Arts, Culture & Entertainment

‘SOS’: SZA’s album and its connections to Princess Diana

Princess Diana may have been the inspiration for more than just the album cover.

Two photos side by side of SZA singing into a microphone on stage and Princess Diana sitting outside and looking into the distance.

R&B artist SZA closed her “SOS” tour in Los Angeles last week, celebrating her sophomore album of the same name. In an unshielded and raw portrayal of her soul, SZA seems to tell the story of the late Princess Diana through more than simply the cover art.

Once the album was released in December, fans quickly found similarities between the cover and the infamous photo taken of Princess Diana during her Italian trip in 1997. The photograph portrays Princess Diana at the edge of a diving board, alone, suspended above the depths of the vast ocean. It has come to symbolize the loneliness, pain and tragedy that surrounded the end of the princess’s life.

SZA later confirmed in an interview with Hot 97 that for the cover’s original concept, she referenced the photo and in the end, chose to completely copy it.

“I just loved how isolated she felt, and that was what I wanted to convey the most,” she said.

The cover art is not where the similarities to Princess Diana end. The somber paparazzi picture could have been the cover of any single or album SZA released, but its usage for “SOS” is incredibly thoughtful and purposeful.

The cry for help associated with Save Our Souls ties many of Princess Diana’s struggles to the album title, the stories each song tells, and the project’s overall meaning and theme.

“I feel like the general theme is I am pissed,” SZA shared with Hot 97.

Every song within “SOS” is raw and unapologetically emotional. She opens herself to the world more than ever before. Compared to her debut album, “Ctrl,” SZA now is reflecting on her pain and allowing herself to feel her hurt more deeply and honestly. Like Princess Diana, SZA has been subjected to feeling her love and heartbreak under the eyes of the world.

This sadness and heartbreak that SZA expresses in songs like “Notice Me” is accompanied by her admission to insecurities, body image issues, being cheated on and the struggle of seeing a past partner move on. Princess Diana was no stranger to these trials.

As a member of the royal family, the extremely public breakdown of her marriage and the cheating scandals that surrounded her relationship left Diana exposed to an incomprehensible amount of ruthless scrutiny, humiliation and pain, which was all captured by the lenses of paparazzi and shared with the world.

In “Special,” SZA shares insecurities and pains similar to Diana’s: “I got pimples where my beauty marks should be / I got dry skin on my elbow and knees.”

In several songs, SZA vulnerably shares how a negative relationship impacted the person she became. In “Far,” she says she doesn’t “recognize” herself due to allowing someone else to drastically change who she was. Princess Diana shared her own feelings of suffocation and assimilation she was forced to endure when she married into the royal family.

In “Used,” SZA says she is “used to being used like this.” This overwhelming feeling of being exploited for someone else’s gain, losing yourself and your sanity is something that both women have shared that they have experienced.

“SOS” depicts every stage of grief one feels after a bad breakup or being cheated on. SZA portrays the extent of female rage directly in “Kill Bill,” feelings Princess Diana could have very likely felt after being cheated on. In “Forgiveless,” she says “I might forgive it, I won’t forget it.”

SZA then goes on to reclaim her power in songs such as “Conceited” and “SOS.” In almost a scream, SZA says “I just want what’s mine” at the end of “SOS,” a song that can be seen as a shift one has when the anger and pain subside and they are ready to take back their life. In moments like when she wore her iconic “revenge dress,” it was clear that despite the pain she was feeling, Princess Diana was gaining back her sense of self and happiness after the divorce.

The sense of freedom Princess Diana must have felt after the separation and departure from royal duties can be connected to the track “Gone Girl” where SZA portrays the moment of a past self departing and a new dedication to self-discovery. “You better learn how to face it / She’s gone, gone girl.”

It is true that the cover art for “SOS” is an homage to the late princess, but it seems that she can clearly be tied to the album, if not attributed as its inspiration.

“SOS” earned SZA her first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 and the largest streaming week R&B album has ever had.

SZA gave her final performance of her tour Thursday, March 23 at the Kia Forum in Inglewood.