A signal to the charts: SZA’s SOS smashes records, sequels her music breakthrough


Photo courtesy Genius

SZA’s newest album, SOS, replicates the iconic Princess Diana photo, giving insight to the internal struggles she elaborates on in the album.

After months of leaking 15-second clips on Instagram, Dec. 9, 2022 marked the grand and long-awaited release of SZA’s sophomore album, SOS. A sequel to her debut album, CTRL, SOS is a farewell letter to SZA’s previous pattern of harmful behavior and emotional turmoil, combined with a romantic and elegant renewal of her loyalty to her own happiness and quality of life.

SOS takes sampling to a new level, with clips from famous gospel songs, Morse code, and her 2015 album CTRL, to bring her entire discography back into view. The most iconic sample, however, is the album’s cover art. The cover depicts SZA on a diving board in what looks like a wide-open sea, replicating the iconic 1997 photo of Princess Diana alone on a diving board and giving an opening glimpse into some of the internal struggles she elaborates on in the album. In an interview with Hot 97, SZA said “I just love how isolated she felt, and that was what I wanted to convey most.”

Despite the similarity between the pictures, diehard fans note the numerous differences between the two. In the original photo, Princess Diana’s face is partially obstructed, with the look of intense longing and loneliness as clear as day, combined with her sheltered body language and downward glance. SZA’s photo, however, depicts her staring out into the sea, symbolizing her optimistic look into the future. This difference runs through the foundation of SOS, as it becomes clear that while SZA is alone, she is not lonely.

In comparison to the sadness and doubt SZA expressed in CTRL, SOS allows SZA to step into a new light, detailing the beauty that comes from internal growth and self-reflection on dangerous habits. With songs like “Smoking on my Ex Pack” and “Kill Bill,” SZA depicts the sour grudge she holds over her ex, which dissolves into her emotional and complex journey to stray from a sexual version of herself into a more romantic and centered vision. “Kill Bill is by far my favorite song, as it really highlights the anger and grief that SZA feels over this loss of an important relationship, but it also shows the catharsis and freedom she feels from finally letting go, while still

emphasizing her internal conflict towards her decision and ending a traumatic cycle,” junior Annie Jung said.
SZA’s vulnerability and openness in her mental and physical growth has been welcomed with open arms. SOS has, in a word, obliterated recent music charts, debuting number one on the Billboard 200’s for the last four weeks. Her top song “Kill Bill” can be heard from every radio station, and her upcoming tour sold out in minutes, with any remaining tickets skyrocketing to up to $700 per ticket.

In spite of the discouraging lack of opportunity to see SZA perform her new album live, avid listeners still relate to the superstar and her experiences. “When CTRL came out, the emotions I felt when listening to that album were so much more immature. When listening to SOS, it was so refreshing because not only had I grown up, but she had also, and it was nice to see such a positive change in her musical growth,” senior Jahnavee Chakravarty said.

Within her growth as an artist, long before she dropped this album, the one standstill feature in SZA’s discography was versatility. The topics of love, loss and a lack of support were apparent throughout all of her music, with a simple foundation of a classic rap beat and calm instrumentals. SOS sprung forward with versatility, going from freestyling at the top of the album to singing songs reminiscent of Disney Soundtracks. “I loved the versatility on this album, it made it really welcoming each time I relistened, like there was always something new to discover or something that I didn’t catch originally,” sophomore Sana Majumdar said.

The worldwide acclamation for SOS is aptly due, and with SZA’s tour dates approaching, the rave about SZA and all of her wonderful abilities as an artist will sprout to fruition in a wave that hasn’t been seen since the release of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” a five-time Grammy winning album. As she has shown the world, SZA is nothing short of a musical luminary.