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SZA, 21 Savage leverage huge deals, master recording ownership
SZA and 21 Savage

FilmMagic / Contributor / Getty Images, Aurora Rose / Contributor / Getty Images

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SZA, 21 Savage leverage huge deals, master recording ownership

Young artists use the power of social platforms to create their brands and build their audience bases, bringing massive bargaining power to major label deals

GRAMMYs/Jul 14, 2017 - 05:18 am

The wild west of self-promotion opportunities afforded by modern internet and its ever-expanding interconnected spheres of social media have opened unprecedented doors of opportunity for young artists in recent years. Barriers against entry to the big leagues of the mainstream music industry continue to dissolve, and these changes occur at an increasing rate of acceleration.

Previously, a young artist's biggest barriers to entry may have been the struggle to reach untapped markets of prospective fans, which they would historically need the promotional strength of a major label to identify and activate. Now, the proliferation of peer-connected social music streaming platforms such as SoundCloud, Spotify and AppleMusic make it possible for artists with genuine appeal to cultivate and capture a large audience before ever signing a major record deal.

As a natural outgrowth of this era of upheaval in our industry, there has been a fascinating shift in the balance of power. The deals certain young artists are able to sign, as well as the heretofore un-heard-of leverage they can bring to the table during their first encounters with major league players has become a fresh success story of the modern music industry.

This ability to independently create first a fan base, and then a movement, has helped exciting young artists — notably Russ, SZA and 21 Savage — leverage deals making headlines.

New Jersey-based rapper/producer Russ, for starters, recently made a major a splash with his series of successful SoundCloud releases, many of which have garnered more than 2 million plays in less than six months.  However, long before taking his talents for outputting hot rap singles to SoundCloud, he spent more than 10 years building a following and honing his craft.

During that time, he released 11 full albums and cultivated a hardcore legion of ride –or-die fans. When it came time to finally cut a deal with a major, Russ had built an engaged audience that allowed him a 50/50 share of the profits for any releases on the label.

"Basically, you either get a profit split deal or you get a royalty deal," said Russ. "Royalty deals are s* but new artists aren’t getting profit split deals out the gate. I was able to. That has to be part of the narrative."

St. Louis-based R&B/neo-soul singer SZA utilized her social following, with the help of Top Dawg Entertainment, to cut a joint deal with RCA Records that was so strong that even music executive Jimmy Iovine took notice.

 Yet another young artist making thoughtful moves to protect his profits and his longevity is 21 Savage. In response to an article from venerable hip-hop blog DJ Booth highlighting SZA's success story, Savage's manager triumphantly revealed that, due to the huge following Savage built prior to signing with L.A. Reid's Epic Records, he was able to leverage a deal that awarded 100 percent ownership of all master recordings to the artist — a deal unheard of even five to 10 years ago.

 

The obvious through line connecting these three young artists is quite simple: they understand the power of the medium they use to deliver music to their fans, and they've paid attention to the history of artists who've gone before them.

21 Savage's case in particular is a fascinating yet simple lesson many artists have yet to learn: ownership of the master recordings is crucial.

For some artists, the battles over publishing rights and masters ownership has become the stuff of industry legend — cautionary tales for wiser rising stars to take to heart.

Prince is arguably one of the most famous cases, having spent decades of his career fighting to regain financial control over the rights to the masters of some of his most beloved recordings, a battle the singer waged from the mid-1980s until 2014.

Paul McCartney fought for nearly half a century to recover ownership rights to the Beatles' massive catalog of hits, finally settling the dispute to his satisfaction just a few weeks ago.

As Iovine pointed out in his summation of the changes SZA's label deal signify, artists who understand the power of current technology are in an incredible position to leverage vastly different deals with major labels than ever before. Meanwhile, the role labels play remains pivotal — perhaps now more than ever.

With equal efforts supporting artist development and activating new fan bases now coming from both artists and labels, previously unthinkable new pathways for creating successful music brands will open. The truly exciting aspect now is waiting to see what will come next.

How did Jimmy Iovine, Dr. Dre get their start? Industry heavyweights talk HBO's "The Defiant Ones"

The Soundtrack Hit Makes A Comeback: How 'Encanto,' 'Top Gun' & ‘Black Panther’ Went From Chart-Toppers To GRAMMY Nominations

Photo: RgStudio via GettyImages

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The Soundtrack Hit Makes A Comeback: How 'Encanto,' 'Top Gun' & ‘Black Panther’ Went From Chart-Toppers To GRAMMY Nominations

The once-golden bridge between Hollywood and Billboard has been quiet in recent years, perhaps due in part to the pandemic. But over the past 12 months, that trend has been truly broken.

GRAMMYs/Jan 23, 2023 - 04:15 pm

It’s the kind of development even an animated fortune teller voiced by John Leguizamo couldn’t have predicted.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2021 animated film Encanto was all-conquering, and its success also touched the Billboard charts. The film's "We Don't Talk About Bruno" entered the first Hot 100 chart of 2022 at No. 50, quickly becoming a record-breaking, multi-million-selling phenomenon. It also led to the renaissance of a particular crossover: the soundtrack hit.

With the domestic box office now showing signs of returning to pre-COVID days, the soundtrack single has, once again, become a key marketing tool and chart staple. The nominees for Best Song Written For Visual Media at the 2023 GRAMMYs are proof: Four of the six nominated songs charted on the Billboard Hot 100, with "We Don't Talk About Bruno" sitting at No. 1 for five weeks — the highest tally for a soundtrack release in seven years. (Aladdin favorite "A Whole New World" is also in the exclusive club of Disney animation No. 1s.)

2022 spawned five Top 10  hits from film soundtracks — a feat last achieved in 2018 via Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther collabs with the Weeknd ("Pray for Me") and SZA ("All the Stars"), Swae Lee and Post Malone’s "Sunflower" (Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse), Khalid & Normani’s "Love Lies" (Love, Simon), and the A Star Is Born cut "Shallow." Yet the once-golden bridge between Hollywood and Billboard was quiet in the intervening years, perhaps due in part to the pandemic.  Not one TV or movie tie-in graced the Top 10 in 2021 or 2020. And although Oscar-winning “Shallow” reached pole position in 2019, it began its chart trajectory the year previously.

Over the past 12 months, however, this drought has been well and truly broken. And for a while, single-handedly by Encanto.

The Encanto OST picked up three GRAMMY nominations — Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media, Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media and Best Song Written For Visual Media for "Bruno" and spawned seven Hot 100 singles, including another Top 10 smash, "Surface Pressure." Not bad for an album which in its first week entered the charts at No. 197.

Unlike the inescapable "Let It Go" from 2013's Disney juggernaut Frozen, the success of "Bruno" happened more organically. Its chart and streaming dominance wasn't steered by record executives, but by the public who deemed it more stream-worthy than any other track from the film. The biggest soundtrack from a live-action film, Top Gun: Maverick, told a similar story.

Lady Gaga’s power ballad "Hold My Hand" was primed to replicate the chart-topping, Academy Award-winning success of Berlin’s "Take My Breath Away" from the 1986 original. But while Gaga's lead single received a Best Song Written For Visual Media nomination at the 65th GRAMMY Awards, its chart peak was overwhelmingly eclipsed by OneRepublic’s "I Ain’t Worried."

The uptempo Peter, Bjorn and John-sampling track played over key scene where Tom Cruise, Glen Powell and Miles Teller play football shirtless on the beach, and became Ryan Tedder and co.’s biggest hit since 2013’s "Counting Stars" (No. 6 on Hot 100, over 660 million streams). The synergy between moviegoers and OneRepublic fans caught the band's record label off guard; Interscope pulled promotion of then-current single "West Coast" to capitalize on all the buzz.

2022 also witnessed a return-to-form from pop music-savvy director Baz Luhrmann, whose expert curation helped Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby spawn radio hits. Luhrmann was never going to give his Elvis Presley biopic a traditional soundtrack; instead he favored a mix of nostalgia and anachronism.

Elvis is peppered with songs performed by The King himself, as well as covers sung by former teen idol/lead actor Austin Butler and a host of newcomers and established artists. Yet the film's sole Top 10 hit was contemporary: Doja Cat's "Hound Dog"-sampling "Vegas." For Luhrmann's vision, Elvis was nominated alongside Encanto, "Stranger Things," Top Gun: Maverick and West Side Story for Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media GRAMMY Award.

Even Rihanna came out of self-imposed musical retirement for a film soundtrack, releasing the lead single from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in late October. While the dramatic balladry of "Lift Me Up" might not have been the floor-filling banger many fans hoped for — the song is Rihanna's first solo single in six years — it still returned the Barbadian to the upper echelons of the hit parade, reaching No. 2.

No stranger to the film soundtrack, Taylor Swift’s contribution to haunting drama Where the Crawdads Sing, "Carolina," is also nominated in the Best Song Written for Visual Media category alongside "Nobody Like U" — Turning Red’s fictional boyband song co-penned by Billie Eilish. And while the monolithic state of the comic book universe has rarely translated to the singles chart, The Batman’s use of Nirvana’s "Something In The Way" catapulted 1992's Nevermind up the charts.

As movie hits were abundant, so were songs featured in big-time TV shows — bringing new songs and decades-old hits back into public consciousness. Chief among these small screen-to-chartoppers was  Kate Bush's 1985 single "Running Up That Hill," which played over a significant moment in the mammoth fourth season of Netflix’s "Stranger Things."

The song was the British singer/songwriter's first Top 40 hit in the U.S., peaking at No. 30 on the Hot 100 in the '80s. Nearly 30 years later, without any label backing, the majestic synth-pop classic enjoyed a much-deserved second wind, shooting all the way up to No. 3 faster than you can say "flesh-eating Demogorgon."

The sci-fi nostalgia-fest also gave another, although much heavier, ‘80s gem a new lease of life when Joseph Quinn’s Eddie Munson shredded Metallica’s "Master of Puppets" in its season finale. The thrash metal favorite subsequently enjoyed a belated chart debut at No. 35, returning the headbangers to the Hot 100 for the first time in 14 years.

Elsewhere, video game adaptation "Arcane" spawned the first TV theme hit in eons with unlikely dream team Imagine Dragons and JID’s "Enemy," while "Euphoria" regular Labrinth scored a chart hit with "I’m Tired," a gospel-tinged song he performs in the second season's fourth episode as Zendaya's Rue imagines entering a church. The new golden age of television combined with the return to multiplexes ensured that 2022 was a banner year for the OST.

2023 looks promising, too: Dua Lipa is rumored to be contributing to Barbie’s long-awaited cinematic debut; Disney is set to give The Little Mermaid the live-action treatment featuring Chloe x Halle’s Halle Bailey; and several franchises that previously spawned No. 1 soundtrack songs have new installments on the way (The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Fast X). Regardless, expect the soundtrack hit renaissance to continue growing like the "grapes that thrive on the vine."

Watch The 2022 Nominees For Best Song Written For Visual Media Nominees At The 2023 GRAMMY Awards

Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist

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Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist

The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist to quench your thirst for new tunes, all from student members. GRAMMY U celebrates new beginnings with fresh pop tunes that will kickstart 2023.

GRAMMYs/Jan 6, 2023 - 12:17 am

Did you know that among all of the students in GRAMMY U, songwriting and performance is one of the most sought after fields of study? We want to create a space to hear what these students are creating today!

The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that students are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify and Apple Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.

Each month, we accept submissions and feature 20 to 25 songs that match that month’s theme. This month we're ringing in 2023 with our New Year, It's Poppin'! playlist, which features fresh pop songs that bring new year, new you vibes. Showcasing talented members from our various chapters, we felt these songs represented the positivity and hopefulness that GRAMMY U members embody as they tackle this upcoming year of exciting possibilities.

So, what’s stopping you? Press play on GRAMMY U’s Mixtape and listen now on Spotify below and Apple Music.

Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our February playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the student member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify and/or Apple Music link to the song. Students must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.

About GRAMMY U:

GRAMMY U is a program that connects college students with the industry's brightest and most talented minds and provides those aspiring professionals with the tools and opportunities necessary to start a career in music.     

Throughout each semester, events and special programs touch on all facets of the industry, including the business, technology, and the creative process.

As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.

Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.

2022 Year In Review: 7 Trends That Defined R&B
(L-R) Mariah Carey, FKA Twigs, Mary J. Blige, Wizkid, SZA, Kehlani

Photo: (L-R) Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images for BET, Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy, Scott Dudelson/Getty Images, Timothy Norris/Getty Images, Erika Goldring/WireImage, Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Grey Goose Essences

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2022 Year In Review: 7 Trends That Defined R&B

From the return of beloved mainstays to unexpected collaborations, revisit some of the year's biggest moments in R&B.

GRAMMYs/Dec 26, 2022 - 05:24 pm

2022 was a glowing year for R&B, with newcomers and legends alike shattering claims that the genre is on the brink of losing its popularity. It was quite the opposite, actually — newer R&B stars like Flo helped revive '00s nostalgia, and veterans like Babyface showed that there's strength in collaboration.

As the world re-emerges from the pandemic, artists channeled a brighter energy in their music, using more upbeat melodies and lyrics that emphasized fun and romance. Chlöe provided the twerk-friendly anthems, while FKA Twigs' Caprisongs mixtape featured a song for every kind of party imaginable.

There were plenty more R&B stars new and old who contributed to the genre's shine this year. Below, revisit some of 2022's biggest moments in R&B.

The Ladies Seduced Us

R&B has always maintained a sensual core, and the women of the genre confidently reminded listeners of that fact throughout 2022. On her second album Age/Sex/Location, ​​Ari Lennox explored the ebbs and flows of lust with songs like the NSFW "Leak It" (featuring Chlöe) and the flirtatious "Hoodie." Chlöe also continued to unleash her seductive goddess on her solo single, "Surprise."

Two years before SZA dropped her long-anticipated second album, SOS, in December, she showed off her pole-dancing skills in a 2020 Instagram post teasing single "Shirt." (And when lead single "Good Days" arrived in March, she continued her seduction in the outro of the music video.) The LP details the journey of post-lust heartbreak and how to regain one's confidence, from the sneaky affair of "Low" to feeling empty on the punk rock-inspired "F2F."

Peacock's Bel-Air star Coco Jones proved her singing ability was equally as strong as her acting skills, as she captured hearts with her debut EP, What I Didn't Tell You, including the yearning single "ICU." Amber Mark, also a fellow newcomer, released her debut album Three Dimensions Deep. The LP features an array of genres, but songs like "Softly" are what really entranced listeners.

Singers From Across the Pond Ruled

The appreciation for R&B spans shores, and British artists delivered fresh spins on the genre. Cheltenham's FKA Twigs set the energetic tone with the January release of her first mixtape, Caprisongs, which is filled with a kaleidoscope of sounds from drum and bass to trap. Leicester's Mahalia navigated heartbreak with her Letter To Ur Ex EP. Southampton native Craig David tapped back into his '00s style with his nostalgic eighth album, 22, which opens with an interpolation of fellow R&B star Jon B.'s 1998 classic, "They Don't Know."

After winning over stateside fans in 2018 with her GRAMMY-winning single "Boo'd Up," London-born Ella Mai returned with her sophomore album Heart on My Sleeve — a self-described "therapy session" that highlighted the artist's diaristic songwriting. London also spawned a new girl group this year with Flo, a trio who channeled the heydays of '00s pop&B with their debut EP, The Lead.

Afrobeats Trickled Into The Genre

Afrobeats' international popularity has surged over the past few years, so much so that other genres are now borrowing its infectious groove. This year, R&B singers infused the genre into their own sounds, further showcasing Afrobeats' versatility.

FKA Twigs' Caprisongs features "Jealousy," a mellow collab with burgeoning Nigerian artist Rema. Two months later, Rema dropped R&B-infused music of his own on his debut album, Rave & Roses, which featured guests like 6lack and Chris Brown.

The month of June gave way to sweltering summer collaborations. Diddy paired up with Bryson Tiller on the brooding "Gotta Move On," which scored the music mogul his 11th No. 1 on Billboard's Adult R&B Airplay chart. And in true Diddy fashion, he dropped a "Queens" version featuring Yung Miami and Ashanti.

Not long after, Chris Brown and Wizkid joined forces for "Call Me Every Day." Marking their third collaboration, the sultry smash illustrated just why they're crowned the princes of R&B and Afrobeats, respectively.

Artists Took It Back To The Club

R&B is not always about love songs and heartbreak. Rather than dwell in their feelings, a handful of singers opted for a more lighthearted approach in their music. After jumpstarting her solo era with last year's booty anthem "Have Mercy," Chlöe kept the ode to curves going with "Treat Me." Built atop a sample of Bubba Sparxxx and the Ying Yang Twins' 2005 hit "Ms. New Booty," "Treat Me" is a self-confidence anthem.

Baby Tate also borrowed an Atlanta crunk staple from the same year for "Ain't No Love." Featuring fellow Georgia native 2 Chainz, the bouncy tune samples Ciara's "Oh" collaboration with Ludacris, spinning the '00s classic into a modern-day jam.

On the opposite coast, Los Angeles' own Blxst solidified his signature laid-back style with his debut album, Before You Go. Lead single "About You" is best served with a cold one and a two-step.

Kehlani then took listeners to their native Bay Area with April's Blue Water Road album (where Blxst also makes an appearance). The Slick Rick-sampling "Wish I Never" is the ultimate '90s house party jam while the upbeat "Up At Night" with Justin Bieber will do just what its title implies.

Other club genres also came into play, with Ravyn Lenae experiencing house euphoria on Hypnos' "Xtasy" and FKA Twigs going full dancehall alongside shygirl with Caprisongs' "Papi Bones."

There Were Many '90s Celebrations

The '90s still has a tight grip on R&B's current sound, and the artists who ruled that decade proudly reminded us of that fact in 2022. For the 25th anniversary of Mariah Carey's transitional Butterfly album, the icon released a special re-edition that features an updated version of "The Roof" (with added vocals from Brandy) and "Whenever You Call" (with Brian McKnight), a live version of "My All" from VH1 Divas Live, the "Amorphous Anniversary Club Remix" of the title track and more.

Usher also got in the commemorative spirit, releasing My Way (25th Anniversary Edition) — which happens to share the same Sept. 16 anniversary as Carey's Butterfly. The new edition included reimagined versions of three tracks: "My Way (Ryan James Carr Remake)," "Nice & Slow (Ryan James Carr Remake)" and "You Make Me Wanna… (Ryan James Carr Remake)."

To commemorate another 25th anniversary, Erykah Badu celebrated her GRAMMY-winning Baduizm debut with a pair of shows at London's Royal Festival Hall.

Other '90s celebrations came from R&B quartet Xscape, who received the Lady of Soul honor at the 2022 Soul Train Awards, and new artist LAYA, who honored Missy Elliott with a cover of the rapper's 1997 single "Sock It 2 Me" for Women's History Month.

Alt-R&B Girls Made A Return

The beauty of R&B is in its sonic diversity. Alternative R&B has blossomed in popularity over the years, and 2022 saw the return of some of the subgenre's leaders.

Santigold made a thrilling return with Spirituals, the singer's first album in six years. An emotional journey through lockdown, the LP fuses gospel, electronica, punk and pop, all tied together with Santigold's signature yelps.

Another long-awaited comeback came from Kelela, who re-emerged in September after a five-year hiatus. Her single "Washed Away" is the launchpad to her second album Raven, which will be released next February. "Raven is my first breath taken in the dark, an affirmation of Black femme perspective in the midst of systemic erasure and the sound of our vulnerability turned to power," Kelela shared in a press release.

Although Solange didn't give fans new music in 2022, the singer was honored with the 2022 NYU Global Trailblazer Award for Creative and Artistic Excellence in March. And ever the ever-unpredictable star, she composed a score for the New York City Ballet that came to life with a performance at the Lincoln Center in September.

Old School Met New School

This year, there was no separation of generations. Rather, the "legend vs. newcomer" hierarchy was completely dismissed, as artists from the '60s to today joined forces in the recording studio.

Ronald Isley and Beyoncé wooed soul fans with their rework of "Make Me Say It Again, Girl," which originally appeared on the Isley Brothers' 1975 album, The Heat Is On. Isley's wife/manager Kandy told Billboard that Beyoncé's mother Tina Knowles-Lawson was integral in the collaboration, marking a full-circle moment for the star, who grew up listening to the group. "The fact that they are giving us permission to put it out at this time is just overly special," Kandy said.

Ciara and Summer Walker's lilting vocals complemented each other on "Better Thangs," while  SZA (whose stage name pays homage to Wu-Tang Clan member RZA) featured the late Ol' Dirty Bastard on SOS. Elsewhere, PJ Morton's latest album is a celebration of collaboration, with guests Stevie Wonder and Nas on "Water," and Jill Scott and Alex Isley on "Still Believe."

In October, Babyface passed down his GRAMMY-winning torch to the women of R&B with his collaboration album, Girls Night Out. Solely featuring the new generation of female singers, from Muni Long to Ari Lennox, the album showed that romance has no age.

Mary J. Blige donned her Queen of Hip-Hop Soul crown on her latest album, which features rappers like Dave East and Fivio Foreign. On the opposite end, Toronto R&B duo dvsn teamed with male R&B group Jagged Edge on "What's Up" from the former's Working on My Karma album.

Whether it was R&B's legends or promising newcomers making waves, this year had plenty of proof that the genre is still thriving — and never going anywhere.

R&B Isn't Dead: Listen To 51 Songs By Summer Walker, Josh Levi & More Artists Who Are Pushing The Genre Forward

5 Takeaways From SZA’s New Album 'SOS'
SZA performs "Shirt" on "Saturday Night Live"

Photo: Will Heath/NBC via Getty Images

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5 Takeaways From SZA’s New Album 'SOS'

SZA's sophomore album 'SOS' is full of growth, emotion and even 'Minions.' GRAMMY.com unpacks the singer's latest release.

GRAMMYs/Dec 12, 2022 - 08:51 pm

After five years, the long wait for new SZA music is over: SOS is here. Released Dec. 9, SZA's sophomore album unveils how the singer has transformed over the years, packing in a generous 23 songs in the hour-plus run time. SOS includes singles "Shirt," "I Hate U" and "Good Days," while Don Toliver, Phoebe Bridgers, and Travis Scott make up the few features scattered across the project.

SZA's music is relatable, honest, and emotional — themes that permeate through her catalog.  The release of her critically acclaimed debut album Ctrl in 2017 solidified the artist not only as an R&B mainstay, but soundtracked the heartbreaks and growing pains of millions of young people. With her eloquent vocals and layered storytelling abilities, listeners felt every word like it was their own.

SZA is one of the few modern musicians who can stay relevant without releasing music often, but she’s stayed busy regardless. Since Ctrl, she collaborated with Kendrick Lamar on the iconic Black Panther soundtrack, graced magazine covers, and won a GRAMMY in 2022  for Best Pop Duo/Group performance alongside Doja Cat for "Kiss Me More." While her presence is always tangible, the release of a full project hits like a holiday for SZA fans.

Now that SZA’s long awaited sophomore album has arrived, here are five takeaways from SOS.

 

She Weaves Genres Effortlessly

Though SZA’s sound is often dubbed alt-R&B, SOS can not be ascribed to one genre. Although her R&B roots remain strong, the album has remnants of rock, melodic rap and gospel. SZA spits bars on the opening track "SOS," goes full grunge on "F2F," and her moody, crooning vocals come in swinging on the R&B and folk-pop "Blind." Each new song is unpredictable, making SOS an intriguing listen. 

The Movie References Stand Out

SZA didn’t hold back when discussing how she’d been wronged on previous  projects, and she creatively ties in film references to bring these stories to life. On standout track "Kill Bill," she blatantly sings "I might kill my ex" — alluding to Quentin Tarantino's 2003 film of the same name. She references Scarface on "Snooze"singing "Like that white bitch with the bob, I’ll be your main one.""Gone Girl"references the hit 2014 movie, and she even sneaks a Despicable Me reference on "Conceited": "All these bitches is minions, despicable, like oh." The pop culture references add more personality to the album while showcasing the breadth of SZA's inspiration SZA. 

It’s Vengeful And Adventurous

As some of the titles and lyrics suggest, SZA explores strong feelings of hurt, lost love, and revenge for wrongdoing. There’s no filter on her disappointment with past lovers, as titles "Smoking on my Ex Pack" and "Forgiveless" suggest. The movies referenced share common themes of powerful women forging their own path and engaging in dangerous activities. 

"I don’t care about consequences, I want my lick back," SZA rap-sings on "Forgiveless." Though many songs on the album are more mellow and ethereal, SZA gives herself space for freedom of expression and directness. Whether you’re feeling sad or angry, there’s a track that can fit your mood on SOS. 

It Explores The Highs And Lows Of Love

SZA's music has always displayed vulnerability but her journey with self-love has clearly evolved since Ctrl. Though  songs like "Special" take a more emotional toll on listeners — SZA sings of dating a loser and feeling like one herself — she also very clearly takes up for herself. On "Conceited," SZA raps "I just got my body done, ain’t got no guilt about it/ I just heard your opinion, could’ve did without it." 

The mood shifts throughout SOS as SZA captures how complex love can be — both with oneself and with others. At the end of the day, it seems SZA wants to own her choices, whether others approve or not.

There’s A Lot Of Artistic Growth

Overall, this is not the same SZA we first met through her mixtapes and debut album. SOS demonstrates  a mastery of her craft through the use  of multiple genres, and cohesive yet varied themes. She held nothing back, and clearly the five-year wait was well worth it. 

Although SZA’s musical future is uncertain, her work has served as a timeless diary of heartbreak, insecurity, and growing up with universal appeal, and SOS further expands on this.  Regardless of how long we may have to wait for new music, her current discography has impacted many and stands out as some of the best in our current musical landscape. SZA bared her soul on SOS, and her message was received.

Outside Lands 2022: SZA Takes Control & Makes Waves In Nostalgic, Dance-Filled Performance