“S.O.S.” by SZA: bop or flop?

Collin Zabroske, Contributing Writer

SZA, renowned American singer-songwriter, released her second record-breaking album,“S.O.S,  on Dec. 9, 2022. S.O.S. has remained number one on the Billboard 200 for a consecutive six weeks and counting, beating Taylor Swift’s number-one record for “Midnights” by one week.

SZA’s groundbreaking streak has not been seen by a female artist since Adele’s “30” in November. 2021. The album features many artists including Phoebe Bridgers, Travis Scott, Don Tolive  and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. This wide range of artists gives the SZA fandom a little taste of everything. With an early 2000’s rock sound found in “F2F” to a more seldom sound in “Ghost in the Machine” with guest Phoebe Bridgers,”S.O.S.” provides a sonically diverse range of songs while maintaining its cohesive R&B integrity. This has music critics comparing “S.O.S.” to her previous album, “Ctrl”.

“S.O.S.” is not sitting in the same lane as “Ctrl” in terms of musical style and production. With a more modernized R&B style influenced by Travis Scott, “S.O.S.” gives the listener a new direction into the mind of SZA. These new tinges of hip-hop R&B completely defy the alternative cohesion SZA fans were used to with “Ctrl”.

SZA’s debut album, “Ctrl”, released in summer of 2017. Although “S.O.S.” has proven to be a top-charted album, I believe that the production, songwriting and sonic cohesion of “Ctrl” is better than “S.O.S.” Since the album release, “Ctrl” has remained on the Billboard 200 for a total of 260 weeks straight, making it her most iconic piece of work to date prior to “S.O.S.” It has never left the chart and continuously extends its record as the album by a black female artist with most consecutive weeks charting. 

With this standing, SZA had a lot of pressure to produce an equally groundbreaking album like “Ctrl”. Some may argue she delivered; I believe otherwise.

“Ctrl” will remain my favorite SZA album over “S.O.S” because I grew up listening to it in some of the most developmental years of my life. The album explores all aspects of love, s*x, relationships and self-love which were all new feelings I found in myself at 17. Due to the almost five-year anticipation period leading up to “S.O.S.”, I was expecting a similar alternative-style album like “Ctrl” to blow me away. 

When midnight of Dec. 9 came and I listened, I found myself a little disappointed. There was something missing. Most of the songs on the album sound very similar despite the few features that stand out to me,like “Special”, “Low”, “Kill Bill” and “Ghost in the Machine”. Maybe my attachment to the nostalgic songs of “Ctrl” like “Normal Girl”, “Prom”, “Go Gina” and “The Weekend” made it hard for me to accept the new wave of music SZA is producing. 

I felt this exact same way when my other favorite artist, Lana Del Rey, released her album “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” after her critically reviewed album “Norman F***king Rockwell”. There is no comparing the two much like comparing “Ctrl” to “S.O.S.”