SZA’s ‘Hit Different’ doesn’t hit as strong as it should

Photo of the cover of SZA's new song, "Hit Different"
Top Dawg Entertainment/Courtesy

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

After recovering from a vocal cord injury that almost left her voice permanently damaged, SZA is finally back. As if by surprise, she’s returned with her single, “Hit Different,” featuring Ty Dolla $ign and The Neptunes. The latter is the legendary production duo, composed of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, who are responsible for most of the hits on your favorite classic ’90s and early 2000s R&B playlist.

It’s been three years since SZA’s last lead single. 2017’s Ctrl cemented her as an artist in a league of her own, spinning tales unlike any other about the highs and lows of the complexities that come with womanhood. On “Hit Different,” released Sept. 4, she is back for more of the same, drawn to an irresistibly toxic romance so good she needs it, despite being fully aware of the consequences of doing so. 

Right off the bat, Williams’ instantly recognizable four-count start introduces the beat, full of revamped classic R&B energy. The song’s textured production is a highlight, equally as impressive as any of The Neptunes’ previous work. There’s a potent atmosphere here made out of only a few moving parts. Synthesizer chords float and twinkle in the background; the drums are clean and full of swagger. The booming staccato bassline that appears across the track certainly hits hard. 

Ty Dolla $ign delivers the hook; his syrupy vocals go down smoothly, lending some allure to the otherwise ordinary melody. His contribution is repetitive yet reliable, deepened by efforts in the production. But support from strong production and a feature is not what makes a great SZA song. It’s SZA.

“Hit Different” feels more like a three-way collaboration rather than the artist’s own single. Initially, SZA’s presence on the track is lacking, her vocals conceding to the music for command of the song. In the pre-chorus, she starts to reassume control. Vocals rising, she takes the reins, admitting, “Mirrors inside me/ They recognize you/ Please, don’t deny me,” echoing her acceptance of the unquenchable desire for a thrill at all costs — her lover is both the issue and the answer. 

It’s not until the second verse that SZA finds herself fully in her element, clearing cascading vocal runs and free-flowing phrases with ease. But just as she gets into the groove, the song slips back into the chorus and begins to fade. Fans eagerly awaiting SZA’s return are given enough to feel satisfied, but for others hoping to hear her at the top of her game, there is more to be desired.

The music video for “Hit Different” is a choreographed number that exudes confidence and sexuality. Intercut with brief shots of SZA soaked in blood, the visuals effectively capture the song’s feelings of danger lying just below the surface of desire. The hidden track at the video’s end, “Good Days” featuring Jacob Collier, is much closer to a return to form for SZA, with a beautiful melody and gentle backing harmonies that highlight her exceptional voice. There, she shines in crystal clear focus, reaching euphoric heights that truly do “hit different.” Ironically, her newest single falls shy of just that.

Vincent Tran covers music. Contact him at [email protected].