SZA Isn’t Lonely All By Herself
This piece might end up being quite sexist. And: no, if you’re wondering if that’s the biggest sign in the world that it will be sexist, then you’re wrong- that’d be me declaring that “I’m not sexist, but…” or perhaps “Now, I don’t want to sound sexist…”.
Opening it with an admission that it “might end up being quite sexist” is the, like, sixth biggest warning sign of upcoming sexism. Fifth, at worst.
Just so you know I am a sexist, and in most of my correspondence I do want to sound sexist- because I’ve read a lot of Pick Up Artists’ books and it’s the best way to guarantee being absolutely drowned in minge- but I don’t wish to in this one piece. I mean, SZA has a bit of the look of a militant lesbian ‘Don’t Call Me Chick’ chick, doesn’t she? Don’t want to make her angry, she might be on her period or something.
OK: starting from now is the part that isn’t trying to be sexist, OK?
‘CTRL’ is such an emotionally engaging album with lyrics so nakedly and honestly evaluating human inner process that you would swear it was some record screamed into an empty Tennants can after some 1970s divorce by Neil Young (or perhaps a Necessary Evil entry where I’m struggling to think of anything to say about Wye Oak or someone and just shamelessly reference my suicide attempt for the 4’274th time) rather than (ostensibly) an R&B album. I felt the lyrical content was so powerful and (to a middle class white boy) unanticipated that I felt it deserved me to actually pay attention to it in a review. Which, if you’re paying notice, you’ll notice I’ve not actually bothered to do since way back when PJ Harvey was No.79 last year (and even that was only to say they were shit. Love you Peej!!).
Now, this leads me into what I believe is the delicate (like snow) position where good old fashioned misogyny might flower and blossom. No, not bad sexism! I’m way too much of a nice guy to be a bad sexist! I open doors for women! I would have voted for a female MP if they were allowed! I would almost definitely never rape a woman! I mean, like properly rape her: the stupid cows seem to be calling everything rape these days, ammi right, lads?! I even wear a ‘This Is What a Feminist Looks Like’ T-shirt, even though I’m a bloke! You’d think that would guarantee me pootang pie left right and centre, but nope: the dirty little sluts really do prefer bad boys, don’t they? Which I’m not. I’m a nice guy!
OK: starting now…
No, I’m more worried of becoming one of nice misogynists. As Jaclyn Friedman puts it: “Benevolent sexism says that real men protect “good women”, who are morally superior angels living on uncomfortably narrow pedestals. It’s a kinder, gentler way to force three-dimensional women into two-dimensional boxes and strip us of our humanity.”
‘CTRL’ is explicitly about being a woman. Specifically, the stresses and weariness of being a 20 something woman in the early 21st century. Now, of course that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it, and the fact it’s this high proves it’s no barrier to me absolutely freaking loving it. I loved ‘50 Song Memoir‘ despite being far from 50 years old (I am far, far, far closer to SZAs age, honestly!). I (kinda) enjoyed ‘Teenage Emotions’ despite being neither teenage nor in any way emotional. I loved ‘World Eater‘ despite never eating any worlds. I loved ‘Gargoyle‘ despite not being a grotesque carved human or animal face or figure projecting from the gutter of a building, typically acting as a spout to carry water clear of a wall. It does, however, mean that if I were to discuss many of the album’s key points and ideas I could only do by either accepting that these kinds of thoughts are exclusive to SZA (Sarah Zebidiah Aarons to her Mum) that no other woman could possibly relate to and stroke my beard in appreciation of what a curious little thing she is. Or I could just prove how much of an awesome guy I am, and make grand sweeping assumptions about roughly 50% of the entire world.
“Hey, girls, I really understand what you’re going through, yeah? I’m one of the good guys! Have sex with me instead!”
(That’s literally what every male review of this album boils down to, by the way. These men are the actual worst)
I honestly have no idea if SZA’s feeling widely relate to any other woman in the world. Except one.
Buckle up, boys and girls, I’m about to talk about Hejjy again.
After my suicide attempt– which I never admitted was a suicide attempt to her because it would have absolutely destroyed her- Hejjy still spoke to me every day. We’d usually Skype between 4 and 5pm, which would be between 11 and midnight in China. She would ask me every time when I was coming back to China. I told her I didn’t know. If she asked me today, my desire to go back would be at similar heights, but my answer would still be the same: I have no idea if I’ll ever be physically recovered enough.
These talks would be the highlight of my day when they started. How could they not? I was lying in a hospital bed and eventually sitting on my own at my Mum’s house without any clear idea of what I was going to do for the rest of my life. Not just unsure of my long term plans- my long term plan to this day is to recover enough to go back to China-, I mean what was I possibly going to do this week? Tomorrow? For the rest of the day? Why am I getting up tomorrow morning? Yet once a day I got to talk live to a hot young Asian girl via webcam, and didn’t even need to give her my credit card details (she even took her clothes off occasionally). She wanted to do this.
She wanted to do it.
She wanted to do it.
She wanted to do it?
This started to eat away at me. Of course I wanted to talk to her: I was a disabled fat ginger bloke with very few if any redeeming features still working and she was an impossibly cute and sexy woman in her 20s who would be by far and away the most beautiful eligible woman in all of Kuitun. I began to realise that, through staying incredibly loyal to me and forsaking all others for the benefit of my pathetic cyber company for a few hours a day: Hejjy was wasting her life.
With each call, I grew more and more resentful of the time she devoted to me. She was a beautiful young woman absolutely wasting her life on a fucking lost cause like me.
“When are you coming back?”
“I don’t know…”
Hejjy managed to save up enough money for a Visa to come and visit me in Manchester. My mother swore an undertaking that she would cover all costs involved and give her free accommodation for as many of the six months she was allowed that she decided to spend in the country. The nearest British embassy where Hejjy would be able to apply for a Visa was in Beijing (3’421 km away). I decided to visit Beijing too, so we could be together in China again before she visited me in the UK. Hejjy stole her passport from her mother’s house, who would never allow her daughter dangerous temptations of vices that lay in foreign lands. Hejjy had once got a 30 hour train to secretly visit Xi’An, where her boyfriend at the time was studying at university. Her mother found out about it and phoned to shout abuse at Hejjy, screaming what a deplorable and dishonest act she had pulled on her. Hejjy got off the train at Xi’An, then immediately got on one heading back to Kuitun. 60 hours in the life of a young Chinese woman with pious Muslim parents.
Being in China with Hejjy made me extraordinarily depressed, as I was constantly reminded of how far I’d fallen physically since I lived there with her. One night I wet the bed we shared in a hotel, a byproduct of my disability that I had yet to fully get under control. She hugged me and kissed me and said it was alright, that she didn’t care. This was bullshit. She cared. She hated this physical monstrosity, a crude Plasticine mockery of the man she once loved. She had to.
Her Visa was rejected. Despite all the proof she had furnished with the application of her long term job and housing plans in Kuitun, and despite having all the information about the two British people vouching for her and giving the details of exactly where she would stay and the bank details of the person willing to cover her costs, they thought she was likely not planning to go back to China. They were probably right. I’m not sure I would have let her leave. The day after she left the UK I would have probably attempted suicide again. So, y’know, every cloud…
This is actually a very close one: K-os’s 2009 OC-sampler is actually one of the most undervalued and underappreciated rap anthems of the 21st century, and I’ve just craved an excuse to bring more attention to it for the last 9 years! Drew Barrymore, however, just edges it, being as it is not only the greatest song on one of the year’s best albums, but one of my favourite songs in 2017 full stop.
SZA Wins!! +100
She would later admit that in her application she had slipped in a few photos of me at death’s door in Urumqi hospital in May 2013. I think she was worried that they wouldn’t be convinced that she really wanted to come. People in China, such a developed and advanced country in so many ways, can’t really understand that the main barrier to visiting Britain is that we’re paranoid that you’d never return to your shit hole of a homeland.
After that, it was the end. I just never told her this. I couldn’t freakin’ break up with her, could I?? Firstly, how could I thank her for almost psychopathic devotion and dedication by dumping her?? And secondly: if a guy broke up with you and tried to convince you it was because ‘you deserve much better than me, and the thought of you wasting your best years on me is actually the most depressing thing in my life. A life which, let’s not forget, is really fucking depressing’, would you buy it?
No, of course you wouldn’t, because that sounds like such bullshit, doesn’t it? I knew that she’d just hear me trying to think up ridiculously pretentious ways to dump her and not being brave enough to tell her the truth. That she’s not more attractive, that she’s not more ladylike, that she doesn’t shave her legs at night. That her breath stinks of roasted mutton (#InventiveAndCulturallyAppropriateRacism). She needed my support now (now, now, now, now, now) and knew that I’d rather be layin’ up with some big boobies.
So, I did the proper and respectful thing: I kept the longest of long range relationships going (a long range relationship that wasn’t working for either of us when I was 244.3 km away, never mind seven and a half thousand miles) but made sure that I was never happy when I spoke to her, constantly reminded her of how much she was wasting her time, and made sure to always list the exact reasons that staying with me would mean giving up on all her dreams. For the first time, we’d go several days, even occasionally a week without talking. She would phone my mobile to complain of how we hadn’t spoken for such a long time, I would tell her I was busy and finish the call as soon as I could.
It worked. She phoned me eventually and told me that she’d slept with somebody else, someone also from the Hui ethnicity that her mother had introduced her to. This was the excuse I’d been wishing for: I told her that we were finished. Now, my misery and self-hatred was all mine! The next I heard from her was an email in January 2016:
That is cold, but entirely warranted. Like a cease and desist letter from Mr Freeze after spending more than 20 years making jokes about how bad Arnold Schwartzenegger’s lines were in ‘Batman and Robin’ like I was a fucking comedy genius who was the only one who’d noticed them.
Later that year, out of sheer boredom (I was on £120 a week ESA disability benefits back then) I joined a back to work class and through a patronising exercise teaching the unemployed how to look for jobs online I came across the job of ‘Immigration Adviser’. I hadn’t previously known the job even existed, but it straight away became all that I wanted to be. I could offer advice that might stop the actual, not exaggerated heart ache that Hejjy and I had experienced the year before. I saw that I needed to be OISC registered, so borrowed £500 off my Dad to attend a course in London that summer.
Halfway through the first day of the course on Saturday, I realised not just what mistakes were made on Hejjy’s application (I kind of knew that already) but how that, actually, because of my disability payments, I actually earned enough money to sponsor Hejjy to come over and live with me.
I had no contact with Hejjy, but I sent messages to all the people that knew us both in China telling them that I needed to speak to her as a matter of urgency. I found out that her wedding was the very next day.
Hejjy rang me early the next morning, what must have been just before her wedding in the afternoon in China. I explained that she could come and live with me. I explained it badly though, I explained it completely wrongly, even suggesting that she would need to become a refugee. She wouldn’t, she could have just come over. This is why you need to be fully certified before being allowed to give immigration advice.
She said she couldn’t, thankfully. And that was it.
Now, I wish that she was still with me for two reasons:
- I am actually a fully accredited immigration adviser now, and could actually legally tell her how best to come back to me
- I could listen to SZA’s incredible album with her
‘CTRL’ often sounds like it’s broadcast straight from Hejjy’s personal psychodrama. It details all the anxieties, self-doubt, bodily and social doubts that I know Hejjy had. It details the very same insecurities and flaws Hejjy would admit she possessed that would need to be worked around. I have no idea how it relates to any other woman in the world. But it’s perfect for her.
Age: 27 (+0)
Album Number: 1
Album Length: 49 minutes (+0)
Very Good Songs: 0
Brilliant Songs: 12 (+240)
AMAZING Songs: 2 (+80)
% of Album Worthwhile: 100
Previous Entries: NONE
Meta Critic: 86