As promised in its title, SZA never fails to sound in Ctrl on her debut album—at least vocally, since much of the LP candidly details her being very much at odds with both inept men and insecurities. Still, she can curl a flurry of visual lyrics into a succinct confession with ease and you never end up doubting, even for a moment, that this is not only her narrative—and hers only—but that it's a true one. There are no other sides to the story.
When you see SZA perform, however, she relinquishes a bit of that control. She's not stoic or still, rigidly rehearsed. She delivers rarely-heard falsettos, she forgoes melody for unplanned passion, she skips and spins the length of the stage, she stomps in sync with her band's sounding instruments, she scats and ad-libs and body rolls. And at a recently-added tour stop at Los Angeles' Novo, we got to see all that and more. Here are ten things you missed from SZA if you couldn't make it.
Her ultimate advice. Much credit to the imagery painted on "Drew Barrymore," it's not hard to decode the incident that inspired it, but you're still all-ears when SZA tells the story in person before performing. A "select boy" and a "gang of weed" were all she required to conjure up the courage to attend a house party once, but the man in question brought another girl and failed to ever acknowledge our Solana. A shitty situation, if there ever was one. "Trash Bandicoot," in her own words. But the learned takeaway? "Never do shit you don't want to do and always have enough weed to make you feel better."
Her inquiry into your career goals and television habits. "Who the fuck has day jobs?!" she shouted before breaking into "Broken Clocks." And, with the same intensity, "Who watches Martin?!" before "Go Gina."
Her good-hearted deceit. Scattered cheers were the response to SZA asking,"Was anybody popular in high school?" But those who thought they'd be rewarded for their honesty were proven wrong. "No! This is not the place. Trick question!" she admitted. This song's dedication was meant for the doubtful, for that moment in their lives when "you don't know the difference between wanting to be popular and wanting to be less awkward." Ultimately, you want to be normal. A "Normal Girl."
Her new 'do. "This is my first time having braids since I was, like, fucking 11."
Her welcoming, therapy-like approach to change. "Anyone going through transitions? Anyone feel like a different person than they were a few months ago? A week ago? Earlier today?" They're personal probes, but no one seemed hesitant to share their admissions with SZA, finding comfort in the commonalities of the crowd. And proving that she's just like the rest of us, she revealed, "I wrote this for old-era me, from new-me, as the person I needed [then]." It was "Garden (Say It Like Dat)."
Her spontaneity in the name of artistry. She alluded to something special—"Because ya'll been hanging with rusty ol' me…"—before trailing off, distracted by the shouted suggestion of a concertgoer. What came next was "Sobriety," delivered a cappella, her band sitting still. "It's not on the setlist, but I feel like I owed that to y'all."
Her Nae Nae. This, during "Love Galore," during which she also adeptly adopted Travis Scott's trademark "YAH!'s" to make up for his absence.
Her easy toss to a fan-favorite. SZA was shocked, or pretended to be, when a mass of strangers managed to all recall, without error, the day of the week upon her asking. Being a Tuesday, there was no easy segue but to say, "So we're not even halfway through week, so it'd be easier to rewind and pretend it's the fucking 'Weekend.'"
Her send-off. Before her closer, she made a final expression of gratitude—"First off, I just wanna reiterate that I really love y'all very, very, very, very much….Thank you for taking the time to share joy and share light"—making the repeated refrain on "20 Something" feel all the more genuine. The track's "God bless, oh God Bless, oh God bless, oh God bless" rolled into a then spoken prayer for her fans, too: "God bless, you guys."
Her encore opt-out. She's too good for that.
"Doves in the Wind"
"Garden (Say It Like Dat)"