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Music Video Breakdown: ‘Drew Barrymore’ by SZA

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

When R&B; singer and confirmed goddess SZA descended from the aether onto the Grammy’s stage to bless us all with a heavenly rendition of her song “Broken Clocks”, the mood was bittersweet. Despite receiving five nominations for producing what was widely considered to be one of the best albums of the year, SZA walked away from the telecast empty-handed. In response to any of you—and by “you,” I mean the Recording Academy—with doubts as to SZA’s magnificence as both a musician and a performer, I present the music video for her single “Drew Barrymore.”

Directed by Dave Meyers (the genius behind videos for Kendrick’s “HUMBLE.” and Missy Elliott’s “Work It”), the video opens with an aerial shot of the New York City skyline, panning quickly to the interior of a disheveled apartment. The floor is littered with empty wine glasses and sleeping bodies, still in flashy clothing from the night before. A weak spotlight shines on SZA, gazing up at the camera from a couch, as she sings the opening line:

“Why is it so hard to accept the party is over?”

What seems at first glance to be like any other hangover-dazed morning suddenly becomes intensely and unapologetically lonely. The loneliness is an undercurrent—it fades in and out, but never quite goes away. The group descends from the apartment and into the streets of New York City. While SZA is far from the first artist to use the Big Apple as a muse, there is an authenticity to the shots that can’t be denied. She waltzes across crosswalks and into pizza places, and it feels completely natural. The day fades very quickly back into night and the camera cuts to a montage of SZA and her friends sledding, falling, and laughing in the snow. Just when you’re starting to feel the warmth of the scene, it gives way to SZA squatting in front of a wall of spinning washing machines, alone and naked save for a pink veil and a pair of heels, delivering one of the most vulnerable verses of her career.

At this point, a visual pattern has begun to unfold. Each time the viewer becomes accustomed to SZA within her group, she is suddenly alone. And just as rapidly as she becomes alone, she is once again surrounded by people. The transitions seem to coincide with the intimacy of the verse she is singing. It all comes to a head when SZA sneaks out of another party to smoke and Drew Barrymore herself comes into frame. The actress lingers just long enough to toss a small smile in the singer’s direction before disappearing into the night. Barrymore’s presence is a reminder of her struggles with insecurity and identity both onscreen and off, which were profound sources of inspiration for SZA.

Don’t blink—each shot is packed with so many little references and allusions you’re almost guaranteed to miss something. It could be a haunting neon sign, or perhaps a jawbone with a joint hanging out of it. I won’t spoil the rest in hopes that this might further persuade you to watch and look for them yourself. At its core, “Drew Barrymore” is an honest reflection on loneliness and longing. It is rife with the self-doubt that comes from the end of a romance, but there are small moments of assurance. At the video’s conclusion, the whole group is on the roof. It is morning again. SZA and two other women fall into the snow together at the edge of the rooftop and laugh.

All this to say: SZA, if you’re reading this, you deserved better.

—Staff writer Allison J. Scharmann can be reached at allison.scharmann@thecrimson.com.

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