Widespread success in 2017 apparently was not quite enough for SZA and Kendrick Lamar, as they needed to release a new song to start of 2018 on a high note. In their newest collaboration since the iconic “Doves in the Wind” off of SZA’s most recent album, CTRL, she and Kendrick have combined their lyrical and musical genius once again to bless the world with “All the Stars”. This song, to be featured on the soundtrack (produced by Kendrick himself) of the upcoming Black Panther movie, is a rhythmic ode to both hope and hopelessness in relationships.
The song begins with a hypnotic beat that lures the listener in to three minutes and fifty-five seconds of the perplexing and nebulous natures of love. Kendrick’s distorted voice enters the refrain with contemplative questions echoed throughout the song: “Is [love] anything and everything you hoped for? Or do the feeling haunt you?” SZA joins in with the power that she brings to every performance, answering Kendrick’s pessimism in a chorus full of hope and expectations, “This may be the night that my dreams might let me know/ All the stars are closer”.
Both Kendrick and SZA’s voices and lyrical styles complement each other effortlessly. The harshness and authority in his verses are balanced out by the angelic and dreamy nature of hers. Together, they tackle topics like inflated egos, societal expectations (and ignoring them altogether), emotionally abusive relationships from which there is no visible escape, and the termination of love that was doomed from the start. The range of emotions buried in this song is breathtaking. So much depth, so much life, so much love that has been lost.
While listening to this song with friends, a discussion exploring its sentimental qualities developed. One friend mentioned how it felt almost nostalgic – as if they have driven around their hometown late at night, windows rolled down, singing along to this song at the top of their lungs (a song that they were just now listening to for the first time). This feeling was affirmed by the rest of the group as well, and it brought me to question – “why?”. Of course, the familiarity could be coming from its slight repetitiveness, or its melodic and structural resemblance to other modern, popularized songs. However, after ruminating over this, I have come to the conclusion that the feelings that Kendrick and SZA convey through their lyrics feel so familiar because we have felt all of these emotions ourselves. We know every word because we have the same questions.
The same fears.
The same hopes and dreams.
Is love everything that it is intended to be? Does anyone really have the answers? The same hypnotic beat that opened the song is repeated identically at its closing, revealing that love is a turbulent cycle from which there is no apparent escape.
“All the Stars” is just another example of what it sounds like to have two passionate and talented individuals working together in perfect harmony, balancing each other out while also amplifying a central theme. Every time that this duo comes together to create, something magical happens. I am excited to see what new creations Kendrick and SZA will bring to the rest of 2018, and I don’t think it’s too early to say that this is going to be a great year for music.