SZA’s SOS Album Review


Image provided by RCA Records

Jaden Rust

2022 has been quite the year for R&B and Hip-Hop fans, with popular artists such as Steve Lacy, Kendrick Lamar, and Givēon dropping highly anticipated works that did not disappoint. With only a month left of the year, SZA managed to sneak her way onto the list with the release of her third studio album, SOS – a 23 track conglomeration of songs about love, loss, and insecurity. 

SZA, born Solana Imani Rowe, put out her first studio album Z in 2014, yet truly made a name for herself with the release of her 2018 album, CTRL. Since then, fans have been leeching off of these old tracks along with singles like “Good Days”, or features such as hit song “Kiss Me More” with Doja Cat that have dropped intermittently since her last album. With a fanbase continuously growing in size and impatience, the scene was set for her to make a comeback. 

SOS is a lengthy album, yet it manages to maintain the listeners interest throughout its entirety. It’s clear that SZA is an R&B artist, yet the album brings experimentation with genre bending that we’ve never seen from her before. Most notably, “F2F” is heavy on electric guitar instrumentals, reminiscent of punk/pop rock artists like Avril Lavigne or Paramore. Both sonically and lyrically, SZA brings a newfound angst in this track that can be relatable and personal to her predominantly teen audience, and is accompanied by nostalgia due to its similarity to the music of the early 2000s. Though usually relying on featuring artists to do the job, she even puts her incredible voice aside and tries her hand at rapping in the song titled “Smoking on my Ex Pack”. In contrast, she incorporates popular rapper and trap artist Travis Scott into the softer, dreamier tune “Open Arms”, exploring his own singing voice and how it melds with slower production. Surprisingly enough, SZA even showcases indie sounds, with surprise feature Phoebe Bridgers on “Ghost in the Machine”. Bridgers is known for her melancholic, mythical tunes with undertones of folk and pop, and a delicate, relaxing voice to top it all off. Knowing this, many would believe she’d be a poor fit for an album standing in the R&B universe, yet SZA’s experimentation proves to be successful with the production of this song. The track doesn’t stray far from the slow wistfulness of Bridgers’ music, but overlays rhythmic beats to play into SZA’s home genre, further creating the perfect mixture of her roots and of various other favorable genres. 

Besides the obvious experimental songs, SOS contains many standout tracks that have already managed to make a name for themselves on the charts. “Kill Bill” tells the story of SZA’s conscience questioning whether she should kill her ex-boyfriend, paying homage to the 2003 film that it’s named after. At first listen, the song seems a bit dramatic and morbid, but the root of it explains the anger and frustration accompanying a breakup with somebody you still love and only want for yourself, which is not an unpopular feeling. “Nobody Gets Me”– my initial favorite- is a soulful, passionate track that tugs at the listeners heart strings as she sings about her unconditional love for somebody. Additional featuring artists Don Toliver and Ol’ Dirty Bastard brought their own unique styles to the table to create two of the catchiest songs on the album, implementing even more Hip-Hop to the mixture. Previously released singles and leaked snippets also made their way onto the album, and fans continue to love tunes like “Shirt”, “I Hate U”, and “Blind”, yet the brand new tracks are what truly make this album so special and unique. 

Not everyone seemed to have a uniform positive view of this album. Online, there have been critics of the lack of growth in the topics SZA touches on in her music. CTRL was an album based heavily on insecurities in relationships, specifically as a woman, and this theme stayed consistent with the release of SOS, displaying no improvement in her own self-esteem- a disappointing revelation for her fans who can no longer relate to the pain she’s expressing. Though this take is understandable for those who don’t want to relive these low moments through music, I believe that there are still many young women who can relate to and find comfort in this lack of confidence that SZA chooses to continuously express through her art. In her track titled “Special”, she dives into the newfound insecurity following a breakup, and how she no longer feels special after giving all of her energy to a “loser.” The song is extremely self-deprecating, but also extremely real and relatable. There’s no shame in finding yourself in a rut of low self-esteem after painful experiences, and SZA’s discography refuses to mask the misery of it all. 

After the release of SOS, SZA is quickly climbing even further to the top and establishing herself as an R&B legend in the making. With angelic vocals, experimental production, and heart-wrenchingly relatable themes, her popularity proves to be well-deserved, and we all hope that there’s more to come from her.