Strength in Vulnerability: SZA

                  We are human, prone to imperfections and emotional experiences, yet our source of bliss and purpose lies solely in our ability to connect. The ability to perceive emotions on a profound level is the backbone of humanity, drawing us closer to understanding ourselves and others. As social beings, without true human connection on an emotional, social, and physical level, we are deprived of the true happiness in this interdependent world. It may not be easy to let the external world see what is going on in the personal mind; simply, it may be difficult to be vulnerable. Often times, vulnerability is perceived as submitting oneself in a position susceptible for public scrutiny based on failures, insecurities, mistakes, and etc. Those who act on this view look to alieve themselves from this misery and fail to accept these feelings and circumstances. They then enter into a cycle of numbing, where external means are used to suppress such feelings in hopes of their extinction. However, as Brené Brown, referred to as a “research story teller” indicates in her TedTalk, individuals cannot selectively numb emotions. Without recognition of unpleasant feelings and through the use of numbing methods, the individual is then deprived of all the wonderful emotions, experiences, and relationships that come about as a result of this indulgence. Brown reveals her study she conducted, where she asked individuals to reveal their life story. She then witnessed something notable within the category of people she considered to be “wholehearted”; these individuals all seemed to contain a deep sense of worthiness. A question is then asked why some individuals attain a deep sense of worthiness, while within others, such feelings are completely absent. It then became apparent that those who felt the worthiest of connection were those who had the courage to be imperfect. Those who were most sincere to themselves and vulnerable created the deepest and most meaningful connections with others. Those who exposed their true emotions felt pain, yet found beauty in self-realization and creativity. Despite how individuals attempt to appear to the public, humans are bound to imperfections from birth. Not one individual can relate to perfection, and as individuals attempt to showcase their lives as a gold plated reality, the fewer people will connect with.

                One common outlet of expression and creativity may be through music. Music produced by artists is controlled by the music industry, which maintains great influence on popular culture. Within the music industry resides the artists, or rather celebrities. Celebrities are in fact humans, despite their super-human qualities and lifestyle. Often times, the industry desires to commercialize off the artist, creating a certain image that will appeal to a specific audience, rather than revealing their true self. Frequently, music labels focus on the pure marketing aspect of the celebrity, determining the age, style, and content of their music. It is apparent that given all these generalized, mass produced styles, the celebrity is not truly a human, rather an image perceived by the media. In direct relation to the discussion of vulnerability, without the artist’s acknowledgment of their true emotions, circumstances, and creativity, true connection to their audience seizes to exist. We all can enjoy an upbeat pointless song about being the best but in reality, these fun pop music songs last as long as the next one is released, and the audience fails to exemplify a deep connection with the artist. The same can be applied to songs that appear to discuss heartbreak. Given the song is greatly ambiguous and clearly attempts to appeal to a broad range of circumstances, it fails to receive a profound connection. The releasing of songs without depth or true meaning lack the permanence of both the music and artist. For example, boy bands historically have taken a similar approach, where young attractive boys are artificially arranged in a group to release music and merchandise that will appeal to a young female audience. It is true that these artists/bands do reach a level of material success for a certain period of time; however, they fail to make long-lasting and profound impacts on their audiences’ lives. Concepts such as “one hit wonder” directly relate to this notion as the lack of originality and depth to music may grant some success; however, it will be soon forgotten.

                Despite the artificially created celebrity images and content created by the industry, specific artists historically and presently diverge from this ideal. One newly popular artist in particular that directly exposes the power of vulnerability is SZA. SZA is unique in this respect since the audience can witness a contrast and growth between the two albums she released. Initially, SZA released an album titled “Z”, which she describes as ambiguous and metaphorical, greatly contrasting with her newly released album “Ctrl”, reaching far more success. It is apparent that the greatest contrast one can witness between the albums is how incredibly honest she is in “Ctrl”. SZA reveals all her issues from insecurity, infidelity, to femininity that are frequently glossed over in songs. Through researching the reviews of this album, a common theme was revealed in all the reviews; the public applauds and connects to SZA’s vulnerability. Critics state how her music allows them to admit various circumstances they refuse to acknowledge themselves, which in turn creates a deeper connection with her fan base. The loyalty of her fan base may be derived from her fearless display of both the good and bad circumstances that have entered her life, exposing her humanity and allowing others to connect. Regardless if an individual can directly relate to the topics of discussion in her music, one can distinctly feel the authentic emotion in her music and can relate on a pure emotional basis. SZA’s success and loyal fan base is a testament to her sincerity, authenticity, and vulnerability. Through the example of artists such as SZA, it is important to be seen, present, and share oneself with others since the fear of disapproval should not deprive one from experiencing the most valuable gift of life. Our difficult emotions remind us of our humanity; our pain is a source of creativity; and our vulnerability is the origin of our purpose, human connection. From the words of poet E.E Cummings, “Exists no miracle mightier than this: to feel.”

 by Claudia Morgan