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SZA, 'Special'

Vertigo is the operating principle of SZA's "Special," a wounded pop-folk ballad about being overlooked and leeched by an ex. Singing plaintively over an airy bed of acoustic guitar and keyboard, she staggers out of a failed relationship like a soldier out of a warzone, her words weary and her senses frazzled. Her self-image warps and contorts as she struggles to figure out what went wrong, producing a fraught and affecting double vision. She wants to be thick and thin, an "art piece" and an "ordinary girl," left alone and validated. The constant vacillation and the spare production build to a glum clarity. "I used to be special / I gave all my special / Away to a loser / Now I'm just a loser," she sings on the dejected, singsongy hook. A bruised ego might help her rediscover her center.

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Stephen Kearse