“I only leave my home for weed or boys,” SZA said at one point during her debut headline show in Sydney. While CTRL may have made it easy for us to believe this, SZA’s infectious on-stage presence makes it very hard to believe. From her lyrical honesty to the way she projects vocally, SZA’s transformation over the last few years has been nothing short of extraordinary and a heightened on-stage confidence seems to be the latest weapon in her creative arsenal. In Sydney, miles away from her home, she took these intimate, raw moments and projected them with candour and vigour, in what’s sure to be one of the most impressive shows of 2018.
SZA took to the stage with acoustic CTRL opener Supermodel, immediately lighting up the stage with that ginormous smile. The insecurities that plague CTRL no doubt still trouble SZA at times but the warm spaces she’s created with her live show through touring the record seem to have ignited this superstar inside her. While strutting the stage with a magical allure, she seems less concerned about being someone else’s supermodel and more uplifted by the way her crowd sees her. Her crowd, by the way, was one of the most loving, energetic crowds the Enmore Theatre has seen in a very long time.
The best thing about the SZA show is that she makes it look effortless. She skipped octaves masterfully, hit every accent with a bounce in her step and even nailed a high kick like it was nothing at all. Maybe everything feels so natural because there’s nothing forced about SZA’s persona. CTRL so aptly and honestly gives us an unfiltered depiction of who she is and the live shows reflects that. She bookended songs with endearing stories, most notably beginning Normal Girl by telling us that she’s not the same person she was an hour ago.
Her live arrangements of the songs didn’t differ much from the album but her voice and movement is enough to elevate each of the songs. Songs like Anything that felt buried by greatness on the album had their moment live. In the same way, songs that were already standouts soared even more. Drew Barrymore‘s chorus had this unwavering strength to it backed by the voices of hundreds and Garden (Say It Like Dat) felt like stadium-ready euphoria despite it’s intimacy on the record.
She was also there for a dance and the crowd was up for it. Prom had everyone moving. It was great to have an artist who dabbles in R&B without serving up the same trap or pop aesthetic that we’ve seen time and time again over the last year. SZA brought a different kind of groove to the scene and it was so refreshing to see. That was never more clear than when she added a remixed version of the first verse of Love Galore to the end of the song, bringing the night to a phenomenal climax as she bounced around the stage, grinning from cheek to cheek.
Unlikely hero The Weekend was another highlight, providing the largest singalong of the night. The song has gone onto become one of the album’s biggest, if not the biggest, moments and it was incredible to watch an entire crowd celebrate SZA flipping the hip-hop script on infidelity with a cheeky, powerful confidence. Often when you go to see an artist there’s a certain polished sheen to the show that makes us think they’ve got everything figured out. SZA, however, finished the show clutching a slightly willowed bunch of flowers while singing, “How could it be?
20 something, all alone still/Not a thing in my name.” 20 something was the main demographic of the crowd and for a moment all those shared insecurities and doubts seemed kinda perfect.
As SZA hopped off the stage with little fuss, she’d left the same grin that she lit up the stage with on the face of everyone who watched on. A perfect night hosted by an unashamedly imperfect superstar.