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SZA reintroduces herself on ‘Shirt’

Rating: 4 out of 5.

5 years without a new SZA LP have been long and hard felt. Since 2017’s seminal Ctrl brought a new era of confessional R&B to the mainstream, SZA became the patron saint of anxious twenty-somethings everywhere. Each track jumped straight to the raw, painful heart of its subject and put into words the confusing ugliness of complex romantic relationships. It expressed the brutality of modern love at a time in life where everything feels uncertain. It was a type of songwriting that managed to be so vulnerable it was totally fearless, rendering SZA not only an artist we loved but one we needed. 

For ‘Shirt’ to feel fresh upon release is a testament to its quality given that a snippet came out on Instagram and went viral on TikTok two years ago. Synths and sparse drum beats reverberate in the background with the same floating quality of 2020’s ‘Good Day’. Production this simple might detract from the track’s staying power for some listeners, and it’s true that more experimental choices could have enhanced SZA’s vocals to the fullest extent they deserve. Still, her performance is rich and heartfelt, underlined with more than a little trademark sarcasm. 

SZA embraces the ungrounded chaos that comes with a complicated relationship: ‘Feeling lost but I like it/ Comfort in my sins’ claims the hook. There’s a suggestion of inner conflict between the duty of being a good person and the urge to flip off morality codes and embrace the joys of hedonistic recklessness. ‘Blood stain on my shirt / new bitch on my nerves’ stays real about the less than polished reality of a romance that’s not exactly hallmark rom-com material. 

This marks the end of a trilogy of singles that come to terms with a new stage of personal growth. On ‘Hit Different’ she tried to fit a mould only to realise that trite reinvention will never suffice for the masses. ‘Good Days’ sees her accepting that she cannot control everything. On ‘Shirt’, she embraces a newer, more open mindset. In the music video, she shoots her own reflection, perhaps a message of shedding her old skin to step into a newer, stronger one.  In the wake of what looks to be a new album release, she is reintroducing her new self to the world. 

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Image “SZA August 2017” by The Come Up Show is licensed under CC BY 2.0.