SZA’s Second Album “SOS”—An Effectively Daring Meld of R&B and Punk-Rock

SZA’s newest album “SOS,” released in December 2022, is a testament to the internal conflict and emotional contradiction that heartbreak introduces for many people. Integrating her previous R&B style with innovative punk-rock instrumentals, SZA’s new release creates a diverse yet cohesive collection of powerful music for all to enjoy.

Over the course of the album, SZA invites listeners to come on an engrossing and introspective journey — she undergoes reflection, mourning, affirmation, appreciation, and loathing before ultimately finding love for herself. Each song individually represents a facet of these complex phases throughout her life. While some of the tracks hit the mark more than others, SZA’s overarching emotional depth and daring musical innovation build up to a strong second studio album. Avid fan Justin Parker ’24 explained how he feels SZA’s independence and maturation made the five-year gap between the release of her first album and “SOS” worth the wait.

“[SZA] was taking time to perfect her art, and she was taking time to be human. I feel like we as consumers feel this obligation to receive things instantaneously, and that jeopardizes artists’ visions because they have this pressure to fulfill the needs and wants of the consumers, which detracts from their artistic vision in the first place. So yes, I feel like it was worth the five-year wait, because we got to see her vocal range to its fullest extent and maturity, and we got music from her that she branched out into,” said Parker.

Arguably her most iconic song of the album, the second track, “Kill Bill,” charted an impressive number three on Billboard’s Hot 100. This song’s upbeat instrumentals are a stark contrast to its darker lyrical themes. SZA sings of murdering her ex-lover and his new girlfriend in the song, drawing clever parallels to the plot of the namesake action movie, “Kill Bill.” Its catchy and relatably vindictive lyrics also attracted attention and began to trend on TikTok, with well over 83,000 videos using the original sound — which does not even begin to account for the thousands of lip syncing videos to sped-up or reverbed fan-made alterations to the song. The strength of “Kill Bill” lies in the interesting and nuanced juxtaposition of its sound and meaning as well as its musical dynamism.

Later in the album, the 13th song ,“F2F,” opens with a catchy beat, reminiscent of the “revenge-pop” style that has infiltrated contemporary music, such as with pop phenomenon Olivia Rodrigo’s album “Sour.” Picture a woman scorned, in her late teens or twenties, singing her heart out in a rebellious expression of anger and sadness yet with fiery optimism for a new and revolutionary era. A song that is not quite rock, not quite pop, but a mix of both, vaguely reminiscent of early ’00s Disney Channel original songs. A song that breaks conventional genre boundaries in an explosive fusion of styles. That is “F2F”— an exciting and standout track from “SOS.”

However, “F2F” also is controversial for this exact reason. While some fans love SZA’s venture into a new genre, straying from her typical R&B, others, like Tulah Jefferson ’24, feel that this change is too jarring and does not fit the overall aesthetic of her as an artist.

“My favorite song was ‘Snooze’ and my least favorite was ‘F2F.’ While I appreciate artists branching out their comfort zone, [‘F2F’] felt a little Disney Channel-esque. I didn’t like the drums. The rest of the album was very mature-sounding,” said Jefferson.

Yet although “F2F” may sometimes come across as slightly tacky, that is part of the song’s charm. Rebranding is a part of any artist’s career, and they shouldn’t be confined to conforming each song of the album to a monolithic style. Especially SZA, who only has one other full album from five years ago — she’s in a new era of her own life and it’s natural for her to reflect that shift in her music. We don’t scrutinize other popular artists like Taylor Swift for her transition from an innocent country vibe to one of edgy rebellion. Additionally, SZA does still retain components of contemporary R&B in many of her other songs. Now, her newer style sees her singing to a punk rock-pop fusion track, at times even combining the traditional and new, rapping to what feels like an R&B instrumental. SZA’s deft fusion of multiple genres in one album is indicative of her musical expertise.

Love it or hate it, the album demonstrated SZA’s bold, experimental, and grand re-entrance into the music world. For that reason, ultimately, “SOS” earns 4.5/5 stars.