The Washington Post
At Capital One Arena, SZA creates waves of reflection
The cover of SZA’S latest album, “SOS,” finds the singer balanced on the end of a diving board, gazing into an endless blue sea. It’s an image the 33-year-old talent re-created on Monday night at Capital One Arena, as she perched herself on a similar plank suspended above the stage. On the album, the static image suggests introspection amid maritime mystery. In person, the only option was to jump in. So she did.
Thanks to a giant, stage-encompassing video screen and some movie magic, SZA was safe. But the deep dive into unknown waters proved to be a perfect metaphor for a similarly themed night as the singer born Solána Rowe turned her songs into a soundtrack for a nautical adventure that literalized “SOS” — a Morse code distress call which, depending who you ask, means “Save Our Ship” or “Save Our Souls.”
Accompanied by a handful of dancers and backed by her band, SZA turned the stage and its screens into a ship tasked with navigating metaphorical seas: Her stage sets included a rickety boat taking on water, rough seagoing, submarine innards and an under-the-sea world.
During the climax of her set, SZA climbed into a lifeboat that was airlifted above the crowd, as if looking for any port in a storm.
SZA’S confessional, unabashed lyrics provide for plenty of ebb and flow: messy with insecurities and contradictions, SZA and her paramours — rappers, athletes, heartthrobs, losers — are all a little toxic and prepared for mutually assured destruction. For her part, SZA’S rise from SoundCloud singer to Soundscan star has not alleviated her fears and frustrations — it’s only complicated them.
“I always knew things would be just fine,” she sang during the night’s first song, “PSA,” “I always knew it’d get worse with time.”
Time’s passage and lessons have always loomed large in SZA’S lyrics: she’s frequently burning daylight or wasting time; on fan favorite “The Weekend,” she treats a two-timing boyfriend like a timeshare. On the “SOS” cut “Blind,” she noted that even though the times have changed, she’s still embarrassed by overwhelming senses of loss and lust, unable to see that “all of the things I need [are] living inside of me.”
SZA contains multitudes, as does her songbook. While it’s heavy with the woozy, hip-hopinflected R&B of which she is a major proponent, her most selfassured moments are when she sheds expectations, especially on new songs such as the Y2K poprock of “F2F” and “Nobody Gets Me,” a throwback ballad updated with millennial frankness.
These songs and others make us rethink who gets to write and perform pop songs that are not just arena-sized but stadiumready. SZA’S ruminations on what she’s owed and what she deserves in her love life extend to her place in the pop pantheon. As she sings on “SOS,” elongating her vowels for all they’re worth, “I just want what’s mine.”