It seems fitting that Rebellious Magazine would close out the 2017 concert calendar with a sold-out show from SZA, as the year belonged to the R&B songstress. Her debut studio album “Ctrl” – which dropped via Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) and RCA Records earlier this summer – has garnered her critical acclaim, earned her a spot headlining “Saturday Night Live” and resulted in a grand total of five Grammy Award nominations, including in the category for Best New Artist.
From the second SZA began “Supermodel” – the debut track off “Ctrl” and the first song of the night at Chicago’s Concord Music Hall on Dec. 20 – fans were singing along, and they did not quit, not for a moment, throughout the entire show. There may be unruly aspects to life, but on the stage, SZA was in total control.
The concept of control – what it means, how to have it, when to give it up and why humanity is obsessed with wrangling it into submission – is a constant in SZA’s music. Early in the night, “Anything” and “Broken Clocks” highlighted the challenge of managing unmanageable constructs like love and time with careful consideration and irresistible rhythms, while “Go Gina” allowed SZA to proactively confront and shut down any haters with her undeniable talent and unique affability.
While SZA only has one full-length album under her belt, she previously released a trio of buzzworthy EPs on her own and as a TDE artist. “Did anybody know me before ‘Ctrl?’” she asked to a thunderous crowd clearly familiar with every note in her catalog. “HiiiJack” and “Child’s Play,” both off her 2014 recording, “Z,” were elevated by her masterful live band, especially on the former track, which featured big synth sounds and a jazzy jam that provoked an impressive high kick from the evening’s headliner.
At the top of the show, DJ Finesse kicked off the dance party with a collection of 90s throwbacks, TDE hits and nods to Chicago’s most popular hip-hop stars, but it was SZA who brought the house down with her mesmerizing melodies, seductive beats and candid storytelling. “Was anybody popular in high school?” the singer asked before performing a raw, vulnerable rendition of “Normal Girl.”
“This song is about my journey to normalcy or at least being less awkward,” she added.
“Doves in the Wind,” “The Weekend” and “Love Galore” – complete with the new verse recently revealed during her Dec. 9 “SNL” set – kept the celebration going, but SZA still had one last surprise up her sleeve. She invited her best friend out on stage so the entire venue could sing “Happy Birthday” to “the best manager” as the birthday girl was presented with a cake.
“Who else is ’20 Something,’?” SZA asked, prompting cheers from a crowd full of friends, lovers and fans who – if only for the span of evening’s closing song – paused the clock and got lost in time, music and the moment. By the time the final note was sung, SZA proved to be that rare breed of artist who somehow captures the strength, insecurity, fear, optimism and harmony of a generation with her poignant and powerful music.
Head over to szactrl.com for SZA’s latest news and tour dates.