The background to SZA’s latest single isn’t a usual one; the song was originally teased on her Instagram stories two years before its release, only for it seemingly disappear. Shirt didn’t go unnoticed by SZA fans and other internet users as it became a trending sound on TikTok a few months later with a dance trend to boot. Dance trends, a teaser at the end of her Good Days music video, Spotify mistakenly posting the song a week early, and a whole lot of clamoring later, Shirt finally dropped in its entirety. And yes, fans chose the name after its previous title of Bloodstain/Shirt.
Part of what made Shirt so addictive from the beginning was the production from Darkchild and Freaky Rob. The drum beats, background vocal harmonies, and elongated simple synths are mixed in a way that rides a rhythmic wave that takes elements of trap and R&B with pride. SZA’s signature vocal style is the perfect add-on to a promising instrumental. The elements of the song go together quite well; the drum line adds the punch to amplify SZA’s lyrics and let her vocals take center stage. The emotion of “darkness isn’t just found in the lyrics, but also in the production. While it’s different from her more relaxed singles Good Days, Hit Different, and I Hate U, it’s the switch-up her upcoming project needs.
The lyrics center around an old fling that SZA has found her way back to; however, this person is not good for her mental health. She finds some comfort in this disastrous relationship (In the dark right now / Feelin’ lost, but I like it / Comfort in my sins and all about me) while acknowledging that she doesn’t actually know her own worth (Still don’t know my worth / Still stressin’ perfection / Let you all in my mental / Got me lookin’ too desperate). Perhaps the sonics of the song are meant reflect this notion, reflecting the darkness and it encasing her, or perhaps its meant to make it catchy and likable despite its sad lyrics. Either way, Shirt has expanded beyond what is originally was, still an earworm but with self-reflection and a darker side of SZA that hasn’t been brought out much before.
The longevity of the project is intentional; SZA cared deeply about how it and the corresponding music video would turn out. It most definitely shows. While there’s not a bombastic beat switch, amplified elements of what gave her that signature sound on CTRL, or the like, there’s a lot to be said for its simplicity. It’s minimalist, to the point, and undeniably catchy once you give it a listen. The hype wasn’t for nothing.