Image, of course, is extremely crucial to an artist. For some performers, such as Lana Del Rey, their “artistic” image is essentially the basis of their entire career, and to break that image for another concept to be tackled on could possibly result in the breakdown of one’s career. For other artists, like Chris Brown, the image that makes or breaks their career is “public image”. For some time, we have recognized Miley Cyrus as the party-hyped female who loves to be provocative. We have labeled Lorde as the mature, intellectual teen who isn’t willing to conform to the world. We have known Lady Gaga as the pop diva with many, many tricks up her sleeve
So, with that in mind, who is SZA? Well, off the top of our heads, we know that she is known as the Missouri-born songstress who is recognized as being the first female ever to sign with Top Dawg Entertainment, a record label renowned for its potent artists like Kendrick Lamar, but who is she really? How do we define her, because she’s clearly more than her self-proclaimed “Girl next door chic” image.
That’s a rhetorical question, because honestly, SZA is a mixed bag of talent to dissect.
But really, that’s what makes her sophomore EP, S, so interesting to analyze. Clearly behind her comfortable and free-flowing personality, there’s some wisdom in her brain under that great mane of puffy hair. Right from the opening track of the EP, there are these glittering synths in the beginning of “Castles”, reminiscent of a dream, even when the trap influences then begin to take over. It’s a great opening track, as it greatly reflects the landscape of her mind and thoughts, one of fantasies and philosophies alike, preparing any adventurer for quite a psychedelic adventure.
The lyrics are clearly cryptic, as any of our thoughts are. As an artist who speaks from her mind within and outside of her music, she has a lot to say, but they all have meaning and seem to come from a familiar place. Sure, “I am made of bacon, fairy tales, pixie dust…” may seem nonsensical, but it is from the heart she speaks, and because of that, we are enticed to understand more about her, to try to figure her out piece by piece. Some of the tracks on this EP are also pay homage to her influences, with the snippets of the film “Rosemary’s Baby” in tracks such as “TERROR.DOME” and the closing track “KISMET”, as well as a clever interview with Eartha Kitt on “THE ODYSSEY”, and we start to gain some understanding to her upbringing, but not exactly pinpoint it.
The instrumentals are also of her fantastic imagination. The trap influences are distinct throughout, but the textures of these instrumentals are almost ethereal. Sure, there are the simple synths and drums in “AFTERMATH”, but the details hidden within every corner, such as the ascending scales that first appear in the beginning, along with SZA’s raspy, yet beautiful, tone, make this track a definite favorite. There are also moments where SZA seems to go for more of a euphoric and almost utopian sound. The atmosphere of “ICE.MOON” is just as mysterious and imaginative as its title, with the twinkling keys and bubbly, horn-like synths cropping up throughout the song.
Regardless of how strange that world of hers may be, she seems entirely comfortable with it. She seems to be singing in a manner that sounds like speaking, lavishing in her own thoughts. She is calling us, enticing us, to join her into exploring that curious world of hers, and really, it would be an honor to take her hand and see what she’s thinking.