When SZA dropped her first album, Ctrl, this summer, she didn’t think it would make a ripple. “A warm reception is a quantum leap over what I was expecting,” says the singer born Solána Rowe. “I was prepared to be like, ‘Take your L and go get better.'”

She was dead wrong: The woozy R&B set not only earned rave reviews and debuted in the top five on the Billboard 200, it also scored five Grammy nominations — the most for any woman this year. “It’s too much to understand,” the 28-year-old says. “I wish I had worked on my confusion before [this interview] because I’m still utterly confused!” (The singer went home emptyhanded after the male-dominated ceremony on Jan. 28.)

And while she’s ear-to-ear smiles now, the journey to Ctrl was often frustrating. More than once fans saw SZA call out her label, Top Dawg Entertainment, on Twitter over repeated release-date delays, and she says there were other sources of stress behind the scenes, “like me being afraid that the mix wasn’t right or [worried about] a key song being taken away.”

SZA’s at peace with it now: “This timing was perfect. It’s all part of this macrocosm; you have to just let it all go.” That sounds pretty Zen until she adds, laughing, “Hopefully we get to the next one sooner, because that was some bulls—!”

To hear more from EW’s breakout star of the year, watch the video above.