SZA Describes Her Rapturously Received ‘SOS’ Album as a ‘Bizarre Act of Self-Embarrassment
The anticipation behind SZA’s “SOS” was multi-layered. Devoted fans waited five years after the debut of the evergreen “Ctrl” for another complete body of work from the R&B singer — but that pressure only seemed to add more drawbacks and prompted laborious cycles of self-introspection heard on the 23-song set.
“For me to sit out on the album for five years and be working on it and not be bored, I have to start doing completely different things at random times,” she explains in a new interview with Rolling Stone Music Now.
“I usually can tell what I’m hiding from myself or in general,” she says, in reference to the album’s lyricism. “Whether it’s embarrassment about my ex, whether it’s shame, whether it’s insecurity, whatever it is…. Maybe that’s the only way that I’m not bored is to do, like, bizarre acts of self embarrassment.”
She went on to detail several challenges throughout the recording process, including her many urges to backtrack “SOS,” even in the week leading up to its release. Of the songwriting process, she says she often found herself bored with what she was making, an indirect result of having sat on the album for as long as she did, and because she was attempting to say and create something fresh.
“I never thought in a million years that people would like it,” she says. “My dad’s visiting right now, with my mom. Everybody came down to make sure I didn’t lose my mind if the album went bad once it came out. And now we’re just hanging out, ’cause it didn’t go badly!”
She continues: “Even when I was [doing the] track listing, I was like, ‘Ugh, this shit is so boring’ or ‘it sucks,’ or when I couldn’t get some of the things I wanted for the initial cover idea or things weren’t working out, I’m like, ‘let’s just put it out with no cover and just leave everything blank.’”
Getting to a point where she “just [wanted to] get it over with” and “meet my own fate,” she admits she had a gameplan to “never do music again” if people didn’t like the record: “I told my engineer, we’ll move to India and we’ll live on an ashram and we’ll take a vow of silence and that’s it.”
That inner conflict was something she spoke to at length, also recalling the pressure of her launch into solo stardom in a circle that belonged to women who are “fair-skinned and skinny.”
“And then I came out and I just wasn’t any of those things. I still wanted to make interesting music…and everybody was giving more like, ‘Who the fuck is this? And why are you here? And bring out Jhene [Aiko],’ when I was opening for her. And that was hard. And I feel like people would approach Punch [the CEO of her label, TDE] often, like, ‘oh, well you should make her over.’… I didn’t see that there was anything wrong with being, you know, 200 pounds with baggy clothes and having all these like different emotions and displays of creativity,” she says.
Last week a behind-the-scenes video on the album’s making was quietly uploaded to SZA’s YouTube and candidly displayed some of her aforementioned struggles including a teary-eyed conversation where the singer says she’s “exhausted” after finding out the album might get pushed back to a January release.
The video also showed a list of possible featured collaborators with names like Billie Eilish, Harry Styles, Doja Cat, Drake and Frank Ocean.
Talking about her upcoming tour, SZA said she wants to give fans what they deserve from “unreleased songs that they thought they heard on the internet, or their favorite album cuts or fucking deep cuts from 2012.” The trek will see support from Omar Apollo and kicks off on Feb. 21 in Columbus, Ohio.
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