SZA materializes on screen like a mistake.
When she appears, her brown skin is bound with a black garment, her hair combed out and floating about her head like a wayward crown. She blinks wearily, her body a fluid current interrupted by a poor connection. This frame skips and starts anew, and, at first, I understand it to be a glitch; perhaps if I just reposition my modem, the Internet will resolve this endless buffering. Then, an anchored subtitle answers all questions.
“One opted out,” the text boasts in neon yellow, recalling a tweet SZA—born Solána Imani Rowe—made back in July. “An imbalance of power, shifted the whole tide. It waved and waved.”
The music video for “The Weekend,” a Grammy-nominated standout track from the singer’s critically acclaimed debut album, Ctrl, dropped last week to the dubiety of the masses. Directed by Solange Knowles—and visibly so—SZA is propped against a series of dreamy landscapes, her movements catastrophically beautiful and sultry. Throughout the video, she is water; gesticulating outside a monolithic building, twirling inside a dim art gallery, her torso a whir of erotics. At one point, she gracefully shuffles over an oversize chessboard in a parking garage, fitted in a clear leotard and stilettos, suggesting she is playing some sort of game ad infinitum.
But similar to Solange’s A Seat at the Tablevisualcatalogue, the video lacks any true narrative in spite of the vivid imagery summoned by the song lyrics: “My man is my man, is your man/ Heard it’s her man, too/ Tuesday and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday/ I just keep him satisfied through the weekend.”
“Anyone else think Solange sabotaged SZA? I can’t believe she went along with this,” yells one fan in the comment section on YouTube. “I think all music videos should play out to the song instead of them just dancing pointlessly,” says another, punctuating the admission with a facepalm emoji. And these frustrations aren’t unsubstantiated—in cyberspace, “The Weekend” had come to be recognized as a “side-chick anthem,” despite SZA’s reservations.
SZA…..sis…..that is really what you gave us for your The Weekend music video…..dancing in a fucking parking garage? No side chicks? No fine ass leading man? Just throwing your arms around on top of a building? pic.twitter.com/6K3XYeJO7D
— I Luh God ✨ (@aVeryRichBish) December 22, 2017
SZA oversimplified The Weekend Video. We needed content, we needed drama, we needed storytelling. We needed more energy, anything but what she gave us pic.twitter.com/WtW0q9UpmT
— This Woman (@KingThandie) December 22, 2017
But while this living tableau may not have been what fans wanted, it was certainly what SZA and Solange had envisioned.
“Having one person seems like a restriction, like a limitation,” SZA told Vulture way back when her album was first released. And she makes this impossibly clear. Here, SZA refuses to be restricted by the presence of a man. In this consensual triangular affair, she opts out of romance in favour of physical pleasure. And when the natural order is disrupted, the consequences are both fatal and immediate. In retreating, she sabotages the rotation and births an imbalance of power, giving no man control over her body and emotions. And with this newly acquired dominance, SZA complicates the dynamics of this sexual relationship, ultimately maintaining control over its life and expiry.
“I feel like ‘side chick’ is a male-bred term,” she told the Breakfast Club back in June. “What I’m actually saying in the song is…we all share the same dude and I’m aware, I don’t care. I don’t need to be his girl… I think it’s taking the power back. Women are supposed to cry and feel weird… but it doesn’t matter. Enjoy your life and focus on what’s important to you.”
“The Weekend” is not about a man so much as it’s about self-preservation. When Solange deploys her beloved zoom-in-zoom-out technique, she is liberating; constructing new contexts and spaces for her subject to occupy. It quickly becomes clear that in this utopian visual universe, there is only room for this version of SZA — an iteration that is both omniscient and supreme, existing in service only of herself and her libido. Phallocentricity is instead replaced by a focus on Solána, and everything she comprises. All that remains must wilt and fall away, until only SZA remains, dancing in her world alone. And with this, the video masterfully captures all the sensuality and sexuality of “The Weekend” without the physical act of sex itself. In this world, SZA comes into her power, reclaiming both her time and her space. And there’s no man in this world who can take that from her.