SOS confirms what we all knew- SZA is the blueprint for modern R&B

Photo by: Charlie Martin

Rating: 4.5/5

Five years after the release of her debut album Ctrl (2017), SZA released her highly anticipated sophomore album SOS on Dec. 9, 2022. The album features 23 songs, with collaborations from artists including Travis Scott, Don Toliver and Phoebe Bridgers. 

According to SZA, the album title SOS has many meanings in her life, ranging from “save our souls,” “save our ship,” but also as a nickname for her given name, Solána.

The pop-R&B record marked SZA’s first-ever number-one album on the Billboard 200 chart, as well as earning the title of having the biggest streaming week ever for an R&B record.

With such massive commercial success a month after its release, SOS manages to confirm SZA’s role as a staple in modern R&B, particularly due to the quality of production, lyricism, and genre-defying production found in her sophomore album.

Production and Genres

Hardly anyone would deny recognizing that unique sound production, coupled with powerful vocals is the backbone of any innovative piece of music, and SZA uses this knowledge to her advantage with SOS.

Although tracks such as “Used (feat. Don Toliver),” and “Shirt” align more closely with the modern R&B sound introduced in Ctrl, many other songs move away from the stylistic production choices the artist is known for. 

For instance, the track “F2F” features soft guitar melodies that build onto an Avril Lavigne-esque pop-punk progression throughout the chorus, a kind of sound that SZA had yet to explore before SOS. 

Furthermore, the production in many other songs is mellow and soulful, yet simple enough to allow SZA’s vocals to be at the forefront of the sound experience in the album. Examples that come to mind include “Nobody Gets Me,” and “Snooze.”

Although SZA dives into different genres throughout the album, it remains sonically cohesive. The mellow, soulful, and innovative sound makes for an easy listen, and her vocals shine as bright as ever in SOS.


Luckily, the album does not rely too heavily on the influence of features, having only four out of the 23 tracks in SOS include a featured artist. Nowhere in the album does it feel as though these collaborations were randomly chosen or rushed, in fact, it is the opposite.

Despite all featured artists sounding cohesive with SZA and adding to the quality of the work, the most notable feature in the album is “Open Arms (feat. Travis Scott).”

Not only is “Open Arms” one of the most raw songs written for the album, but it also benefits from Travis Scott’s verse which adds a different perspective to SZA’s view of the situation. As well, the two voices mesh together very well, likely due to the fact that SZA and Travis Scott have collaborated multiple times.

Another highlight in terms of features is “Ghost in the Machine (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)”. In the song, Bridgers’ more alternative influence is seen in the production as well as in the lyrics, which is new but well-fitting for SZA. That said, the overarching melody is very similar to the Halsey song, “Gasoline,” but this was probably not intentional.


As an artist that is loved by the masses for her emotional, relatable lyrics, SZA delivered exactly that in SOS.

In contrast with her debut album, Ctrl, her newest record showcases a self-assured, yet reckless SZA. Although her struggles for self-love and worthiness are still expressed in songs such as “Special,” these struggles are no longer the focus of the message SZA is trying to convey. 

The lyrics in SOS often reflect confidence and anger, as seen in the opening track “SOS,” where she says: “I just want what’s mine; This ain’t no warnin’ shot; Case all you h**s forgot.”

Moreover, when asked what she wants people to take away from the lyrics in the album, SZA said, “I feel like the general theme is like ‘I’m pissed.’ So I hope that that’s understood: I’m pissed.”


Regardless of the quality of the album, the one flaw that stands out is the song “Specia.l”

In the song, SZA describes how she does not feel special, but ironically the only thing that is not special is the song itself. In Ctrl, for instance, SZA discussed her insecurities at length in songs such as “Normal Girl,” but this time around “Special” falls flat in the lyrics department when discussing issues of self-worth.

Due to the fact that this is the only song that slightly missed the mark, it doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the album too much, regardless of the fact that it should have probably been eliminated from SOS.

Best tracks

The top five tracks of the album are:

  1. “Snooze”
  2. “Open Arms (feat. Travis Scott)
  3. “Smoking on my Ex Pack”
  4. “SOS”
  5. F2F


Overall, SZA’s SOS is already a modern staple in R&B as well as in popular culture. SZA’s eagerness to explore different genres effortlessly in SOS distinguishes her talent while attracting new listeners with her stunning vocal performances and confident lyrics.

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