Review | The SOS Tour: SZA Onstage is Sensational
The dynamic songstress sets the bar higher with a live show as meticulously crafted as her music
I’m not sure if I really knew what it meant to have my undivided attention captured for an hour and a half straight until I watched a recent show. And even before then, in the hour before entering said show, hordes of people were already beguiled: shifting crowds clawing to get inside, excited fans running out of lines with handfuls of shirts, displays being torn down prematurely as merch was selling out before the show even began. So what was the wizard-like force hypnotizing these pawns into a descension of madness?
It was a little Grammy Award winning (and Academy Award nominated) alternative R&B artist who goes by the stage name SZA. Her music sincerely combines soul, hip hop, indie rock, and R&B, with lyrics exploring the darkest parts of our brain. SZA isn’t afraid to tackle the parts of us that scrutinize the tiniest moments that lead to relational demise, and takes the aspects we hate yet need to understand and makes them sound beautiful with expertly imperfect instrumental choices that elevate polished pop sounds.
She recently marked a whopping ten weeks at the top of the chart with her latest album, SOS. Celebrating its release on her SOS Tour this year, SZA created a stadium show that’s her biggest and brightest yet. Within the confines of a stadium, she makes you feel like she’s talking right to you. No space is unused, with extra stages on the main stage, a life-sized ship she dances across, and a giant flying boat that sets sail through the air to a lighthouse that shines onto the audience.
SZA’s set features an eclectic mix of her best songs. She starts the night with “PSA,” sitting on the edge of a ledge, in front of multiple screens with images of slow moving waves, just like her latest album cover. What ensues is a four act show with not a single dull moment. Highlights include her singing her hit “Drew Barrymore” sitting on the floor, “Shirt” with SZA and her backup dancers executing a perfect routine to a synchronized light show of water spurts, and “F2F,” simply due to its sheer melodic magnificence.
However, the best moment was in Act III, as SZA sailed across the sky in a lifeboat in a giant puffy dress, with beams of blue light right below her as she sailed atop it like the top of the sea. She sang the holy trinity of sadness — “Supermodel,” “Special,” and “Nobody Gets Me” — and each of these songs see her pen at her most powerful. “Supermodel” sees her confidently spitting out the words we’ve always wanted to say to an ex but never had the guts to say, where we admit they both were the perpetrator in making us doubt ourselves, but failed to realize we were a villain ourselves. Does that ultimately give us retroactive power despite being the first to realize we were cheated? “Special” is a personal favorite, talking about how one small decision of choosing the wrong person to give everything to can lead to being stripped of nothing, since it’s become theirs to take away. We can end up unwittingly becoming just as devoid as the con of a person we once loved. “Nobody Gets Me” is a ballad where SZA croons but her lyrics scream; “If I’m real, I deserve less, if I was you, I wouldn’t take me back…Nobody gets me, you do.” In five words, she begs all sorts of questions: what are you supposed to do when you’ve lost the one person you could have had the most magic with? Why couldn’t you hold onto it? What does life even look like after you know how love can feel?
As the show comes to a close, she sits atop the ledge again, bringing her iconography full circle. But this time, she’s in the sky. We’ve been dragged through the depths of the sea, as to be expected: dark, isolating, brutal. But now that she’s confronted that pain with us, she’s high up, sunlight peaking out from behind her. Lush clouds and stars appear, and she goes from wanting to give up and drown to flying into an incandescent sky. It’s indicative of how her vulnerability in her words can bring a beautiful show like this to life. The words “The End” are written across a final image of the night sky.
As the show comes to a close, the lights turn on and the stage and screens turn black. SZA pops out, smiling and waving in an all black outfit, blending back into the stage. She’s still the superstar with superhuman performing powers, oozing power and charisma, but just slightly more akin to the awkward girl she writes so candidly about in her songs that we resonate so deeply with. The proof is in the movement of the room; she can still turn the heads of an entire stadium of fans and bring them to a halt on the stairs as they somehow don’t trip over each other, enchanted. SZA beams, waving emphatically, doing her best to look at each and every person in the crowd. “Thank you! Thank you for coming at all. I love you!”
And they all cheer, one last time.
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