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Womanhood and Isolation: SZA's SOS

SOS! I need some tissues after listening to "Nobody Gets Me" on repeat.

CREDIT: Essence


You’re first confronted with the daunting blackness of the ocean. A white board protrudes into the center of the image, and upon the plank sits Solána Rowe. The expression on her face is impossible to comprehend but is inessential when deciphering what she is experiencing:

Complete and utter isolation.

SZA’s second studio album SOS has been eagerly anticipated by audiences for five years. With features ranging from Phoebe Bridgers to Wu-Tang Clan member Ol’ Dirty Bastard, the album delivers exactly what was expected of it.

Rowe has continuously excelled at masterfully blending the complexities of womanhood with universal struggles. SOS is a melting pot of human emotion loosely woven throughout the artist’s tale of a failed engagement. Every track is gruesomely raw, detailing the nature of toxic relationships and the balance between independence and codependency. Conveyed through her typical R&B style and new rock-tinged endeavors, Rowe flawlessly demonstrates the terror of an overthinker.

Ctrl and SOS mirror each other through an essential component: the experience of being a woman.

The decision to ignore the flaws in a relationship to avoid the loneliness of being single.

The desire for sexual gratification while fighting stigmas and internal shaming.

The never-ending carousel manned by societal pressures that reinforce our dissatisfaction with our bodies.

The list goes on, and SZA effortlessly checks off the boxes.

However, what differs between Rowe’s studio albums can be deciphered through the inspiration behind the album cover.

Taken in 1997, the iconic image of Princess Diana sitting on a yacht diving board has been used to demonstrate the loneliness and melancholy of the late princess. In a Hot 97 interview, Rowe confirmed that SOS’s artwork is heavily influenced by the paparazzi picture.


CREDIT: IHeart Radio


“I loved how isolated she felt,” says Rowe. She says this with total certainty—and as a listener, you can hear where the inspiration shines through.

Both “Ghost in the Machine” and “I Hate U” explore Rowe’s relationship with the media and with her own fan base. The past five years have not been easy on the R&B artist, leading to multiple tweets claiming that she was going to quit music in its entirety due to the masses’ scrutiny and seemingly insatiable demand for more content.

“Ghost in the Machine” explores this concept in its entirety. The title itself alludes to the “ghost” of Rowe’s self as the music industry and stardom (the “Machine”) tear away at her identity and privacy. SZA describes the scrutiny of the media to be “first” and “right” while Phoebe Bridgers provides an anecdote of the isolation from loved ones that comes with a music career.

SOS and SZA’s music are intended to be easily interpreted by all of its listeners. But as media consumers, it’s important to consider the struggles and anxieties that come with creating a product that has been anticipated for half a decade.

Working in an entirely consumer-based industry can take a toll on the well-being of the producer. Despite musicians’ content being curated for the audience, we can not take liberties with when or what they produce. If these liberties are taken, the artist can feel objectified, resulting in isolation as a coping mechanism.

As we enjoy and reflect on both the official and personal meaning behind the album, we need to appreciate the diligence and time it takes to produce an album.

Thank you Solána Rowe for gifting us something that is so intimate and personal that it breaks our fold of isolation so we can discuss our insecurities and concerns.

And thank you for withstanding the torrents of social media. At Rowdy, we’ll make sure all our staff members and fellow followers are protecting your peace indefinitely.


Allie Sinkovich is an Online Writer for Rowdy Magazine. When she's not studying or reading the news, you can find her in her bed watching "The White Lotus" or "Normal People."


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