On December 3rd, I nearly lost my mind when Miss Solána Imani Rowe, known professionally as SZA, announced on SNL that we would be receiving a second album, SOS, on December 9th. Five years after the stunning masterpiece of her first album CTRL, relentless fans dying for new music (the author of this article may have been one of them) would finally be appeased with SZA’s official return to mainstream music production.
On December 5th, SZA posted the track list for the album containing a whopping 23 songs with features from four artists including longtime musical coworker Travis Scott and the ethereal Phoebe Bridgers. It was confirmed that three of her singles, released as far back as 2020, would also appear on the album: “Good Days,” “I Hate U,” and “Shirt.”
On such short notice, I began to prepare myself to be spiritually, emotionally, and physically rebirthed by the St. Louis native’s angelic vocals and hard-hitting lyrical subjects. So enough with the logistics, it’s been over a week since the album’s release. Let’s talk about it!
Album Cover Photo
First, it feels necessary to address the album’s stunning cover photo because not only is it visually stunning, the backstory behind it kinda makes me wanna sob.
In all her glory, SZA sits at the end of a long diving board overlooking the ocean wearing a St. Louis Blues hockey jersey, representing her home city, with the letters S.O.S. printed on the sleeve. If you got the feeling that you’d seen a similar picture somewhere before, you’d be correct.
The singer was inspired to recreate a famous picture of Princess Diana on a yacht from 1997 that was actually taken just a week before her tragic and untimely death. All alone on the board, surrounded by ocean off the coast of Italy, one can only imagine how isolated Lady Di felt as the most famous, photographed, and scrutinized woman in the world at the time. SZA discusses that she was moved to replicate that feeling of isolation, and perhaps the representation of trying to find solace amongst the frenzy of a famous life.
The scenery of the photo itself is also reminiscent of the title of the album, SOS, due to the fact that this is a signal most commonly used by boats experiencing emergency situations out at sea, indirectly preparing the audience for the rocky emotions and life experiences that inspired the production of such an album.
Due to my incredibly indecisive nature (I have a Libra Mercury and Mars, okay) I will not be ranking the songs, but rather I’d like to highlight what I would consider to be some standout moments from the body of work.
Asserting Dominance and Confirming Plastic Surgery Rumors in “SOS”
SZA starts off the album STRONG with track one, “SOS,” reminding everyone she’s that bitch. The song starts with S.O.S. tapped out in morse code and then a gunshot. She then proceeds to tell everyone “this ain’t no warnin’ shot, case all you hoes forgot” for anyone who’s underestimated her in the past.
Within the sub-two minute song, she switches between her signature unique flow of rap and singing to a back track of automated choral harmonies, including the lyric “So classic that ass so fat, it look natural, it’s not” confirming BBL rumors that have stirred since 2018 and leaving Twitter in a frenzy.
SZA wants you to know that she got her body done and she’s not ashamed to own it and embrace her power as a fully autonomous woman who lives and does as she pleases.
Deranged Female Rage in “Kill Bill”
The second track, “Kill Bill,” currently sitting at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, has taken the world by storm for its playful, quasi-serious fantasy about killing your ex-boyfriend. She repeats the lyric “I’m so mature, I’m so mature,” satirically reflecting on how crazy her feelings are, yet unable to do anything about them. She sings “Rather be in jail than alone,” exploring the deranged feeling of post-break-up fugue and loss of control over one’s situation. If you find yourself relating to this song, may I suggest going to one of those plate-smashing studios instead of the alternative, bestie?
The Reality of Hookup Culture and Social Media in “Ghost in the Machine”
When I saw Phoebe’s name on the tracklist announcement I was BEYOND excited and eagerly awaited what concoction would result from two of my favorite artists of vastly different musical genres collaborating. The result was a beautiful, eerie tune that expressed the need for human connection in a world where technology has caused us to forsake genuine relationships.
With lyrics like “Y’all lack humanity, drowning in vanity” and “I’m wide open, I’m awake, I’m on autopilot,” the track echoes sentiments of the isolation and desensitization social media breeds and how hookup culture causes many women to be dispassionate receptors rather than emotionally engaged individuals.
Exploring Rock on “F2F”
Y2K fashion is back and so is pop punk rock realness!
I was taken aback when I heard the first strum of that electric guitar in the best way possible. As someone who’s favorite band is Paramore, yeah, I’m really enjoying this, and am loving the main character feeling of belting it out in my car and room. Maybe you were expecting all R&B on a SZA album, but the queen is here to let you know that she isn’t contained to just one genre and can excel in her experimentation of others.
If you needed another reason to love this one, Lizzo helped write it!
The Regretful Sequel of “Normal Girl” and Bodies as Trends in “Special”
One of my favorite songs to come out of the late 2010s was “Normal Girl” from SZA’s CTRL album. In it she talks about wanting to be ordinary in order to fit into a life where she could be universally accepted by family and significant others, repeating over and over: “I really wish I was a normal girl.” She feels ostracized for being more aggressive than other women and for nonconforming to gender norms.
In “Special” on SOS, she regrets losing her authenticity in order to maintain relationships because it failed in the end anyway: “I gave all my special / Away to a loser / Now I’m just a loser… Regret that I changed me / I hate that you made me / Just like you.”
She also contributes to the current conversation on women’s bodies going in and out of style like fashion trends: “I wanted to be thick, now I wanna be thin / Heard Pilates is in.” She speaks an important message about remaining true to yourself because at the end of the day facades crumble and we should cherish our true selves.
Subtle Samples and References
I love picking up on bits of other artists in a song and I noticed a few throughout the album as well as several iconic pop culture references.
- “Listen” by Beyonce in “SOS”
- “Hit Different” by SZA in “Love Language”
- “She’s Gone” by Hall and Oates in “Gone Girl”
- “Family Ties” by Baby Keem ft. Kendrick Lamar in “Smokin on my Ex Pack”
- “Kill Bill” in reference to the iconic 2003 movie of the same name starring Uma Thurman
- “Gone Girl” in reference to the novel by Gillian Flynn and movie adaptation beloved by femcels everywhere
Well, I think it’s safe to say that SZA’s sophomore album was a large success. It has just been crowned the number one album on the Billboard 200, passing Taylor Swift’s Midnights which still sits comfortably at number two. In addition to this achievement, she also joins Swift as the only two women in history to have 20 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time. It’s wonderful to see two incredible women sharing the leaderboard together and have their hard work celebrated by fans worldwide. The album acquired the most streams of any R&B album in a single week ever and she was the world’s number one streamed artist on Spotify.
She is taking her music to the big stage and debuting her first arena tour that Omar Apollo is opening for, starting in February. Tickets went on sale Friday the 16th and sold out instantly.
SZA has also announced that she will be releasing a deluxe version soon, which is crazy because the original already has 23 songs, but I cannot wait! After dropping the deluxe version, SZA has said she is going to revert back to her true introverted self and lay low, taking a much-needed and well-deserved break from all of her labor.
While there is always more I would love to discuss when it comes to beloved artists and their music, I’ll end this review here and tell you to stream SOS. (And if you’re new to SZA, do yourself a favor and check out CTRL too, we were recently gifted seven extra songs on its 5th birthday!) Happy streaming!