SZA dropped her sophomore album, SOS, last Friday, five years after she released her acclaimed debut album, Ctrl. Fans have awaited this album with anticipation, especially after she gave them a glimpse of what was to come with releases of songs like “Shirt” and “Good Days.” In SOS, SZA continues to expand beyond R&B, bringing in genres like indie rock and alternative. Her innovative, thought-provoking lyrics center themes of heartbreak and tumultuous romantic relationships.
I personally looked forward to SZA’s collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers, a featured artist on my Spotify Wrapped, and didn’t know what to expect when they came together in “Ghost in the Machine.” SZA’s introduction had great incline and transitioned smoothly into Bridgers’ verse. I think the artists’ distinct vocal timbres mirrored each other nicely. While Birdgers is known for her melancholic tone, SZA brings a more relaxed vibe to the song. The harmonization and SZA’s emotional plea for humanity in the music industry make “Ghost in the Machine” my favorite song from SOS.
In “Open Arms” we hear unexpectedly low vocals from Travis Scott, another featured artist on the album. In this acoustic, guitar-plucking song about being devoted to someone who loves you, the artists sing sweetly about a mutually accepting relationship. Travis is also featured in back vocals of “Low,” where SZA expresses her desire to have a private relationship despite her celebrity status.
Critics have acclaimed SZA’s unique blend of R&B, soul, and alternative music. She is constantly exploring new territories in music, which she does in SOS with the breadth of genres and styles she covers. I was surprised by SZA’s camp rock anthem “F2F,” which screams Disney movie teen angst. It’s fun seeing this side of her, even though I wasn’t a fan of the song and its grunge galore. Switching genres, the boom bap “Forgiveness” is based on old rap and samples the posthumous “The Stomp.” In this powerful hip-hop song, she calls out critics in lyrics like “Better watch how you think out loud if it’s ’bout me, though.”
In Ctrl, we got to see a lot of SZA’s raw and emotive lyrics, which touch on themes of love, heartbreak, and self-discovery. SZA is equally vulnerable in SOS, and the album’s range of emotions makes it very relatable. The album’s title foreshadows her cry for help in songs like “Seek and Destroy,” where she sings, “You push me past my capacity, boy,” as she herself reaches the top of her vocal range. In the much happier “Conceited,” SZA sings about betting on herself and practicing self-love. This is a track I know I will be jamming out to in the mornings for some much-needed motivation.
“Kill Bill” is an absolutely unfiltered song about seeing one’s ex get with another woman. I love this song because its lyrics are outrageous and contrast heavily with its melody that makes you want to get up and dance. In this electric bass song, SZA’s sweet singing is in juxtaposition with the lyrics, detailing her desire to kill her ex and his new girlfriend. “Rather be in hell than alone,” she sings in conclusion.
On the topic of exes, “Smoking on my Ex Pack” gives major no-name vibes with lyrics like “I got your favorite rapper blocked” and “Your favorite athlete screamin’, ‘Text me back.’” The chipmunk soul/trap song had nice flow. I wish there was a beat drop in it, though.
SOS featured some of SZA’s already-released tracks, like “Shirt” and “I Hate U,” but I was still so excited to hear them again. Both lived up to the initial hype they spurred when she sneak-peaked snippets on social media. In “Shirt,” SZA sings about unrequited love and feeling unworthy, a theme similar to that of “Special,” which is about having insecurities in a relationship. “Special” reminded me a lot of “Drew Berrymore” from the Ctrl album.