The Return of SZA

Vortex Music Magazine

St. Louis’ SZA took the stage at Roseland Theater for a sold-out show celebrating her long-awaited return to music with her debut album, 'Ctrl.'

SZA performs on the CTRL tour. Photo by Erin Cazes. SZA performs on the CTRL tour. Photo by Erin Cazes. After three years away from the spotlight, SZA staked her claim as one of the greats with her debut album, Ctrl. SZA, real name Solána Rowe, made a tremendous impact on music culture with her record. Since her acclaimed mixtapes and EP, Z, were released, lovers of hip-hop and R&B begged for SZA's follow-up record. When the first single, “Drew Barrymore,” dropped, the internet collectively lost it.

In the months following, SZA’s fan base grew to new heights. After new singles and pushed-back release dates, one of the most highly anticipated records of 2017 dropped on June 9. To her fans, old and new, Ctrl was everything it was expected to be. It continued to help her label, Top Dawg Entertainment (also home to Kendrick Lamar) rise to great new heights and prepped her for her first headline tour.

Portland got a taste of the SZA fever in mid-September, as her CTRL Tour landed at a sold-out Roseland Theater. On the evening of Saturday the 16th, a line wrapped the block in downtown Portland, slowly snaking its way into the doors of the venue. As the floor inside began to fill up, the night started off with R&B star Ravyn Lenae and acclaimed rapper Smino.

Lenae’s sound and style clicked perfectly with SZA’s crowd. On Ctrl, SZA makes her message of empowerment clear with lyrical content that speaks to and promotes her female fans. Ravyn Lenae complemented this power, performing a collection of songs that had the same effect on the hundreds of women in attendance. With her unique blend of Chicago house and R&B, Lenae empowered and inspired, getting everyone in the crowd involved in the set.

“Everybody put your pinkies in the air, and repeat after me: I promise to move my body,” she said. The audience obeyed her request as she played through her sweet twenty-minute set.

St. Louis rapper Smino bridged the gap between Lenae and SZA’s sets. Having released his debut record, blkswn, Smino has been riding high, and was even placed in the running for XXL’s 2017 Freshman Class. So with a hip-hop-literate crowd at his feet, the rapper gave his all, blending his smooth R&B vocals with his laser-quick flows.

Through his futuristic, jazz-inspired productions, Smino brought an unmatchable energy to the stage, giving the crowd a boost of hype and adrenaline to ready themselves for SZA’s arrival.

SZA performs on the CTRL tour. Photo by Erin Cazes.SZA performs on the CTRL tour. Photo by Erin Cazes.By the time Smino had wrapped, the monstrous line from outside had made its way into the venue, packing it with bodies from the front to the back. New lines had formed on the floor, weaving their way up to a full balcony level, over to the bar, and around the merch table. All eyes were glued to the stage as crew members set up SZA’s production: four large glowing letters that read "C T R L."

Even prior to her arrival, the crowd was under SZA’s spell. As the clock ticked closer to showtime, the entire room joined voices in singing “Supermodel,” a standout from Ctrl. “I could be your supermodel,” they all sang. “If you believe, if you see it in me.”

As the lights dimmed down and the backdrop lit up, the singing turned into a deafening roar. SZA took the stage and sang back the song the crowd had welcomed her with.

From the moment she stepped out in front of the crowd, it was evident she felt the love. A smile was plastered on her face as she danced around the stage, singing songs from her album as well as older tracks off her previously released EPs. The crowd sang at full volume to every song, and the lyrics were not only felt, but seen on the faces of those in attendance.

As previously stated, SZA’s music is full of female empowerment. Performing to a predominantly female crowd, the power of her music was brought to extraordinary levels. They danced, they sang, they cried and cheered. As SZA performed, one thing was clear: this show was for them.

SZA radiated positivity, love and happiness for her hour-long set. Not only was the crowd more than ecstatic to finally hear her music live, it was clear to everyone watching that SZA herself was happy to be there, indulging in her musical passions and hearing a sold-out room sing back to her.

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