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The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

SZA’s ‘SOS’ Is More Than a Cry for Help 


(Photo from Spotify)

Have you ever wanted to express exactly how you felt, regardless of how controversial your feelings were, or judgment from the people around you? Just to let it all out?  

This is what Solána Rowe, known professionally as SZA, sets out to do through her daring and combative album “SOS,” released in 2022. After earning historical success for her record-breaking 2017 album “CTRL,” she has made a grand return with a brand new 23-track-filled album, five years after her big break. SZA reflects on heartbreaking events during the years of her naïve youth. 

The singer has amassed an audience from all angles of the musical world, who have fallen in love with her confessional stories. This brand-new audience has spent years hungrily waiting for the once-obscure artist to rip her heart out once more for them to hear, and SZA has chosen to share her plights once again. This time, however, she has a deeper motive.  

“SOS” opens with a title track starring Morse code and a striking shot from a flare gun, before pulling the audience onto a stage where SZA expresses her inner emotions during an act of slam poetry. In contrast, “CTRL” had a sorrowful opening, in which she detailed the appreciation that she wished to receive from a harmful ex-boyfriend, beginning her journey through faults and past traumas. In a nearly perfect reflection of where she began her confessions, SZA displays the blooming self-confidence that she has gained throughout the years. 

This is only the beginning, as we quickly learn through the next track, “Kill Bill,” in which SZA basks in the idea of murdering her ex-boyfriend, that she has also gained confidence in all her emotions, including anger. She no longer hopes for empathy from the general public, but is rather focused on gaining more clarity and acceptance from herself.  

Due to years of betrayal, self-doubt, and a lack of provided kindness, SZA makes it clear that she has reached a state of irreverence and anger for the people that have mistreated her and the brutal world. Rather than sugarcoating her true sentiments for a palatable intro, SZA boldly claims that she would rather showcase exactly how she’s been feeling throughout the entire album.  

Through the hard-hitting lyrics and unorthodox melodies of “SOS,” she creates a departure from today’s softer pop music, but also from her old sounds and personality. If listeners want to delve deeper into SZA’s sensational self-journey, they must accept her exactly as she is, and wait to see her ultimate transformation.  

Throughout the album, SZA brashly reveals her viewpoint on the situations she’s been through since the release of her former album. She remains self-assured in her selfish past choices and viewpoints. She acknowledges this unchecked arrogance, however, as a protective mask as a way of being kinder to herself for her past mistakes.  

SZA confesses through “SOS” that she is not only angry with her companions, but also searching for her true purpose in life. She is also confused about her identity, after morphing herself for people in her past who left her damaged and scorned, as shown in songs such as “Far,” “I Hate U,” and “Special.” However, these circulating emotions don’t stop SZA from displaying her familiar gentle energy, expressing a desire for tender and long-lasting love in songs such as “Nobody Gets Me.”  

One of the album’s major themes is the fear that she is sacrificing acts of self-progression for her desire of love, most blatant in “Too Late.” In a closing track, “Open Arms,” SZA reflects on memories of passion as she is naturally forced to move forward. She shares the sensation of letting go of the people that she’s loved, with some of them moving forward naturally and others causing her pain.  

She explains the unsteady emotions of “SOS” after ending the song with the brutally honest lyric, “I’m the only one who’s holding me down.” These reflections demonstrate how “SOS” is truly a progression from “CTRL,” rather than a complete discarding of her past morals.  

This album is not only an emotional evolution, but also a musical one. “SOS” leaves SZA’s typical R&B and neo-soul sound to cross multiple genres, from pop to rock, trap, and hip-hop. Through the wide array of colorful and experimental songs, filled with innovative song structures and deeply cutting lyrics, SZA creates a space to be completely honest with her natural feelings. 

SZA veers between appreciating her newfound confidence in “Conceited” to accepting the world and her impending future in “Good Days.” Another important discussion is what it means to be human, as she is contemptuous of being treated like an industry machine rather than an individual with feelings within the music industry, through “Ghost in the Machine.” The choice to experiment musically and lyrically leads the audience to eagerly take the ride with her; listeners’ own musical palates and views of self-acceptance grow alongside hers.  

Overall, “SOS” serves as a recollection of both the beautiful and rocky parts of self-discovery that SZA has faced inside and outside of the public eye. Rather than clearing up any details for fans, friends and family alike, she extracts all her pain to reach a sense of peace or healing through her music, accepting any scrutiny she may face. SZA clearly wishes to prove that an artist does not need to hide their imperfections to be embraced.  

SZA successfully completes the tumultuous mental journey of “SOS,” granting herself the chance to vocalize every powerful emotion coursing through her soul. In the album’s final track, “Forgiveless,” SZA promises through the lines, “Not in the dark anymore. I might forgive it, I won’t forget it,” that she is able to move past the pain and will continue to flourish, but the next eventual act of self-discovery could get messy. And that’s okay. 

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Najee Manning, Senior Staff Writer
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