It feels like SZA could do anything next, as she takes on London’s O2 Arena

At 33 songs long, you’d be forgiven for seeing the setlist and thinking “that’s a bit of a slog”, but it actually flies by.
SZA perform live on stage during The S.O.S. Tour 2023 concert at the Mercedes-Benz Arena Berlin on June 09, 2023 in Berlin Germany.

There’s a pop dungeon where artists live, sometimes for years, where they say, “it’s coming!” about an album that’s in the works (ahem, Rihanna, ahem, Sky Ferreira). SZA did a stint down there after releasing her cult and critical fave debut ‘Ctrl’ in 2017. 

After a sporadic string of singles from 2020, she dropped the lengthy follow-up ‘SOS’ late last year. It seems she didn’t just spend that time in the studio, flexing her versatility building a huge 23-track second record, but in training to become a fully-fledged superstar. 

The sheer scale of the ‘SOS’ tour is staggering; it’s the first of four nights she’ll play at London’s O2 Arena, and the big guns have well and truly been pulled out. Over the course of a two-hour mammoth show, she takes us on a nautical-themed journey, beginning perched at the end of a diving board, recreating the album cover while singing the not-actually-included-on-the-album ‘PSA’. 

A visual of her jumping off the board plays, and she’s straight into ‘Seek and Destroy’, this time an intricately choreographed number with backing dancers, the screen that played the VT lifting to reveal a harbour stage set. The opening numbers alone set a precedent for the evening, this careful balance of quiet, intimate moments and true star power spectacles, each one as wow-worthy as the other.

Photo credit: Pedro Becerra

Because, really, this is the fabric of SZA’s career. She’s built a cult following from her profoundly honest lyricism (that’s reflected tonight in the passion of the attendees, from the fact that every word resonates amongst the twenty-thousand twenty-somethings here, to the fact that the snaking merch queues are akin to those found at K-pop concerts hosted at the same venue), but has always had the potential to go majorly mainstream. 

From featuring on Rihanna’s ‘ANTI’ before her own debut album even dropped, to redefining the late 2010s R&B sound when that debut came, to pushing herself into new genre territories on ‘SOS’, this tour feels like a crowning moment, and deservedly so.

At 33 songs long, you’d be forgiven for seeing the setlist and thinking “that’s a bit of a slog”, but it actually flies by, filled with daren’t-go-to-the-loo-yet interludes and seamless transitions between the constantly changing set and pace of the show. Even pulling out special guest Travis Scott early on for ‘Love Galore’ can’t distract from SZA’s prowess. 

Photo credit: Pedro Becerra

Weaving between deep cuts and huge hits, the setlist includes nearly every song from ‘SOS’ and a hefty chunk of ‘Ctrl’ too, plus a couple of smash hit features, she proves time and time again she can do it all. As her ship docks, she takes a seat at the front of the stage for early hit ‘Drew Barrymore’; ‘Ctrl’ went mostly un-toured on these shores, so her efforts to make these tracks feel extra special tonight don’t go unnoticed. She even includes ‘Normal Girl’ at the hounding request of her fans, showing that she’s still very connected with her listeners, no matter how big she gets.

When she takes to the sky in a lifeboat to float over the crowd for a series of introspective ballads – ‘Supermodel’, ‘Special’, ‘Nobody Gets Me’, ‘Gone Girl’ – she reaches down, the audience members below stretching their arms up trying to reach her too. That’s kind of how it feels to be a SZA fan at this show, she’s literally the star commanding the stage, but she’s still endlessly relatable and never feels truly out of reach.

In the show’s final act, we’re treated to back to back hits, back on the stage. The breezy pop of Doja Cat collaboration ‘Kiss Me More’, downtempo romantic bop ‘Snooze’, breakout hit ‘The Weekend’, only briefly breaking out of the underwater world for recent smash ‘Kill Bill’, where samurai silhouettes battle behind SZA, who’s lit in red. She ends with ‘Good Days’, back atop the diving board, this time a golden sunrise behind her. The gorgeous lightness of the closing number and the visual of her high in the sky means that by the time the show ends, it feels like SZA could do anything next.

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