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Inside Beat

Before 'SOS': SZA's career is impactful, even without her sophomore album

The release of "SOS" has put SZA back in the spotlight. But did she ever really leave? – Photo by @sza / Twitter

SZA has finally made her return to the music industry. After five years of painful waiting and anticipation, SZA’s sophomore studio album "SOS" has finally arrived. But even before the now critically-acclaimed album dropped, SZA's career had already made a big enough splash.

The alternative R&B singer dropped her debut album “Ctrl” in 2017, immediately solidifying herself as a force to be reckoned with in the music industry. Her album was met with critical acclaim and praised for its new and unique sound, her distinctly gorgeous vocals and her honest and relatable songwriting skills.

During its release, "Ctrl" debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 and has remained on the chart for the last five years. This is an extremely impressive feat for a debut album from a practically unknown artist — simply the fact that it has remained on the chart to this day speaks volumes about SZA's impact and longevity.

At the 2018 Grammys, SZA received the most nominations of any woman of the night but was absolutely robbed and went home empty-handed. Since then, she has received one Grammy for her feature on Doja Cat’s 2021 hit "Kiss Me More."

Additionally, "Ctrl" has been certified triple platinum in the U.S., meaning it has sold more than 3 million units since its release.

Since SZA's takeover in 2017, fans have been anxiously waiting for her next project, but until now, it never came. While SZA did release a number of singles, collaborations and features since "Ctrl," everything was spaced out over time, and she didn't release a full-length album.

In September 2020, she released what fans assumed would be the first single from her upcoming album, "Hit Different" featuring Ty Dolla $ign (while it did not appear on the album, SZA did sample the song in a different track).

In December of the same year, she released a second single "Good Days," which blew up on TikTok, propelling anticipation for her second album to new heights. One year later in December 2021, SZA released another single, "I Hate U," from her upcoming album which also blew up on TikTok. Finally, in late October of this year, she released the highly anticipated final single from the now-released "SOS", "Shirt."

Fans were elated when SZA released both the cover art and tracklist for "SOS" as well as finally announced it would be released on December 9. The album was also announced at this time to feature appearances from the likes of Don Toliver, Phoebe Bridgers, Travis Scott and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, to equal parts excitement.

When talking about SZA’s impact on the music industry, the most important question is how has she been able to remain relevant for five years with little to no musical releases. How did she maintain such high levels of success before "SOS?"

A feat like this is practically unheard of and usually only occurs with the established and wildly popular acts in the industry, such as Beyoncé or Adele.

Not many artists, especially new artists, can go half a decade without dropping a full length album. Especially in today's world of constant drops and radio-centric singles, remaining relevant in a constantly changing industry is extremely difficult.

I believe that SZA’s inevitable longevity and prolonged relevancy is due to the quality of work she has produced in the past. "Ctrl" is one of the best albums of the 2010s and stands on its own as a genuinely timeless, relevant and extremely well written body of work.

On top of that, SZA has some of the most loyal fans (including myself) despite the constant random lying and internet feuds she has been caught in. "Ctrl" has deeply affected me on a personal level and has remained a timeless album that I find myself constantly going back to on a regular basis.

While many feared the infamous "sophomore album curse," I always believed that SZA would break past this and prevail in this new musical era, especially due to the years of anticipation that have built up around this project.

At the end of the day, no matter what the commercial performance of "SOS" had been, SZA had already truly cemented herself as a musical great of this generation due to her unique vocal chops and beautifully honest song writing capabilities. I believe that her future musical endeavors will only continue to uphold her reputation as a force to be reckoned with in the music industry.

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