Music icon SZA, born Solana Imani Rowe, rose to stardom instantly after the release of her debut Ctrl in 2017, but now, she’s solidified her high standing with her sophomore collection SOS released December 9, 2022. SZA took twenty-three songs to affirm that she is an artist of every talent; the songs range from her more classic styles of R&B, to pop ballads, to pop-rock anthems, and even dabbling in the realm of acoustic bedroom beats. Transmiting in the spirits of world famous musicians like Ms. Lauryn Hill, John Coltrane, and even the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, SOS delivered more than listeners expected and was well worth the wait.
SOS opens with an album-titled track. “SOS” serves as a perfect introduction to the themes of the album, SZA taking the time to re-introduce her style of reflective songwriting as she covers the ideas of fame, success, confidence, and relationships. As she sings, “Damn right, I’m the one/ Comin’ back, she so candid” SZA comments on her newfound self-assuredness and acknowledges her return to the industry.
Following “SOS” is “Kill Bill,” the first of many movie references the musician makes throughout the album. SZA’s melodic voice paired with a sick trap beat is groove-ability at its finest, transporting listeners to a realm of deep emotions and raw energy. Her fourth song, “Low,” introduces Travis Scott on the album, the rapper harmonizing on the back vocals with SZA. The piece itself is profound, commenting on how SZA wants to have a private relationship despite her growing fame.
The subject of relationships carries through to the fifth song “Love Language.” Here, she asks for her lover to be more open with how they communicate, and the song ends with an orchestral string solo that keeps the track emotional and more impactful. “Talk to me in your love language/ Show me, yeah, how to connect to you/ Help me understand how you speak your love language.” Immediately after, the sixth song “Blind” begins with a soft guitar that’s soon joined by more orchestral notes. The usage of symphonies in her songs separates SOS from other works and enforces a level of drama that makes every song absolute.
“Used,” the seventh track, features Don Toliver on a heavy R&B-based song about feeling used in a relationship. “I need you, but it takes time/ And I’m out of patience, I burnt it with you/ Can’t lose myself to your ego.” SZA’s joined once again by another artist on the twelfth song “Ghost in the Machine,” this time with an unlikely musician, Phoebe Bridgers. The two women change the pace of SOS, opting to be softer and darker on a song that comments on the harsh qualities of the music industry. As SZA sings, “I need humanity” the song becomes something reminiscent of Bridgers’ second album Punisher. It’s ominous as it closes with a sad piano, authorizing SZA’s talents to totally change an album at its middle.
After “Ghost in the Machine” SOS becomes even more experimental. The thirteenth song, “F2F” channels 2000s pop-rock while the fourteenth track “Nobody Gets Me” is an acoustic pop ballad. The varied format of SOS keeps it unpredictable and exciting, especially with the drastic tone shifts throughout it.
The third collaboration comes with Travis Scott on “Open Arms,” however, it’s not the predictable savage rap track one would think. Instead, it’s softer, playing more into it’s topic of being in a loving relationship where both parties are accepted. Scott delves into a more Frank Ocean-like sound as him and SZA slow down for something hardhitting. The twenty-first and twenty-second songs are hit releases from SZA that have found their home on SOS. “I Hate U” and “Good Days” were revealed before the album came out, and have been met with worldwide appraise and critical acclaim.
Closing SOS is “Forgiveness” featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Despite the delicate nature that the previous tracks had taken on, “Forgiveness” is self-confident hip-hop, an encompassment of the fact that SZA knows her power and is certain in her talent.
SOS is experimental in every way possible. It’s an overview of music as a whole, a compilation of different genres all set to SZA’s relatable lyrics. Since Ctrl, listeners have been asking the artist to release more, sending out their SOS signal which SZA didn’t hesitate to answer. And she saved more than anticipated.