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Good 2010s Vibes (Part 2)

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In the second installment of the Music Beat’s top ten albums of the 2010s listicle, Timothy Dai ’23 reflects upon the emotional valences of SZA, Kamilah Arteaga ’22 considers the vulnerability of Tyler the Creator and Natalie Francis ’22 reviews the “Truth Hurts” flute-playing, twerk and rap queen Lizzo:

No. 4 SZA’s “Ctrl” (2017) 

It’s hard not to fall in love with SZA after listening to “Ctrl” (2017). The New Jersey singer’s debut album crafts an intimate, wise and at times shocking epic of modern love, one that spotlights narratives usually kept concealed. On “The Weekend,” SZA details how it feels being the other woman — complete with all its convoluted emotions and moments of dark comedy. She bitterly admits to cheating on “Supermodel,” and on “Go Gina,” she cheers on a TV-show character who, like her, has trouble relinquishing control. SZA has such an emotionally precise colloquialism that it now defines her signature songwriting style, an eccentricity matched only by “Ctrl”‘s innovative R&B instrumentation. The smooth bass drones on “Love Galore” accentuate SZA’s dismissive seduction, while “Anything”’s crisp snare drums and harp strums lend itself an other-dimensionality, as she posits that only in another dimension could she be desirable. Every cut seems to embrace its own distinct vibe; what gives “Ctrl” cohesion is SZA’s voice, which carries a subtle, tangy rasp, showcased most prominently on the self-doubtful yet grand chorus of “Drew Barrymore.” In the remaining seconds of the album, SZA discusses the matter of ‘control’ in a phone conversation with her mother. Here, the album’s thesis becomes clear: SZA’s attitude toward control is now how it should be, one balanced between desperation and contentment. As their conversation begins to fade, we make out SZA’s final words to her romantic saga, and in turn, to our listening experience, “That was beautiful mommy, that was perfect.”

No. 5 Tyler the Creator’s “Flower Boy” (2017) 

“Flower Boy” (2017) is the fourth album by Tyler Okonma, known to the world as Tyler, the Creator.  Not only did this album debut at number two on the US Billboard 200, but it also held widespread critical and public acclaim.  This album is masterful—the lyrics, the composition—every part of this project was done carefully, aware of each decision and placement.  Yet it still feels raw, emotional, deep and even dark at times. It screams both “f*ck it and do what you want! Don’t worry about anyone,” and “Who am I? How am I feeling? How can I grow?” With its concept built around flowers, gardens and growth both figuratively and emotionally, “Flower Boy” feels very different and much more mature than Tyler’s older works. The tracks “Foreword” and “Where This Flower Blooms” are perfect to start the album and get the listener into Tyler’s mindset, sparking questions about one’s existence and bringing you along with Tyler through his stream of consciousness. Tyler sings about his loneliness and confusion, and more importantly, how he can grow into the person / artist that he wants to be. The singles “See You Again,” “911 / Mr. Lonely” and “Boredom” shine the most with the intricate weaving of chords, melodies, bridges, loops and beats capturing the slow yet clear transformation of Tyler’s mindset and his musical skills.  Beautiful songs like “Garden Shed” and “Glitter” show just what he can do with a variety of instruments, chords and choruses. Listening to the album in its entirety, you get the sense that “Flower Boy” is a diary — each song is a bloomed idea that was carefully planted and nurtured to create the whole garden of Tyler’s consciousness.  It shows growth, not just musically, but personally — which was quite surprising to many given that his past work was not on the same level of emotional investment.  Tyler’s “Flower Boy” has shown the world the extent of his focus and dedication and while his journey of self-awareness is not finished, he definitely has learned a lot along the way. 

No. 6 Lizzo’s “Cuz I Love You” (2019) 

A testimony to body-positivity, sexuality and self-love in its truest sense of the word, American rap sensation Lizzo’s third studio album “Cuz I Love You” (2019) takes no prisoners. Featuring raggy piano riffs, flute tremolos, wicked percussion, electric guitar reels and legendary guest appearances by Missy Eliot and Gucci Mane, Lizzo shows off her musical ingenuity while showcasing her sassy, smart lyrics. Before “Gaieties 2019″ debuted on campus this week, the titular track featured the best repurposing of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” theme by Lizzo as she literally cries “I’m crying cuz I love you” for an ex-flame over sharp trap beats. The bubbly bop “Juice” and the defiant over-everyone-but-me anthem, “Soulmate,” proudly spell out what it means to love your self — body and soul — to catchy guitar riffs and percussive techno beats. Lyrics such as “It ain’t my fault that I’m out here gettin’ loose/gotta blame it on my juice” and “cause I’m my own soulmate/I know how to love me/and I’m always gonna hold me down” playfully express female sexuality and empower the plus-sized female body to dance and romance. A tonal shift occurs with the slowed-down, soulful ode to an ex “Jerome” while the frenetic, gospel piano and pop organ of “Heaven Help Me” sees Lizzo admit “If love ain’t dead I’ma kill it ‘cause it’s killin’ me.” Rounded out by the banger “Tempo” with Lizzo and Missy rapping about big girls getting freaky, the explicitly-sensual “Lingerie,” the ode to loving the rainbow spectrum “Better in Color” and the snappy girl-power of “Like A Girl,” Lizzo captures all facets of sex-positive femininity. Whether you love her for her body-positivity, self-love or incredible vibes, no 2010s musical review would be complete without the woman whose sleeper hit “Truth Hurts” (2017) two years later rules the music scene.

Contact Natalie Francis at natfran ‘at’ stanford.edu, Timothy Dai at timdai ‘at’ stanford.edu and Kamilah Arteaga at kam412 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Hey all! I love getting to know student musicians and music groups on campus and listening to a variety of music genres. I'd love to talk to you about anything related to music - whether that be your current favorite artist or genre or your love-hate relationship with Spotify.