”, offering her hopes and prayers for her twenties. One relatable line is
Hopin’ my 20 somethings won’t end
Hopin’ to keep the rest of my friends
Prayin’ the 20 somethings don’t kill me
The older we get, the more change we experience, from losing friends to losing ourselves, our twenties can be as rough as they are beautiful. SZA’s album is timeless because there’s a song for everything, from heartbreak to insecurity to that one tinder match you just can’t ghost hard enough, Ctrl is an album for everyone.
Shea Butter Baby
Next, Ari Lennox, an up and coming R&B singer released her debut album, Shea Butter Baby.
Each song flows into the next seamlessly, and you’ll find yourself dancing to the shared loneliness and frustration. Her album makes you want to drink a glass of wine while taking a bubble bath after a fresh mani-pedi.
In an interlude at the beginning of the album, Ari warns listeners that this isn’t a cute, poppy album. She states
I need to know if you guys are really ready to be my friend because it gets real, it gets gross, it gets terrifying.
First, her song Up Late delves into the juxtaposition between independence and loneliness. Even though she’s casually hooking up with someone and she really likes him, she doesn’t want to come off as clingy or needy by asking him to stay with her. She stays “up late again” with him getting closer as the more time she spends with him the more intimate and close she gets to him, and yet she still feels a tinge of loneliness described in Speak to Me.
In New Apartment, Ari celebrates the fact that she can “walk around naked” and blast music, but also how she keeps her lights off unless necessary because utilities are expensive. We’ve all been there: excited to live on our own but taken aback when we’re paying bills for our first time. Like SZA, Ari Lennox delves into the conflicting feelings of freedom and frustration we all experience in our twenties.
Finally, in I Been and Whipped Cream Ari gets real about the ways she deals with heartbreak, from toking it up to Tinder. Like SZA, she realizes that growing up means accepting loneliness over negative treatment from a romantic partner.
Our twenties aren’t one huge party like MTV makes us want to believe. Things get messy and ugly and exhausting, and that’s all a part of the experience. Albums like Ctrl and Shea Butter Baby prove to us that the negatives help us to appreciate the positives and we are not alone in our struggles. Most importantly, no matter what happens, you will live to eventually write a song about it.