Lyrics That Changed Me: self-worth and ‘Drew Barrymore’ by SZA

Why is it so hard to accept the party is over?
You came with your new friends
And her mom jeans and her new Vans
And she's perfect and I hate it

the album Ctrl by SZA was released a few months before i began my first year of university. that first year was a lonely time, with much of it spent alone and depressed. it felt like no one wanted me around.

then he – let’s call him D – came along. D made me feel desired for once. after months of pining for someone who didn’t return my texts, after years of receiving no romantic attention at school, finally i could have the fantasy. i wanted to be the girl in the mum jeans and the new Vans, the one he’d brag about to his friends. that’s how it’s meant to be, isn’t it? the girl he’d bring to every party he went to after the one we hooked up at.

Am I…
Warm enough for ya outside baby, yeah
(Tell me that it's warm enough here for ya)
Is it warm enough for ya inside me, me, me, me?
Warm enough for ya outside baby, yeah
(Tell me that it's warm enough here for ya)
Warm enough outside, inside me, me, me, me

during the weeks that D and i dated, i’d sit in my dorm room and listen to this over and over and think about how i wanted to be the ideal girl for him. even if it wasn’t natural to me, i could provide that warmth, nourishment and sexuality. maybe, if i made sure i was enough, he wouldn’t abandon me. i hadn’t been this far with anyone else. i even told my friends and my mum about him.

at nineteen, i was so insecure in myself, in my body and in the world around me. the closest friend i had at university walked out. because she – without my knowledge – had been hooking up with him too. they had ended it the night before D and I hooked up. she was the one i’d pined over for months. here was a man who, somehow, openly wanted me. so i put all my eggs into his basket and crossed my heart and told myself to get it together so i wouldn’t ruin this too.

I get so lonely, I forget what I'm worth
We get so lonely, we pretend that this works
I'm so ashamed of myself, think I need therapy-y-y-y
I'm sorry I'm not more attractive
I'm sorry I'm not more ladylike
I'm sorry I don't shave my legs at night

looking back, this song puts my time with D into perspective. it seems all i was to him was a bit of warmth – something he could grab and pull and press until he got his fill. when you’re in the moment and you’re desperate enough, it’s easy to overlook the red flags. i was already drowning; i didn’t know how to take care of myself. but i couldn’t shake the feeling when he tried to coerce me in my own dorm room to sleep with him. i was tired. i was vulnerable. he left after he realised he wouldn’t get what he wanted. i had a lecture after, and spent the whole time in a daze, feeling sick.

i told him we should stop seeing each other, that he had made me uncomfortable and i couldn’t continue. to him, i was another overreacting female blowing his actions out of proportion. i deleted his number and tried to move on, tried to shake the feeling of being used and dehumanised.

part of me couldn’t bear to accept the party was over. because what if i’d never get taken to a party again? what if he was the only one who would want me, and my silly feelings got in the way? he was so blasé about it ending. why didn’t he ask for my forgiveness? beg me to take him back? was i ever enough?

'Cause it's hard enough you got to treat me like this
Lonely enough to let you treat me like this
Do you really love me?
Or just wanna love me down, down, down, down?

it was in the aftermath that the song took on new meaning. what it spoke to was the pressure for women to define ourselves through our relationships with men, and how destructive that can be when a relationship becomes unbalanced or falls through. her introspective, confessional lyrics, switching between anger and subdued sadness. it felt like i was having the pages of my diary sung to me. at a time when I felt too uncomfortable and ashamed to tell the people close to me, this song saw what i was going through.

A few months later I saw SZA live at a festival. I’d pleaded with my friends to make sure we saw her set, not being able to articulate why I was so attached to her music. She didn’t perform ‘Drew Barrymore’ – it’s hardly a festival song, and it would have probably been too much for me. But believe me when I say I lost my voice at her set, screaming my gratitude, my survival. I’d made it through.

I write this two years on, out of university and in a healthy, loving relationship. What do the lyrics mean to me now? SZA remains one of my most-listened-to artists, and I still get goosebumps from hearing the song. It came up on shuffle recently while I was with my partner and it felt very poignant. What I’m reminded of is a person who was going through a lot, who didn’t have the tools to realise her self-worth. It’s easy for me to beat myself up for not looking after myself more back then – but the lyrics remind me how all women are taught this same shame and insecurity. Unlearning it is a process, and so was defining myself beyond my romantic relationships. I forgive myself now. D never apologised, so he’ll never know my forgiveness (I saw him after, at yet another party with yet another girl; my lack of jealousy tasted like freedom).

The line that still stands out to me is ‘Do you really love me? / Or just wanna love me down, down, down, down?’ When it came to D, I now know the answer to that question. I’m reminded of another line, by Toni Morrison: “I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it.” A relationship shouldn’t weigh down on you or make you feel lower. I really love my partner and I really love myself, and those relationships elevate me. I am enough.

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