On June 17th, as part of the American Express UNSTAGED series, SZA took the stage to celebrate the four-year anniversary of her album, Ctrl. Released in 2017, SZA’s debut studio album and songs were nominated for four Grammy awards and landed SZA a nomination for Best New Artist. The Missouri-born 30-year-old R&B singer incorporates elements of soul, hip-hop, electronic and rap into her music.
The stream began with a clip of a vintage RV driving down an old desert road. SZA leaned her body out of the window of the RV and began singing a snippet of her song “Anything.” Dressed in vibrant colors, SZA contrasted with the neutral tones of the surrounding environment. The camera quickly flashed to the inside of the RV, decorated with plants and colorful tapestries, where musicians lounged comfortably playing their instruments. Without context, one would believe the group to be en route to perform at Coachella.
The first song, “Supermodel,” kept a consistent melody, which matched perfectly with the smooth delivery of the lyrics. The upbeat second song of the concert, “Go Gina,” featured jazzy instrumentals and echoed vocals that emphasized the passion of the song itself. The image cut to a street view of the RV driving then the scenery changed entirely. Viewers saw a woman dancing on a pole in the ocean. Eventually, the camera panned out and the band came into view set in front of the ocean on a dark beach surrounded by two interlocked circle-shaped rollercoaster-like structures.
“Love Galore” kicked off with a bouncy beat, and mid-song, Travis Scott came out on stage to perform his verse. Scott’s slow, distorted rapping complemented SZA’s sensual vocals. The fourth track, “Drew Barrymore,” started with a slow, light beat and quickly picked up with a strong electric guitar riff. SZA showed off her vulnerability with the lyrics: “I get so lonely, I forget what I’m worth… I’m so ashamed of myself, think I need therapy.” A clap-like beat lead into “Broken Clocks,” which included a fast-paced hi-hat pattern throughout. After an abrupt stop, red lights flooded the stage as a snap-sounding beat took over. “The Weekend” featured elements of electronic music, giving the song a dreamy vibe. SZA’s words flowed seamlessly into one another, making the lyrics a bit confusing to understand. However, the confusing delivery of the lyrics paralleled the confusing message of the lyrics, “my man is my man is your man heard it’s her man too.”
Thunder boomed through the speakers, and the screen cut to a starry night sky littered with fireflies. The camera panned down to show SZA and her band performing in shallow water in a swamp-like setting. SZA then began to perform a brief portion of “All The Stars” from the movie Blank Panther. “Kiss Me More’s” soft sound starkly contrasted with the previous song and later included a bright vocal echo, adding a layer of dimension to the sweet tune. “Hit Different” started out with a deep, soulful male voice and light drumming. Purple lights took over the set as the gentle song “Pretty Little Birds” began. SZA brought out Isaiah Rashad, whose raspy voice added an emotionality and an intensity to the track. SZA took a short break as Isaiah Rashad performed his own soulful song, “Headshots.” SZA returned and showed off her impressive vocal range in “20 Something.”
The last song of the set, “Good Days,” was the perfect tune to close out the show and kept the audience wanting more. Overall, the ambiance created by the visual aspects of the show amazingly complemented SZA’s passionate performance and left fans wondering when her next album will be dropping.
Photo Credit: Sharon Alagna