SZA juxtaposes heartbreak and healing with newest album SOS


Top Dawg Entertainment and RCA Records

By Avaani Julka, Assistant Editor

SZA has taken the world by storm yet again with her new album titled SOS, featuring 23 tracks and collaborations with notable artists such as Travis Scott (their third collaboration thus far), Phoebe Bridgers (unexpected but brilliant), and Don Toliver (one of SZA’s personal favorite rappers). The album has substantially exceeded her own expectations for success—she believed fans would not enjoy the album—however, it was #1 on the billboard charts just a week before Christmas, has been #1 for four weeks in a row as of Jan. 9, and was the first R&B album by a female artist to spend its first four weeks on the Billboard 200 since Janet Jackson’s “Janet” (May 18, 1993). SZA has released singles that eventually appeared on SOS, such as “I Hate U” (Dec. 3, 2021), “Good Days” (Dec. 25, 2020), and “Shirt” (Oct. 28, 2022), but fans have been begging for a new full album as her debut “Ctrl” was released in 2017. 

This album as a whole was an artistic representation of the 5 stages of grief following the end of a relationship: denial (“Blind”), anger (“Kill Bill”, “I Hate U”), bargaining (“Seek & Destroy”, “Love Language”), depression (“Nobody Gets Me”, Special”, “F2F”), and acceptance (“SOS”, “Good Days”). Each song has elements that give insight into what dealing with heartbreak is really like. SZA’s lyricism was remarkable, with prose that touched on issues that she’s faced both in her own life and within her interactions/relationships. The album begins with “SOS,” which is a perfect introduction; it has wonderful production quality and incorporates both upbeat and slow portions to express the feel of the album.

One collaboration that came as a large surprise to many was the collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers on the song “Ghost In the Machine.” As an avid listener of Bridgers and SZA I was absolutely elated when I heard that they would be producing a song together. This song is absolutely stunning, from the vocal layering and mixing to the extreme sadness and pain both Bridgers and SZA emote in their lyrics and tone quality. 

One of the many reasons I love and appreciate SZA’s music is due to the rawness and beauty that she is able to find in her sadness. I admire her profound ability to articulate the experiences of being a woman of color in a society that portrays white women as the beauty standard. Her previous album, Ctrl (released in 2017 and an exceptional album as a whole), features a song titled, “Normal Girl,” which is wholly expressive of the dating experience for women of color—wishing that they could adhere to and measure up to the standards of being someone’s true love, rather than a fling that isn’t taken seriously. She follows this with a reprise in SOS with the song “Special,” where she states that all she desires to be is special, but she gave all of her “special” away to someone who was undeserving of her love. This is emphasized by her wanting to be looked at as an “art piece”— commenting on the societally constructed need for women of color to be extraordinarily beautiful in order to measure up to their white counterparts, and the incredibly damaging ideology of how white women are perceived as more desirable. SZA’s ability to take these feelings and turn them into music that truly expresses these emotions is unmatched, especially as she expanded her genre range slightly with this album. 

My personal favorite songs (which change weekly) are “Ghost in the Machine,” “Love Language,” “Special,” and “Kill Bill.” I loved in “Love Language” how she sampled one of her own songs, featuring a few lines from her previous collaboration with Travis Scott, titled “Hit Different.”  Overall, this album is absolutely incredible and features more diversity in her sound than ever before, with songs like “F2F” and “Nobody Gets Me.” These songs had a very early 2000s Miley Cyrus feel to them, expressing the tribulations and frustrations of unrequited love. 

While the majority of the world is enjoying their SOS listens thoroughly, some criticism has been made of her lyricism and song choices, stating that the mindset she is representing is toxic and self-deprecating, and many have discouraged others from listening. However, I feel that this completely misses the purpose of the album itself; she is aware that her songs come off as desperate, tragic, and of a disconsolate nature, as this was her goal. It is raw, brutal, and honest as heartbreak does feel like all of these emotions. She acknowledges the importance of feeling your feelings, as there is no set timeline for healing. If you have yet to give SOS a listen, I highly recommend you grab a pint of ice cream and do so.