Every time SZA comes out of the woodwork, it always seems to be worth the wait (case in point: “I Hate U”). And her latest single and video, “Shirt” (soon to be frequently misspelled as “Shit”), is no exception to that phenomenon. Directed by Dave Meyers, it’s clear from the outset that SZA is riffing on the Bonnie and Clyde dynamic that Quentin Tarantino re-popularized in 1994’s Pulp Fiction with Ringo a.k.a. Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Yolanda a.k.a. Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) in the illustrious diner scene that serves as beginning and end points for the film.

Indeed, SZA’s own narrative for “Shirt” begins in a diner, with her “Clyde” played by LaKeith Stanfield (of Atlanta fame). As the two sit facing one another in a booth, close-up shots on their serene countenances present a kind of sexual tension. Or at least, a tension. Sounding a bit like Madonna talking about Kabbalah in the 00s, SZA proceeds to inform her boo, “Color is light, light is energy—energy’s everything.” “What about these salt shakers?” he asks (forgetting that it’s a set of salt and pepper shakers). She confirms, “Energy.” “This table?” “Energy.” He leans in and then inquires seductively, “You and me?” The seduction, however, is ruined by the sudden realization that there’s another “energy” at the table. Specifically, “Clyde’s” goonish friend, who shouts, “Yo, come on!” in disgust. “Shut up nigga, damn!” “Clyde” screams as he slaps him upside the happy-face-hair-design head. In irritation, “Clyde” adds, “You see we talkin’?” He turns back to SZA and says, “You were sayin’?” Without missing a beat, she concludes, “Energy.” With that, the indelible beat (courtesy of the amazing Rodney Jerkins a.k.a. Darkchild) commences as SZA casually shoots “Clyde’s” friend in the cabeza, which we see briefly from the perspective of the inside of his busted-ass mouth.

Meyers then cuts to a scene of the two dressed in nun attire as they enter a “church” that looks plucked straight out of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Inside, pregnant “nuns” hold neon blue crosses above their head with a cowboy hat-wearing “minister” in between them as other “nuns” in various states of undress and sexual poses also populate the scene. SZA and “Clyde” then open fire as a barrage of interspersed scenes featuring them generally causing mayhem ensue. This includes the sight of a dead, bloodied old lady in a trunk (covered in money, naturally), a dead clown in a stairwell and a dead construction worker on the ground. Just some average daily carnage, it would seem. But what else were we to expect with an opening verse like, “Kiss me dangerous/Been so lost without you all around me/Get anxious/Lead me, don’t look back/It’s all about you.” Such lyrics speaking of intertwined, “crazy love” coupledom could provide no other type of video concept. It’s almost a wonder SZA didn’t go the True Romance homage route instead, but then, Tove Lo sort of has the monopoly on that right now after writing a song of the same name about that very film for Dirt Femme.

The presence of the aforementioned “church” atmosphere also accents SZA giving in to darkness even in places of (supposed) light—this being further evident when she sings, “Broad day, sunshine/I’ll find a way to fuck it up still” and “In the dark right now/Feelin’ lost, but I like it/Comfort in my sins and all about me.” And “Clyde” is all about him, too, as he breaks the cardinal rule of “crazy love” by popping SZA in the stomach (hence, “Blood stain on my shirt”) and driving off in a car with a license plate that reads, “NOCTRL” (an overt nod to SZA’s debut album being named Ctrl). But “Clyde” didn’t seem to get the message SZA was sending about “energy” earlier—and now, even her ghost has become that as it floats up out of her body (with “Clyde’s” own face/energy flickering in and out of her visage) and ostensibly gets recycled back into the universe.

Maybe that’s how SZA is able to return and “haunt” “Clyde.” Not just when he looks in the rearview mirror and sees her reflection in it, but also when he ends up tied to a chair in a warehouse after crashing the car as a result of the shock that came with the vision of spectral SZA. After that crash, she reanimates into a new-but-same body in the warehouse as the fitting lyrics, “It’s what you say and how you do me/How I’m ‘posed to trust, baby?/‘Posed to love?/It ain’t supposed to hurt this way/All I need is the best of you/Baby, how I got to say it?/Give me all of you” play over the scene.

Since “Clyde” suddenly can’t, for whatever reason, give all of himself, SZA has no problem walking away from her erstwhile boyfriend as he’s left to the proverbial violent henchmen. In the next scene, she appears with a shorter haircut in front of a trashcan fire as she turns around to shoot and kill her own shadow (something Peter Pan probably wanted to do more than a few times). We then see still another “version” or “energy form” of SZA ride off into the sunset on a boat during the video’s conclusion, a moment that speaks to the lines in the forewarning chorus, “Still don’t know my worth/Still stressin’ perfection/Let you all in my mental/Got me lookin’ too desperate/Damn (You ain’t deserve).” So, yeah, she up and left.

Generously, SZA doesn’t leave her viewer entirely at the end of the video the way she does her man. For she provides us not only with a final iconic look (bombastic yellow eye makeup coordinated with a Dole shirt), but also with a snippet of her next single, “Blind.” This as we see her in the kitchen/dishwashing area of the same diner as before, standing next to the same “Butcher” (Isaak Adoyi) we glimpsed previously watching the now-dismantled couple at the table from his sequestered perch. Hopefully, a “Part 2” of this concept will follow. Just as Quentin offered a Vol. 2 for Kill Bill.

Genna Rivieccio

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