All the way in the back row on a Saturday night at the Roseland Theater in downtown Portland, I patiently waited for SZA. It had been well over a decade since I’d been there and it was great to be back, even if it was in the very back row. I mentioned myself waiting patiently, but I can’t say the same for the rest of the house. In loud unison, the crowd sang three SZA tracks a capella before she came out. I was mesmerized. At one point during the show, I swore three people were going to fall off the balcony they were dangling from. Luckily, I was wrong.

Witnessing this contributed to my excitement in the best way. It was a rare moment to see a burgeoning artist on the brink of breaking through to something bigger and more mainstream. SZA came out and the guitar strummed the first riffs from CTRL album opener, “Supermodel.” Once again, the boisterous crowd sang every word along with her as I struggled to see her amidst the sea of lit up phones. Millennials, amirite?

There is something about the track “Drew Barrymore” that sets a fire inside me each time it comes on. It’s cool. It tells a story. Her delivery is fire. This was only amplified when SZA performed it live. Before she dove in, she explained how she was into this guy she was going to see at a party one night but when he finally arrived, he had brought someone. Despite her disappointment, she went on to have a great night at the party. There were plenty more details about how much fun she had, but I’ll leave that to your imagination.

SZA commanded the stage with ethereal “HiiiJack” next, swaying here and there on the wavy track. Her soft vocals sounded crisp through the system accompanied by some deep bass. This was a hiiilight for me. Not only was it one of my favorite tracks from her, but the way she snaked across the stage was giving me a little Aaliyah/Janet Jackson teas.. but it was all SZA tonight. Her bold and brash delivery juxtaposed with a girl next door vibe and free spirit makes her instantly likable. While she may not be the only artist in her lane, her lyrical choices, runs and command over the stage make her unique and memorable.

Sassy and swaggy “Broken Clocks,” the thumping “Prom,” and beautifully introspective “20 Something” were my faves of the evening. SZA is definitely in her element on stage, performing and sharing bits and pieces about her songs and experiences. She was genuinely appreciative of her fans and the loving crowd there that night. I feel grateful that I got to see her at this point, because the next tour she goes on will probably be in a bigger venue and I’ll still be in the back row.

Check out SZA’s CTRL tour coming to a city near you! You can also listen to her latest album CTRL out now via Top Dawg / RCA Records. SZA is also featured in our Core programs, including Modern Soul, Cashmere and Pop Style. Happy listening ♫

– Submitted by Tristan Bolden, Music Design