SZA performing in TorontoWIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ SZAsign, CC BY 2.0,

‘It is an undoubtedly more polished and cohesive project’ - Niamh Gregg

After a five and a half-year wait, SZA’s massively anticipated sophomore album, SOS, is out. The follow-up to the accolade-laden CTRL (2017), SOS is an undoubtedly more polished and cohesive project. It explores familiar lyrical themes: raw honesty from SZA about her continuing insecurities, a longing for connection, and a rejection of relationships which don’t serve her.

“SOS… is a commendably honest, open, evocative, and genuinely fun follow-up to CTRL”

SZA couples this with a laudable capacity for theatrical and overblown humour: the track “Kill Bill”, in particular, combines comedically extravagant homicidal ideation with a campy, glamorous recreation of the titular blockbuster in music video form. The next track, “Seek & Destroy”, pivots starkly to a vulnerable discussion of self-sabotage in the service of self-preservation: “all missiles deployed […] now that I’ve ruined everything, I’m so fucking free”. Later on, the couplet of “Smoking on My Ex Pack” and “Ghost in the Machine” (the latter featuring Phoebe Bridgers) showcases the same contrast — a brazenly worded statement of rejection, followed by a yearning call for understanding from both her man and the world more widely (“can you hate on me and mask it with laughter? […] I need humanity / y’all lack humanity”).

This vulnerability has not been universally praised. Accusations that SZA hasn’t “matured”, and that she is “unrelatable” have been levelled on Twitter and Tiktok. Despite this criticism, SOS is filled with both lyrical and musical gems. Experiments with different sounds: rock on “F2F,” country on “Nobody Gets Me”, loosely controlled and extravagant vocals on “SOS” and “Forgiveless” — and far-flung samples (Björk, Beyoncé, Webster Lewis) mean that the 68 minute runtime is littered with standouts.

Genuinely insightful commentary on sexuality and relationships represents the cumulation of at least five years of creativity from SZA. However, the section from “Conceited” through to “Open Arms” (featuring Travis Scott) does suffer from a lack of variation, falling into a slight vocal-heavy pop and R&B rut. Overall, however, SOS, despite the criticisms to which it has been subject, is a commendably honest, open, evocative, and genuinely fun follow-up to CTRL.

‘The album felt like it lacked the sonic excellence... I was the anticipated hater’ - Faisa Mohamed

In a recent interview, SZA revealed that she was prepared for people to hate her new album, SOS, after making fans wait the aforementioned five years.

“Where in my constant search for glimpses of CTRL, I was left disappointed

For me, SZA exists in a vacuum of artists with existing masterpieces which, whilst waiting for them to release another project, I’ve realised are enough; I would be content if she had never released anything else. Frank Ocean and J Hus are other artists who spring to mind in this regard.

This mentality carried me through my first listen of SOS, where, in my constant search for glimpses of CTRL, I was left disappointed. The album felt like it lacked the sonic excellence and cohesion of CTRL — I was the anticipated hater.

My failure was to expect the SZA of today to be the SZA of 2017. SOS reflects a maturer Rowe who, despite still falling into the cycle of toxic romantic relationships, is older, wiser and realises her worth. She is no longer the twenty-something year-old who keeps returning to her troublesome exes; she is a 33 year-old woman who (still) returns to her troublesome exes, but can now communicate her vulnerability in Morse code and a new-found rap cadence.

SZA — Nobody Gets Me (Official Video)SZA

SZA seems to take any chance to flex her versatility on SOS. From pop culture niches, like the Princess Diana-inspired album cover to “Nobody Gets Me”: an acoustic ballad that gives her an excuse to display her vocal range. Even after openly discussing how many people turned down opportunities to feature, she showcases an incredible roster such as indie sensation Phoebe Bridgers, Don Toliver and even reunites with Travis Scott.

If CTRL was the soundtrack for my teens, SOS is the soundtrack for my twenties — a soundtrack that invites evolution and growth, encouraging healing even when you fall into the same cycles.

‘We can reminisce about failed love and misjudgements with an air of humour’ - Mina Meddour

Despite the catchy hooks and blatant honesty about insecurities which gave CTRL its fame, SZA begins the work of ridding shame and embracing self-love, flaws, and all in the diversely written SOS.

Listeners will notice SZA’s emotional growth as a songwriter in her increasingly emboldened and pithy lyricism: see the TikTok-trending “Kill Bill”, and “Seek and Destroy” (“No reaching and grabbing for more clarity now / Seek and destroy, all missiles deployed”).


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More low-key tracks such as “Smoking on My Ex Pack” and “Low” show SZA experimenting with stereotypically masculine rap beats and making them her own; expressing her sexuality with admirable confidence, and mockingly adopting a “player” persona.

But SZA’s characteristic self-doubt still comes through on tracks like the heartbreakingly dysmorphic “Special”, and “Open Arms”, which explores the behaviour of self-sacrifice for love: “I hate myself to make you stay”. Despite SOS’s resounding feelings of hurt and disappointment around ex-lovers who far from measure up, SZA nonetheless presents a body of work which is emotionally rich, personal, and holds a strong sense of self.

A successful artist who has mastered toeing the line between vulnerability and bravery, SZA bares both strengths and shortcomings with unabashed pride. With SOS in our earphones, we can reminisce about failed love and misjudgements with an air of humour and a knowledge of the universal pain of heartbreak. But it is not only cathartic: SOS also reminds us that the journey of finding self-worth, though lengthy and messy, is always worth embarking on.