written by Marquis “Mr. Qwes” Johnson
Our worst selves in the most beautiful form.
A haunting yet beautiful guitar riff introduces this song. It’s somehow comforting and unsettling all at once. I wait anxiously for SZA to resolve this discomfort. Instead she opens up with a melody and lyrics that seem completely contrasting:
I’m writing a letter to let you know I’m really leaving
And no I’m not keeping your shit
The melody of this line is incredible, the syncopation is one I would have never guessed for this riff, and I’m slightly startled by the candor. Where’s the poetry I was used to from this artist? You begin to think that although it is melodically interesting, you may have already heard this song before from the Marys and Keyshia Coles of the world and you may have been let down. Fortunately the melody and sound are so unique that you continue to listen.
She tells her love interest that she knows about his new homies, hobbies, and hoes. She welcomes him to leave her and go to that hoe. It seemingly has the normal ingredients of a strong black woman who is unphased by her boyfriend’s cheating ways. She even admits to some revenge cheating with one of his friends on Valentines Day while he’s in Vegas presumably also cheating. Then a shift happens. Almost suddenly this display of strength and fortitude gets disrupted by self defeating thoughts:
Why am I so easy to forget like that?
It can’t be that easy for you to get like that
In these two lines SZA lets us know that this is not your average breakup song and there is a deeper layer here.
Leave me lonely for prettier women
The song has taken a turn and there is much more vulnerability. She let’s us be okay with saying that we’ve been hurt. She details her hurts and needs.
Then comes the definitive lines of this song:
I could be your supermodel if you believe
If you see it in me, see it in me, see it in me
I don’t see myself
These words completely crush me. How many of us have gotten into love relationships for approval and validation? We often look to our significant others to provide in the areas we fall short.
Why I can’t stay alone just by myself?
Wish I was comfortable just with myself
But I need you, but I need you, but I need you
In these lines SZA shows us that this song is not about a breakup, a relationship, nor the wrongdoings of an ex lover. It is about our relationship with ourselves. It’s about what happens when we do not value ourselves and we wait for others to do that work for us.
The song’s execution is quite compelling in the way that it musically accomplishes what it lyrically sets out to do. SZA takes this very basic guitar riff and uniquely stretches and reshapes its potential by singing creative melodies and shifting rhythms. She uses her voice to show us that there is more to this instrumentation than what we may initially hear just like there is more to a breakup than we may initially feel. What began as a story about settling the score with a lover morphed into a song about examining ourselves and professing truths about our own insecurities. In this examination we may all conclude that our relationship with love is less about those we choose to share it with and more about the way we love ourselves.
Every creative choice of this song is purposeful and intentional. That is apparent in the way she colors each word and plays with the tone of each line. By the end of the song we understand why SZA wants us to be unsettled. There is no resolve. Our stream of consciousness tends not to be linear. We are complicated beings and our emotions are often all over the place. It is difficult to capture our true nature in 3 minutes but SZA does this beautifully. She has only identified these concerns and doesn’t pretend to have resolved these issues. It is the most honest breakup song I’ve heard and it truly sets the tone for the rest of the album.
The song ends with the same riff now accompanied by a light drum pattern. Her last lines are “But I need you…” which contradicts the message at the beginning of the song. This is followed by a haunting vocal riff in the background letting us know that we are still unsettled and unresolved but reassures us that this is okay.
Marquis “Mr. Qwes” Johnson is a singer, songwriter, musician, producer, arranger, and recording artist from the Greater Hartford area. He is also an educator, community activist, and global citizen. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram at @Mr. Qwes, and via his website at www.MrQwes.com.