Five years ago, Solána Imani Rowe, known professionally as SZA, released her debut album ‘CTRL’ and established herself as a household name in the music industry. Previously, she gained traction through her collaborations with reputable artists like Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna. The album exploded her music career, earning the rising artist five Grammy nominations of Best Urban Contemporary Album, Best R&B Performance, Best R&B Song, Best Rap/Sung Performance, and Best New Artist. Since that 2017 release, fans and journalists have patiently waited for new releases. However, other than a handful of successful collaborations and soundtracks, new material from the artist has been hard to come by.
SZA racked up five Top 40 hits before releasing her second album, SOS (2022) which reached number one on the Billboard 200 chart and impressively remained there for seven consecutive weeks. She even broke the record for the biggest streaming week for a R&B album. Consisting of 23 songs with over an hour of run time, SZA’s album undoubtedly pushed her back into the spotlight, but what was the reason for its huge popularity?
SZA has set herself apart from other artists with her vulnerability, maturity, and brilliant songwriting abilities. On the surface, her album is about falling in love and out of love, but it also acts as SZA’s memoir, as she extensively reflects on her past actions and thoughts that sabotaged her happiness. The cover art of her album ties her message together as she is shown sitting on an isolated diving board surrounded by the ocean, seemingly lost in thought. SZA has mastered the art of storytelling, transforming deeply personal observations into heart-wrenching songs that, at times, combine feelings of sorrow, hopefulness, and painful relatability.
Some of her notable songs include “Kill Bill” and “Nobody Gets Me,” which both reached top-ten on the billboard. SZA’s second song of ‘SOS,’ “Kill Bill,” begins the album with intense energy as she sings about the pains of past relationships. This song went viral on TikTok for its satisfying and soothing melody combined with brutally honest lyrics. The contrast between soft vocals and light-hearted instruments with the lyrics “I might kill my ex, I still love him though, rather be in jail than alone” perfectly captures SZA’s silent rage. She ends her song by writing, “I just killed my ex, I still love him, though, rather be in hell than alone.” She thoughtfully describes the common feelings of anger and revenge often experienced after breakups. Many of her fans can relate to the loneliness and bitter jealousy after watching an ex-partner move on.
Moreover, her song “Nobody Gets Me” describes her heartbreak after getting broken up with by her ex-fiance after dating for 11 years. She sings, “How am I supposed to let you go? Only like myself when I’m with you. ‘Nobody Gets Me’ could be the album’s most beautiful and heartfelt song. The singer describes her feelings for her ex-fiance in raw and emotional lyrics. Like many in her album, this song has a soft melody and was played on the guitar.
The rest of the album’s songs are filled with rich language and meaning. Through this release, SZA pushes to normalize opening up about mental health struggles by not holding back her emotions and leaving listeners feeling heartbroken and empathetic. Overall, SZA far exceeded the expectations of her fans and created one of the year’s best albums.