With more than an hour of new material, SZA’s no-holds-barred lyrical approach when tackling matters of the heart hasn’t changed much, but the conclusions she draws from her experiences go to both extremes – some feel a lot more mature as she turns her focus towards healing, but one of the first couple tracks we hear is a murder fantasy about her ex. Pushing her seemingly limitless voice to new heights and experimenting with some spellbinding vocal runs, the album’s overall vibe is a little more aggressive and percussion-heavy to match her lyrical barbs. Here are seven things we learned from the First Lady of TDE’s latest.
The “NO CTRL” license plate in the music video for single “Shirt” was no one-off joke – it seems like part of SZA’s mission statement for the album was actively distancing herself from her classic era, learning to thrive in the drama and even seek it out for the healing it might eventually provide on quite a few tracks instead of shrugging it off like before. “All the hate I know is used to fuel my soul, no controlling,” she sings on “Seek & Destroy” as a double entendre. The lyric that perfectly blends the energy of her last two projects, though, comes on latest single “Blind,” throwing in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it X-rated shot at an ex in the same breath as getting enamoured with his more toxic side: “I like all that violence, give me dysfunction. I like when you come, never stay the whole night.”
SOS In Spatial
Sza’s SOS joins the star-studded roster of albums on Apple Music’s exciting new Spatial Audio vertical. Creating an elevated audio experience, SOS is transformed into a fully immersive listening adventure with unparalleled, multidimensional sound and clarity — Imagine Dolby 5.0, but on steroids.
Spatial audio is something that you literally have to hear for yourself to truly appreciate it, and thankfully all you need to do is pop in your AirPods and find the album on Apple Music alongside an ever-growing selection of songs and albums available in Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos. From there, you will hear every piece of the 23-track album in a much more cerebral and intimate way than anywhere else — which is great for everyone except maybe her ex-lovers she’s singing about.
One of the quickest annotations on Genius after the album dropped simply read, “SZA obviously hasn’t watched Star Wars,” in response to a misguided comment comparing herself to Obi-Wan Kenobi and having her opponents get “caught in the laser.” With so many pop culture references across the project, she obviously doesn’t have time to get to actually watching them all: she drops a clever reference to the Minions of all things, but refers to Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in Scarface as “that white bitch with the bob.” Still, SZA masterfully blends other aspects of pop culture elsewhere: who else would think to throw an ODB freestyle over a Bjork sample on the closing track, drop references to Muhammad Ali, Bob Saget and Julia Stiles in the same verse, or write a country and pop-punk crossover with Lizzo on “F2F?”
The SZA Spark
Speaking of Lizzo, SZA has her own track called “Special” on SOS, and it’s certainly a standout. Seemingly in response to her Ctrl track “Normal Girl,” where she shied away from her quirks and regretted not being the kind of person you take home to meet the parents, her latest finds her in the opposite mindstate. Touching powerfully on a long list of insecurities, SZA comes to realize that being a “normal girl” isn’t as great as it sounds and moves towards self-love, singing “I gave all my special away to a loser, I hate that you made me just like you.”
She Has A Heart
While we’ve mostly only known SZA for her lyrical clapbacks and sarcasm while shying away from deeper emotional connections, a couple tracks on SOS reveal that she may have been hiding a more wholesome side all along. She tenderly sings “I don’t want to be your girlfriend, I want to be your person” on “Notice Me,” but the most touching tracks find her ruminating on a breakup with a fiance that most fans might not have even known the secretive singer had. Finally providing a definitive version of events after online speculation, the track “Nobody Gets Me” gets acoustic as SZA offers the album’s best vocal performance while walking us through the proposal story and finally opening up about the experience of losing a connection with the only person she felt truly understood her.
While many of the tracks on Ctrl were bolstered by voicemails and recordings of SZA’s mother providing her with her timeless advice, things get multigenerational on her latest as her grandmother offers some words of wisdom to kick off “Open Arms,” her fifth collaboration with Travis Scott. It takes on an added degree of significance, as SZA’s grandmother passed away in 2019. While SZA’s mother doesn’t officially appear, her advice still gets referenced on “Blind” as SZA recounts her simple but poignant mantra: “never shit where you lay at.”
AI Takes Over
A couple online commenters have already begun calling the expansive SOS the Blonde to the hit-filled Ctrl’s Channel Orange in a comparison to Frank Ocean’s work. The connection runs deeper when you realize both albums play with a sonic switchup at the exact halfway point, down to the second – this one does so with a brief but effective feature from none other than Phoebe Bridgers on “Ghost In The Machine.” Still, the wildest part of the track has to be SZA’s sudden tangent about artificial intelligence, something that’s clearly been on her mind. In one of the album’s more dour lyrical moments, she notes that even a robot has more heart than she does, and a future that she lacks, while wishing that she was capable of simply powering down like one to avoid the sleepless nights.