After delivering her debut album CTRL in 2017, SZA quickly garnered a cult fan base that thirsted for more, as well as picking up a triple platinum certification in the meantime. Despite having made contributions to the soundtrack for the 2018’s Black Panther film, and dropping snippets of music throughout 2020 with The Neptunes-produced Hit Different and Good Days, her fans still anticipated a long and formatted album to indulge in. For many people, CTRL played a pivotal part in soundtracking a shared experience of transformation at varying degrees. It was one of those albums where you remembered where you were, and what point in your life you were at when you first heard it, with an honest and relatable reflection through heartbreak, insecurity, love and confusion, that had SZA explore the imperfect parts of her life, with rawness and uncertainty. However, as 5 years passed, SZA’s fanbase has grown alongside her.
On SOS, she takes her emotions in her stride, with a more outright and deliberate attitude, the album essentially becoming a catalyst for SZA to talk her shit wholeheartedly, and without fear. However, there are moments on the album where you find SZA reverting to the girl we got to know through CTRL, as she attempts to navigate the sweet spot between being unmindful and carefree, and overcoming her anxiety and insecurities. The title track that opens the album features a morse code distress call, followed by the firing of a flare, which is an immediate detail that foreshadows the album’s content. Playing into the ‘cry for help’ and ‘call for attention’ motif, the album places the past 5 years of SZA’s life under a microscope, as she airs out the difficulties that come with being in the constant watchful eye of the public. However, despite it all, the glory in her comeback still stands above it all.
SZA’s journey of love, grief and growth is threaded together by elements of gospel, R&B, pop-punk, indie-rock, and boom-bap production on the 23-track album, compact with different stories to tell, and new ways of telling it each time. Speaking to Complex, SZA explained that though the album is “all over the place…it’s just where my heart is.” The reaffirming highs and the dark lows keep the album afloat, and speak to SZA’s grievances, as she sings yearnfully on tracks like Nobody Gets Me and Special before confidently rapping and singing about moving on not caring about other people’s opinions on tracks like Smoking On My Ex Pack and Conceited. Helping carry the emotional weight throughout are the list of features throughout; Don Toliver, Phoebe Bridgers, Travis Scott, as well as an archived Ol’ Dirty Bastard verse, who each add an element of personalisation to the album.
As such, SOS acts a sharp analysis of SZA’s experiences with everyone around her, whether it be the public, her fans, friends, family, or lovers, all told through fine-tuned lyricism, that’s personal, imaginative, and daunting, and vocals and soundscapes that are equally as freeing and liberating. It’s both an inviting and confronting record that contains the same level of organic storytelling that appeared on SZA’s popular debut album, this time, with a more ruthless and unapologetic attitude. With talks of it being SZA’s final album, there’s no doubt that it’s left its mark, with traces of anything more left only to exist in SZA’s mind until further notice.