Liner Notes: SZA beautifully expresses her emotional maturity in much anticipated album ‘SOS’


Illustration by Ziye Wang

SZA expresses her emotional maturity while still grappling with the difficulties of love in her second studio album “SOS.”

Caryl Shepard, Reporter

After a yearslong wait, SZA fans were given an early Christmas gift when she released her second studio album, “SOS,” last month.

“SOS,” featuring 23 songs and clocking in at an hour and eight minutes, was highly anticipated following the triple platinum release of SZA’s first studio album “Ctrl” in 2017.

“SOS” features many notable musicians, including rapper Don Toliver and indie-rock artist Phoebe Bridgers. She also brings on rapper Travis Scott, who helped propel her to fame following their song “Love Galore” from “Ctrl” and a previously unreleased recording from the famed Wu Tang Clan member Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

While “Ctrl” was an ode to SZA’s naivety in love and hopes for a more serious relationship, she presents an older, more emotionally mature version of herself in “SOS”.

Though she reminds listeners of her personal development, she still grapples with the many follies of love: envy, longing and the need for revenge. In one of the album’s hit songs, “Kill Bill,” SZA sings of how she seeks to kill her ex-partner, as she would “rather be in jail than alone.”

Along with baring her relationship with her emotional maturity, SZA begins to dabble in incorporating other genres into her traditionally pop-R&B vocals. Many songs on the track, including “Good Days,” “I Hate U” and “Shirt” are reminiscent of her classic style: mastering a few key notes, a melodic rhythm and an upbeat tone. Notably, these songs were all released as singles months prior to the album’s December release, giving fans a teaser.

SZA’s exploration of different genres is most apparent in her song, “Nobody Gets Me.” As she laments over a former lover who she despairs was the only one who ever understood her, she incorporates a slower paced, more breathy voice than her typical style. Aspects of this song resemble the music of Taylor Swift and Adele due to its more relaxed rhythm and heavy reliance on a large vocal range, allowing SZA to showcase her impressive voice. “Nobody Gets Me” creates a pause in the flow of the album that helps listeners fully grasp her true desperation.

Another instance of SZA departing from her typical pop-R&B style is present in “Smoking on my Ex Pack,” where she uses rap to boast of her own confidence and independence following a breakup. SZA’s ability to expand outside her iconic style to communicate her contrasting emotions regarding love allows the audience to not only witness her personal growth but also her talent as a musician.

Finally, SZA’s lyrical talent unveils itself in “Gone Girl” and “Far,” where she solidifies her transition from a hopeless romantic to a more self-assured woman. In “Far” especially, SZA describes her journey from somebody entirely defined by a relationship to someone who has actually managed to discover herself, “far like I don’t recognize me…far ‘cause I let you define me.” This sentiment resonates not only in this song, but also throughout the entire album: SZA has become a more defined, self-aware individual, though nevertheless prone to the difficulties of romance.

Coming after a five-year gap from her first studio album, “SOS” appears to be a mark of SZA’s growth since “Ctrl.” “SOS” symbolizes SZA’s evolution through womanhood to become more confident. Through an homage to her pop-R&B roots and exploration into breathy pop and basic rap, SZA expresses her capabilities and talents as a well-rounded musician.

While “SOS” presents a clear indication of SZA’s maturity as a person and a musician, it still acknowledges a universal truth: anyone is vulnerable to the pitfalls of love.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @carylshepard_

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