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SZA at BST Hyde Park in London review: A world-leading show

"Like a waterfall, her voice tumbles powerfully but elegantly on vocal showcases like 'Broken Clocks' and 'Good Days'" writes Attitude's Jamie Tabberer

5.0 rating

By Jamie Tabberer

SZA on stage at BST Hyde Park (Image: Cass Meyers)

“Show up 15 minutes late. Even the best host or hostess appreciates that grace period.” This recent party tip from the New York Times lived rent-free in my head last night at SZA’s delayed BST Hyde Park headline set. Lateness is irksome, but for a show of this scale – there were 65,000 people watching! – a measure of patience (15 minutes to be precise) is perhaps a good idea.

Just as I asked “do I need to sit down?” and “do I need the toilet?”, SZA rises on a perilously high podium, voice booming. Like a waterfall, it tumbles powerfully but elegantly on vocal showcases like ‘Broken Clocks’ and ‘Good Days’; like a true star, she makes it look effortless, while appearing overjoyed, megawatt smile gleaming.

If she sings over a backing track, it’s only to harmonise with herself, therefore adding value rather than short-changing the audience. The fact her live band are partially hidden by staging underscores how the arrangement is designed to centre and amplify her voice, rather than disguise it. That said, a game-faced guitarist later rocks out on the runway, imparting power and significance.

Prestige is also apparent in the big screen visuals, which are probably the best this reviewer has ever seen. At first, they offer a surreal, ultra-saturated take of the natural world – think Avatar meets Mad Max – and later, full-on sci-fi, depicting a futuristic, slightly eerie cityscape akin to the Alien cinematic universe. At one point, SZA sings atop a giant beetle, as you do. At the show’s climax, the ‘I Hate U’ singer is backed by a huge, close-up rendering of the moon so detailed you could see every crater and crevice. It’s big ticket stuff, easing any doubts that brand SZA is big enough to pull off a closing slot at Glastonbury tonight.

This reviewer can barely think of anything to criticise. Previously just a casual SZA fan, I’ve sometimes found her suite of mid tempo break-up songs samey and lethargic, but was so bowled over by the energy with which they’re infused tonight, I’ll have to revisit them.

She vibrates with star power on ‘Kiss Me More’ and ‘All the Stars’, her all-conquering co-features with Doja Cat and Kendrick Lamar. An interesting question: will she plump for such bombast in the future when she can already fill a London park with the lower key intimacy of ‘Snooze’ and ‘Nobody Gets Me’? Certainly, the night’s most memorable moment is the latter: a soaring, heartfelt ballad performed to perfection while straddling a huge tree suspended by wires.

There’s also the vitality of her movement, whether pole dancing on her mic-stand or kneeling and arching her back between songs. She twerks with humour on ‘Rich Baby Daddy’ and offers a breathtaking sword routine with her charismatic backing dancers before ‘Kill Bill’. At the end of ‘F2F’, she throws herself to the floor in a fit of passion. There are no guest appearances and she rarely addresses the audience, but doesn’t need to. What we instead get is an uninterrupted statement of intent of Beyoncé or Taylor Swift-level potency – albeit looser and freer than anything else happening in music right now.