SOS Review: a New Sound for SZA


SZA confirmed that the cover to her sophomore studio album was inspired by a similar picture of Princess Diana taken in 1997. The album, which generated over 300,000 first week sales, was heavily anticipated by fans.

The album fans thought would never arrive, “SOS”, SZA’s sophomore album, was released on Dec. 9 and accumulated 100 million first-day Spotify streams in the U.S. with thousands of opinions surging through social media. There was a massive comparison to SZA’s previous work “CTRL”. Many fans go as far to say that “SOS” can’t compare to SZA’s ‘cult classic’. Despite these opinions, SZA created a solid piece of work that has shown immense growth since “CTRL”.

SZA opens the album with the title song “SOS”, which contradicts the message of the title; instead of being a call for help, the song insinuates that “SOS” serves as an answer to a distress call. The song opens with an innovative mixing of sounds including morse code that deciphered reads, “Last night, I cried” followed by a gunshot. In defiance of the standard critique of SZA’s enunciation, her demands for respect in the industry were loud and clear.

The lyrics “They can’t survive off of mini-me” in “SOS” refers to newer artists who take inspiration from SZA’s musical style but just can’t match her and shows her confidence. In the music industry, there is no doubt that SZA has a recognizable sound others can’t emulate. SZA is known for having unique enunciation and for discussing romantic relationships from the perspective of the ‘other woman’. With her 5-year absence, not including her occasional single releases, there has been a demand for her music and perspective.

Compared to “CTRL”, SZA has grown and created a solid fan base. Other artists have attempted to replicate the sound and persona SZA has made in her music, yet it falls flat in comparison to its authentic creator. SZA captures her audience in a way unlike others. Despite her hiatus, SZA practically tripled her audience by only dropping singles: “Shirt”, “I Hate U”, and “Good Days”, that are all featured on the album. Within the first week of the album’s release, “SOS” acquired over 300,000 first week sales, which is five times the first week sales of her debut album “CTRL” which averaged about 60,000 units.

As the album continues, there is a noticeable lack of cohesion in comparison to “CTRL” due to the new genres SZA ventured into in “SOS”. While some critics find this disjointed, it actually is refreshing and shows SZA’s growth and willingness to take risks. The album includes pop and country songs such as “F2F”, “Conceited”, and “Nobody Gets Me”, while simultaneously featuring trap and rap songs like “Low” and “Smoking on my Ex Pack”. Despite the lack of cohesion, there is noticeable improvement in mixing and production that especially shines in track 12 “Ghost in the Machine” featuring Phoebe Bridgers.

“Ghost in the Machine” is about the more trivial part of the music industry or as it is referred to in the track, the “machine”. SZA is fed up with the machine and craves a human who can distract her from the repeated cycle of disappointment. The track features a contemporary R&B sound that utilizes layers to better blend the contrast of Phoebe Bridgers’ soft airy voice to SZA’s stronger raspy vocals.

There is a noticeable shift in the vibes and genres of the songs after track 12. Unlike “CTRL”, the album lacks a story and element that ties everything together. For instance, “CTRL” utilized samples of a phone call from her mother throughout the album to maintain a storyline of the main character of the album. “SOS”, on the other hand, resembles a compilation of songs with similar vibes and messages, some possessing transitions that bleed into the next song. To some it might seem like a lazy and rushed attempt compared to how she formatted her previous work. However, in this case it seems intentional. SOS itself is a call of distress and it is supposed to be panicked, rushed, and frantic. All of these emotions are embodied within “SOS” thus creating a work that is different while also staying within the bounds of SZA’s signature style.

It is understandable why “SOS” might be underwhelming to some audiences due to the vast contrast of her previous work, but there is no doubt that there was an immense amount of growth in her style and production quality since the release of “CTRL” in 2017 making this album deserving of a listen.