Fans scream S.O.S. after SZA’s resurgence in the music industry

SZA’s anticipated comeback is here in the form of her new album “SOS” and she’s not holding back as she scrutinizes her self-worth, respect and freedom. 

Roman Pallotto, Editor in Chief

After a buildup of over five years, SZA’s lyrical prowess returns to grace the minds of all who listen to her sophomore album “SOS.” This album has arrived with the necessary affirmations for all of the self-doubting, melancholy fans who needed it most. Her notorious ability to finesse her voice into the tracks has not vanished, and fans can tell. 

The album was released on December 9 and includes a whopping twenty three tracks in total. This is almost double the amount of her previous album “CTRL” which was released in 2017 and consists of fourteen sentimental tracks discussing how self-love can open humans up to their mistakes and heartbreaks. Her discography also includes her EP “Z” that feels more remote compared to her recent two albums because of its laid back, minimalist vibe. 

There has never been a clear date of when the anticipation for “SOS” began. Because of SZA’s independent nature regarding when she releases her music, fans never know what to expect.

The first single of the album ,“Good Days,” was released on Christmas Day in 2020 and the following singles were released periodically about a year in between each other. However, fans always thought these to be stand alone singles and never associated them with a new album. The most recent single in particular though, “Shirt,” was hinted at almost two years ago in the “Good Days” music video. Fans begged for the release of this song and after about a year grew tired of the holdup. Thankfully, on October 28, SZA released the song and it was after this point where fans definitely knew an album was coming. The last moment of anticipation before the release of the album came when SZA tweeted the tracklist on Twitter a few days prior to the release date displaying all of the track names, amount of songs and featured artists on the album. 

But she’s not done advertising this album yet. On the day of the album’s release SZA posted to Instagram thanking her management, family, friends and all who played a role in releasing the album to the public. At the end of the caption she wrote, “Ps. Deluxe out soon.” It seems as though she is following the recent bandwagon of releasing the deluxe version of an album soon after the original release date rather than a year or two after. 

Regarding the recent album, SZA incorporated numerous artistic choices into her work to really convey the message behind the music. The cover picture for “SOS” was inspired by a photograph of Princess Diana sitting on the edge of a yacht encompassed by the vast ocean around her. The picture was taken one week before her death and was utilized in the album because of the loneliness Lady Diana exuded. The album also includes various samples from artists like Beyoncé, Masego, Webster Lewis, the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard and even SZA herself. Fans also pointed out that the sample in the first track, “SOS”, which is from Masego’s song “Navajo,” was also used in well-known rapper, Drake’s, most recent album “Certified Lover Boy.” 

The album consists of four featured artists: Don Toliver, Phoebe Bridgers, Travis Scott and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Out of these artists the one who peaked everyone’s interest was the indie rock musician Phoebe Bridgers. No one, including myself, ever expected for these two artists to collaborate. After viewing the tracklist for the album I wondered how their two contrasting genres of music would merge into one another. Although, after listening to their track “Ghost in the Machine” I was surprised to find that they beautifully integrated their talents into a song about feeling restrained by the music industry and how that restraint affects their humanity. One thing about Bridgers and SZA is that combining their skills of lyricism is not for the inexperienced. 

A few of the tracks on the album also made direct references to certain movies in pop culture. Specifically, “Kill Bill” and “Gone Girl” both discuss topics related to revenge, disappearance and isolation that are similarly seen in the films “Kill Bill” and “Gone Girl.” 

The album itself is composed of both artistic risks and simplicities that were unexpected yet fitting considering her past discography. One song in particular completely caught me off guard because of the genre it falls under. SZA is known as an R&B artist, someone whose musical style is influenced by African American culture and consists of rhythmic, jazzy frameworks. The thirteenth track of the album “F2F” completely sets aside all of those assumptions established from her artistry and throws them out the window. This grunge, punk-rock tune transforms SZA into a considerably versatile artist who is not afraid to let loose of expectations. She takes her versatility a step further with tracks like “SOS,” “Smoking on my Ex Pack” and “Forgiveless” by proving to her audience that she can be a rapper too. On “Smoking on my Ex Pack” SZA boasts about men pining over her in her DMs. Though, her vocals throughout the album prove as to why these men fall head over heels for her. Her talent of weaving her voice throughout the beats and rhythms could qualify her as one of the instruments in the tracks themselves. I believe this to be one of the reasons that she rose to fame because of the satisfying sound of her voice. 

“SOS” has not shied away from any awards and accomplishments either. In fact, it seems as though this album was destined to break records from the start. The album landed a spot as number one on the Billboard 200 Chart, became the most streamed R&B album in a week in history, was the third largest streaming week for an album this year and the second largest streaming week of an album by a female artist ever. These are just a few of the numerous awards and records broken by this album and it has only been out for less than a month. 

However, releasing this album was likely difficult for SZA. It was evident she was under an immense amount of pressure considering the huge commercial success of “CTRL” and the popular “second album syndrome.” Many fans expected her to live up to the perfection of her previous album and after the release of her current album, a portion of those fans struggled to come to terms with the fact that this album would be different.

Despite the negative opinions, the majority of the listeners displayed positive reactions after hearing the album. According to Metacritic, the album received a rating of 90 out of 100 based on 20 critic reviews and a rating of 8.7 out of 10 based on 257 user ratings.

When questioned on her least favorite song, senior at Sydney Sullivan said, “If I had to choose one song I would say ‘Forgiveless.’ I enjoy most of the songs on the album, however, [ODB]’s feature was not my favorite.”

The dislike for the featured artists has been a common trend amongst SZA’s fanbase recently. Some may not enjoy the choices SZA made considering they are somewhat unusual for her discography. Personally, Don Toliver’s feature was not my favorite because nothing stuck out from it and other people have stated to not enjoy Bridgers’ feature on social media too. One thing for certain is that most of the features on this album are unusual for SZA but I think most of them worked out acceptably. 

If you are looking for an album to get you contemplating past relationships and self-worth then I would recommend taking a listen to this album. Even if you have no experience with either of those topics the album takes you on a dynamic journey of being content, depressed, energetic and uncertain all in one hour. SZA surely did not disappoint with this release and I strongly recommend checking it out if you have not gotten the chance to do so. 

Here’s my current ranking of the album: 

  1. Gone Girl 
  2. Low
  3. Blind
  4. Kill Bill
  5. Nobody Gets Me
  6. F2F
  7. Good Days
  8. Seek & Destroy 
  9. Open Arms (feat. Travis Scott)
  10. Snooze
  11. Ghost in the Machine (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)
  12. Forgiveless (feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard)
  13. Far
  14. Shirt
  15. Love Language
  16. Too Late
  17. Special 
  18. Conceited
  19. Notice Me
  20. I Hate U
  21. SOS
  22. Used (feat. Don Toliver)
  23. Smoking on my Ex Pack