SZA’s ‘SOS’ doesn’t need any saving


Connor Youngberg

Illustration by

Michael LaRocca, Opinion Editor

This year, the music industry has certainly shown there is nothing wrong with releasing an album after a long break. 

Kendrick Lamar released “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” five years after his previous album “DAMN.” and Pusha T released his album “It’s Almost Dry” four years after his 2018 classic “DAYTONA.” R&B artist SZA’s release of her album “SOS” on Dec. 9 is the latest example of this phenomenon. 

SZA released her debut studio album “Ctrl” in June 2017 to widespread critical acclaim. Personally, “Ctrl” is one of my favorite albums of all time and currently sits at No. 6 on my Apple Music Replay most listened to albums of 2022. 

For the past five years, many of her listeners, including myself, have been anxiously awaiting new music. She released what became “SOS”’s lead single, “Good Days,” a masterpiece, on Dec. 25, 2020, which was enough to hold some over until a larger release came, but it would take another two years for the final product. 

Those two years were worth the wait. When “SOS” dropped, I was surprised that it came out when it did, but I was ready to hear what was coming. 

I cannot help but address how thrilling it is to see SZA explore the different genres she has the potential to thrive in with her vocal talent through this album. From the rock-heavy “F2F,” to the melodic “Kill Bill” and the 90s rap flow of  “Forgiveless,” you can’t go too long without hearing something fresh. 

Just like “Ctrl,” the features on “SOS” were all efficient and necessary. Verses from Travis Scott, Phoebe Bridgers and the red-hot Don Toliver all elevated the respective songs they were placed on, helping break up some of the album’s longer stretches. 

The undeniable truth about “SOS” is that it contains an overwhelming amount of heart. Every song feels as if there is a wealth of stories and experience behind it, allowing us to see the person that SZA really is from all angles. 

“I might kill my ex, not the best idea / His new girlfriend’s next, how’d I get here? / I might kill my ex, I still love him, though / Rather be in jail than alone,” we hear her sing during the track “Kill Bill.” 

There are moments where we hear that more ‘dangerous’ side of her, but then we hear more introspective lyrics like those on “Too Late.”

“Had to be alone to figure out how I should be loved / And if it’s just us, is that enough? / Is it bad that I want more?” she sings. 

This LP feels like an ocean voyage through SZA’s personality and psyche, and we just happened to be invited along for the ride. 

My main problem with the album happens to be its length. While five years between releases may seem like enough time to warrant a longer collection, I feel that it is the one thing bringing “SOS” down. 

Before any deluxe releases, the album sits at 68 minutes long across the 23 songs. There were several moments during my first listen where I found myself asking, “Is it over yet?” I was loving every moment of it, but it did not need to be over an hour long. I feel that I may be too used to “Ctrl,” which is 20 minutes shorter than “SOS” and has no unnecessary songs to speak of. 

The tone of the album is also something I take slight exception to. 

It always fills me with joy to see an artist’s lyricism and storytelling evolve and age as they do. For example, in Lamar’s “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers,” we can see that he is a completely different person than he was when he released “DAMN.” in 2017. I just don’t see that from SZA in “SOS.”

The majority of the lyrics and subject matter from SZA feel exactly the same as they did five years ago. When “Ctrl” first released, she was 27 years old, which can justify the themes of being lost and attempting to find love. 

However, she just turned 33 years old in November, and while I cannot speak on her life and what she has gone through, I would have liked to see some more maturity. 

The fact that the music behind the lyrics went above and beyond my expectations makes it forgivable for the most part. 

If what you’ve read so far makes you think I didn’t like the album, then forget all of it. This is one of the best albums of the year and definitely the shining beacon of 2022’s final push alongside last week’s “HEROES & VILLAINS” from Metro Boomin. 

“SOS” is just what SZA needed to ensure her spot atop the pantheon of modern R&B singers. With some more releases in the future, she just might be able to be considered the Lauryn Hill of our generation. I cannot wait for when we are able to make that argument.