How SZA flips the script with ‘Kill Bill’
On Dec. 9, my roommate and I queued up “SOS,” at 9 p.m. sharp. I bopped my head and scrolled through Twitter to see reactionary tweets, thoroughly enjoying the melodic chorus of the second track on the album and SZA’s soft yet sultry rasp. As I jammed out, inattentive and unbothered, my roommate inquired, “Do you hear what she’s saying?”
Dec. 9, 2022 marked the momentous day when, at long last, SZA dropped her long awaited sophomore studio album, “SOS,” five years after the release of her critically acclaimed debut “Ctrl.” Unsurprisingly, the album has remained No. 1 for four consecutive weeks, and has become critically acclaimed for its refusal to adhere to genre and lyrical content that is relatable to any and all who have been through some stage of heartbreak. Yet no song, through virality or impact, has permeated as deeply as “Kill Bill.” The song, one that pays obvious homage to the titular Quentin Tarantino film, contains starkly violent lyrics. Over the course of the song, SZA contemplates the homicide of her ex, before finally killing him, which is visually played out in the music video that was released on Jan. 10.
While listeners may be jarred by the lyrical content of “Kill Bill,” violence in music is far from novel. It is extremely prevalent, and often sexist, particularly in lyrics recorded by male artists. Kanye West, one of the most problematic yet most streamed artists of all time, has continuously perpetuated violence and misogyny in his lyrics and music videos. From the music video for the song “Eazy” that depicts West murdering an effigy of Pete Davidson, his ex-wife’s partner at the time, to the song literally titled “I Thought About Killing You” off of “Ye,” he lashes out with wishes of committing acts of violence towards women he wishes to possess. All the while, of course, claiming, “You’d only care enough to kill somebody you love.”
West is far from alone. Various cultural analyses have found that, depending on subgenre, anywhere from 22% to 37% of rap lyrics contain some sort of misogyny. While some may argue that these are simply lyrics that don’t often contain truths of violence, the ripple effects are undeniable. Just this past month, Tory Lanez was finally convicted and sentenced for shooting Megan Thee Stallion in 2020, a decision that was in contention by a disturbingly high number of people. These individuals varied from Lanez’s family to Drake calling Megan a liar in his lyrics to thousands of Lanez’s fans, with over 50,000 individuals signing a petition to appeal his sentence.
It is one thing to exaggerate lyrics, and understand that songs should not necessarily be taken as truths. Recent trials against rappers Gunna, Young Thug and other members of YSL Records have echoed historically racist persecutions of rappers of color for “violent” rap lyrics. Yet still, while the lyrics might not be meant to be taken literally, messages in media have the power to permeate our brainwaves.
The mass distribution of violence towards women has undeniable effects. We are almost taught to expect it, to fetishize violence, and to accept it as love. As SZA sings, “I love when you pull your gun at the red light / I like all that violence, give me dysfunction,” and “‘Causey past can’t escape me / My pussy precedes me,” on “Blind,” she describes how comfortable we have become with broken love and casual toxic masculinity. Yet through “Kill Bill,” she acknowledges her power, and the tropes that often dominate controlling, abusive relationships, referencing “crimes of passion” and killing her ex’s new partner, all the while circling back to West’s argument, that “I did it all for love,” because “I’d rather be in Hell than alone.”
SZA, by flipping sexist cliches on their head, has reclaimed the narratives of misogyny that permeate the often male dominated genres of rap and R&B.