SZA’s “SOS” explores the complexity of breakups

On Dec. 9, SZA broke from her five-year album hiatus and finally released her second studio album, SOS, and needless to say, it broke me as well.  

The album, 23 songs in total, follows SZA as she learns how to navigate life and “overcome exhausting negative inner voices”, according to DailyMail, following her breakup with ex-boyfriend Drake. Given the subject matter, however, many “die-hard” fans were disappointed with how the album left a “depressing” and “self-deprecating” taste in their mouths.

I can definitely see why people would say that the album is self-deprecating. Some of the songs when I played it for the first time (most notoriously “Kill Bill”) discuss overwhelmingly disturbing and depressing thoughts (“I might kill my ex, I still love him, though/Rather be in jail than alone”), and the last track, “Forgiveness”, creates an “unfinished” aura that leads listeners to believe that she did not move on fully from her relationship. 

From personal experience, breakups are emotional roller coasters. And so was this album.

My favorite part about the first-time listener experience, above all, was the versatility of genres she used to convey each different emotion. Using more upbeat pop and rock sounds in “F2F” to portray her highlights, versus indie-folk in “Nobody Gets Me” to portray her lowlights. 

The album does not stick in one place either. In the intro track, “SOS”, SZA starts off as very irrational, then as the album progresses, she slows down to a point in “Notice Me” where she regrets all the things she says when she was angry. Eventually, in “Nobody Gets Me”, she realizes that there is no point in saving the relationship, leading to quick ups and downs, then finally making peace with herself in the outro track “Forgiveness” that no matter what, she cannot go back and change the past.

Artists put songs in a specific order on their albums for a reason, and if I am going to be honest, it took me a second to figure out why SZA put “Nobody Gets Me” and “Conceited” back-to-back. But I think, despite its juxtaposition, the placement conveys a very accurate reaction to being broken up with. I have certainly gone through periods of my life where I think I am the worst human being alive, but have also gone through periods of my life where I think I am the only person that matters. The song placements definitely made me relate to the main message more. 

Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised with how her former singles, “Good Days” and “I Hate U”, fit with the rest of the storyline. The backtrack of “Good Days” invoked the same tropical/exotic vibes that I felt in “Far”, which expanded upon the idea of trying to “escape from your past” while simultaneously wishing you could change it. 

The features on the album were quite surprising; I never would have even considered using indie-pop superstar Phoebe Bridgers and Travis Scott on the same album. But they somehow wove themselves so seamlessly into each part of the story (Bridgers with “Ghost in the Machine” portraying how the mind can act separately from the body, and Scott in “Open Arms” portraying how loneliness makes us long for the people whom we despise the most).

Therefore, given how intricate and complex this album is, I think that “SOS” tops “Ctrl” for me. Not to say that “Ctrl” all sounds the same, but I feel like “SOS” has so much more lyrical nuance when it comes to how she depicts her emotions, which to me demonstrates the great extent that SZA has matured in the past five years. 

I am not the only one who feels like this either – Pitchfork gave the album 8.7/10, claiming it “solidifies her position as a generational talent, an artist who translates her innermost feelings into indelible moments.” Metacritic gave “SOS” a 94/100, 8 points higher than “Ctrl’s” 86/100. NME gave the album 5/5 stars.

For the SZA enthusiasts (or those who are just getting into her), SZA is coming to Chicago on 2/22/23. If interested in seeing her on tour, check out the SOS website to buy tickets.