Watch the video for the looong-awaited new SZA track, ‘Hit Different’

SZA is back — and this time without a big Hollywood blockbuster to box in her more eccentric tendencies.

Released Thursday night, about an hour after she hinted at its existence on Instagram, “Hit Different” is the 29-year-old R&B star’s first single as a lead artist since 2017’s “Ctrl” album, which established her as a kind of prophet of millennial romance.

She wasn’t hiding, exactly, in the interim: Two years ago she hit the top 10 (and earned an Oscar nomination) with “All the Stars,” her and Kendrick Lamar’s sleek electro-pop jam from “Black Panther.” And this past winter she teamed with Justin Timberlake for the retro-disco “The Other Side” for “Trolls World Tour.”

But neither of those tunes showcased the rough-edged vocal textures or the idiosyncratic melodic instincts that made “Ctrl” feel so personal and true.


“Hit Different,” as its title promises, does.

Against a backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, ongoing racial unrest and an upcoming election, Grammy season kicks off in earnest this week.

Produced by the Neptunes and featuring a guest spot by Ty Dolla Sign, SZA’s new single is a throbbing slow-mo burner built around an extended vocal line that keeps sliding in unexpected directions; her tone is dreamy but alert, as though she’s making the song up as she goes — a natural match for Ty’s wake-and-bake croon.

“Hit Different” charts a woman’s conflicting thoughts about a lover she knows will only cause her pain. But as in old SZA classics such as “Supermodel” and “Drew Barrymore,” her impressionistic lyrics intensify a familiar plot:

I was into you from the beginning even if you wasn’t mine

Scared to admit my shortcomings led to overdraft in this affair, declining

Quicker than we started, evidence we misaligned

In an interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, SZA described “Hit Different” — which she said was recorded at DJ Khaled’s house in Miami over Super Bowl weekend — as one of a half-dozen tunes she made with the Neptunes. (In late 2017 she told The Times’ Gerrick Kennedy that she’d been working on “Ctrl’s” follow-up with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker and that she’d been listening to Stevie Nicks and Modest Mouse.)


What she didn’t do was specify when her long-awaited album might be coming — though there’s a bit more music in the video for “Hit Different,” which ends with a tantalizing snippet of another new song. On Twitter last month, SZA suggested that her label, TDE, had been holding up the record. But in the interview with Lowe, she sounded more optimistic about her relationship with TDE’s president, Terrence “Punch” Henderson.

“He’s a Pisces, so it’s like he’s very streamlined,” she said. “But he was right the whole time.”