SZA is one of the most popular female voices in the music industry. Her second album, “SOS”, was released five years after her beloved first studio album “Ctrl.” The five-year period made anticipation boil for fans and the media. This created a powerful pressure around SZA, as an artist, to produce something just as successful and powerful as “Ctrl.”
The duration of SZA’s relationship with her label has also created a restrictive lens on her music. She has hundreds of unreleased and completed songs that didn’t receive approval from her label. It seemed possible “SOS” was crafted somewhat out of SZA’s control.
SZA responded to these pressures through her album with power. In the first song on the album SZA opens with a gospel choir and strength in her voice. She tells her audience “SOS” isn’t a cry for help. She rejects her haters and the pressures placed on her. She knows who she is and that the power in her voice has taken her to where she is.
“Open Arms” (feat. Travis Scott)
In “Ctrl” the lyrical quality and complexity set the album apart from many others. It gave her first album the uniqueness it needed for the kind of fame it achieved. This song mirrors that lyrical beauty from “Ctrl.” The honesty poured into the lyrics makes it relatable to a wide range of listeners. By putting Travis Scott on this song, SZA maintains her rap influence and carries it successfully throughout this album.
The bubblegum pop anthem that no one expected. Dark and almost comedic, this song is an example of a foolproof success. Using the iconic movie reference to her advantage, this song's catchy and relatable melody is unforgettable. SZA is generally considered to be a modern R&B artist, but this pop song showed SZA’s audience her talent in all genres she sings.
“Smoking on my Ex-Pack”
SZA’s rap influences in her discography culminate in this instant classic. Her flow is unstoppable and passionate. Rapping strips SZA of her iconic voice and leads the listener back to her words, and the message she is communicating with this album. She is sharing to her fans that she is versatile and never to be underestimated.
The R&B song "OG" fans needed. This song is similar to her usual, silky vocals in a sweet love song with a good beat. With “Snooze” SZA proved she’s still the artist she was when her rise to fame started.
“Used” (feat. Don Toliver)
Don Toliver’s feature on this song plants SZA perfectly into the modern music scene. Toliver has been making hits back-to-back with dozens of popular artists. This song appeals to what the modern listener wants to hear. While it is very different to the style in “Ctrl,” the style and sound of popular music in 2017 was different.
“SOS” had to at minimum, meet the caliber of “Ctrl." SZA surpassed the question of caliber by displaying her versatility and unshakable talent. She is not an artist that is going to be losing popularity or critical acclaim anytime soon. To create a second album that met the same success as her first is an incredible achievement.
Celebrating Black voices is very important, and SZA’s achievements in the musical industry deserve to be celebrated. While popularity is ever-changing and trends shift quickly, SZA stays in tune. She knows her audience well, and that is how she creates her unique sound that captivates her listeners.
“SOS” responded to and squashed all the pressures placed around SZA’s second album. Her strength as an artist should go unquestioned after her sophomore success. “SOS” is not a cry for help, but a signal of success.
Favorite songs: Blind, Open Arms, Gone Girl