SZA brings her first arena tour ‘SOS’ to Chicago with opener Omar Apollo


Joanne Haner/Daily Senior Staffer

SZA performs at the United Center for the second night of her “SOS” Tour on Wednesday.

Selena Kuznikov, Arts and Entertainment Editor

With stunning visuals, insane choreography and a story of fresh love, heartbreak and bounce-back badassery, SZA made her second stop on her “SOS” tour Wednesday night with opener Omar Apollo at the United Center. 

Let’s be real. We’ve all been waiting for more music from SZA almost as long as we’ve been waiting on Rihanna to release a track. SZA released her sophomore album “SOS” over five years after her first project “Ctrl,” following a new-release tease with the “Ctrl” deluxe version last June.

Even before the first song, SZA set the tone for the almost two-hour long concert. Starting off with a tease of her unreleased song “PSA,” she sat atop a ledge singing her heart out. At the end of the song, screens floated down and surrounded her. A virtual SZA jumped off the ledge and into the water pictured on the “SOS” album cover, seemingly symbolizing a dive into a new relationship or love. 

Opening up with “Seek & Destroy,” SZA took her audience on a boat ride of emotions, eventually crashing into a whirlwind of heartbreak and rising up out of the damage as a baddie. The set design was immersive, with the screens previously surrounding her lifting up to reveal a huge boat prop with “SOS” written on the side. 

Considering her Chicago stop of her “Ctrl” tour in 2017 was at the mid-sized venue Concord Music Hall — with tickets starting at $27.50 ― the 23,000-person-maximum-capacity United Center was an exponential upgrade for the R&B artist. 

The show was the perfect culmination of songs from both of her studio albums, among other features — even though high-school me wishes we heard some tracks from her 2014 EP “Z.” Her voice sounded extremely healthy and full, hitting notes I didn’t even imagine were possible. 

Stunning pink and orange lights set the tone for “Garden (Say It Like Dat).” Raw and vulnerable, she spoke to the feeling of being with someone but understanding the superficial nature of your relationship. It seemed like the entire crowd understood her sentiments as she crooned, “You’ll never love me / but I believe you when you say it like dat.”

“F2F” is SZA’s take on the grungy pop-punk princess sound of the early 2000s. This song is one of the most underrated on the album ― and was one of the most entertaining to watch her perform. Though it was a shift from her usual R&B sound, she owned it and made it entirely hers. 

“Low” took the singer — and the boat — on a wild ride through a storm, leaving the crowd roaring as she did a split while guitarist Ari O’Neal riffed at the end of the song. Her cool-girl energy seeped into the audience, with everyone shouting out lyrics as she and her background dancers grooved along to the track. The storm came to a head as the boat broke apart and SZA boarded a raft to safety.

Floating in the raft and throwing confetti out to the crowd, SZA rode through a sea of cellphone flashlights while singing “Supermodel.” This part of the show felt like the acceptance of the loss, heartbreak and tribulations after the hectic up-and-down of a relationship. 

Donning a puffy yellow Marie Antoinette-esque dress, SZA slowed it down while heading towards a lighthouse, signifying an escape into the light from the darkness of her past relationship. Singing “I used to be special / But you made me hate me / Regret that I changed me” from her song “Special,” the aching feeling of forcing yourself to change for someone else was palpable in her voice. 

Returning to the stage to perform “Kiss Me More” and a few other tracks off “SOS” on the “ocean floor,” she quickly brought the crowd’s energy back up.

SZA’s music has been dominating TikTok for the past couple of years. And recently, her track “Kill Bill” has been streamed over half a billion times on Spotify alone since its release last December. 

Walking out swinging a chain mace á la Gogo Yubari, SZA started the track off forcefully, accompanied by background visuals of dancers fighting in a dojo. She knows how to rile up a crowd, getting the entire audience to give its metaphorical exes the bird while singing “And if you wonder if I hate you, (f–k you)” in “I Hate U.”

The last song before her encore, “The Weekend” was a staple in my sophomore-year high school playlist — even if I couldn’t deeply understand the lyrics in the way I do now. As the background track began, the crowd sang the first verse before SZA could even take a breath. 

After a few minutes of “SZA” chants from the crowd, the artist returned to the stage in a stunning crimson dress to perform “Good Days.” In her words, “I don’t miss no ex, I don’t miss no text, I choose not to respond.” As the song reached its climax, the screens above her read “The End” in classic film fashion, ending the night on a note of self-love and healing.

Packing about 30 songs into her setlist, the SOS tour plans to make 13 more stops, ending in Los Angeles.

SZA’s set encapsulated the volatile emotions that come from a terrible breakup. Her initial vulnerability and arc as she grapples with heartbreak are truthfully raw. The visuals, choreography, rich voice and a total of six outfit changes came together to create the perfect show for the first-time arena tourer. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @selenakuznikov

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