“Yesterday I was so nervous,” she told more than 15,000 fans after the show ended and the house lights came on. The U.S. leg of her North American tour kicked off two nights ago in Miami, but the 33-year-old songwriter and singer confessed that it was, “Tampa… Baby” that set her at ease ahead of the rest of the five-week trek.
It didn’t take long for her to settle in either.
“Tampa, I have to say that your energy is A-plus-plus…the best,” she exclaimed after a run through “Ghost In the Machine,” from her late-2022 album, SOS, where she and the crowd picked up the verse by Phoebe Bridgers (who played just a few trolley stops away last April).
The very lit Tampeño flavor, however, was hitting well before Sza (stylized “SZA”) even took the stage.
Texas “Fortnite” star-turned-songwriter David Burke (aka D4vd) kicked the evening off with an eclectic eight-song set featuring different strains of pop, a couple backflips and a heartwarming cameo from his six-year-old sister.
After that, it was really on.
In between sets, the DJ wasted no time stirring the crowd up with “No Flockin’” from Florida rapper Kodak Black, before dropping Nicky Minaj and Sexyy Red’s “Pound Town 2” and then blending Khia’s raunchy Tampa club classic "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)" into City Girls’ “Act Up.” Crowdmembers—easily 90% non-men, with a median age no more than 25 years old—did just that, bouncing and singing along to every word and turning in the kind of energy reserved for 1 a.m. at the club after about seven vodkas.
And for all the chatter about SZA’s forlorn, masterfully melancholy new album of breakup anthems, it was hard to pick up any kind of sadness in the superstar’s set.
From the jump, as Sza’s sequined, oversized pants suit shone about as bright as her smile on “Seek & Destroy.” She tipped her cap to Erykah Badu for a cover of “Bag Lady,” then shared her own spellbinding, Badu-ish energy on “Doves In the Wind.” As they amplified the empowerment on “Notice Me,” fans bathed their queen in deafening screams and passionate sing-alongs.
They even kept pace with the at-times frenetic setlist and caught fire when Sza launched into “Broken Clocks,” the masterfully-structured highlight from the St. Louis-born star’s breakout 2017 album, Ctrl.
Inside Amalie Arena on Friday, though, Sza sent her self-confidence to new heights.
She did that literally by opening and closing the show on the elevated diving platform featured on SOS’ front cover. The choreography and effortless movement on “Low” looked like the well-oiled mechanics of a tour that’s been on the road for six months. And the nautical-themed stage production let Sza sail through cuts from an album that hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200 just two weeks after its release. The LP stayed there for 10 straight weeks; as Pitchfork noted, SOS “was the first record by a woman to do so in seven years, following Adele’s 25.”
Despite a Grammy win and more than a dozen nominations, the industry, at times still negligently overlooks her for well-deserved recognition—a topic Sza has elaborated on during recent panel discussions. But the mere fact that Sza took five years between full-lengths and still managed to sell-out arena dates is proof that truly generational talents don’t kowtow to formulas or trends, and instead create opportunities so others behind them won’t have to.
Hell, she even handled the show’s technical difficulties with ease.
Miami New Times said last Wednesday’s tour kickoff featured a boat that floated Sza into the center of the arena for a set that included an acoustic medley of “Supermodel,” Special,” and “Nobody Gets Me.” That didn’t happen in Tampa.
“We broke the boat,” she explained before playing just a few bars of “Open Arms.” For a moment, Sza lamented not being able to show off that part of the production, but added, “I’m not mad.”
Instead, she guided fans through the ups and downs of “Gone Girl,” danced through the funky glitch and disco-pop of songs like “Prom” and “Kiss Me More,” strutted through almost "I Would Die 4 U"-esque purple light on “Snooze,” and even shared an unreleased song, "OD/Diamond Boy.” In the crescendo of the evening, the Lorena Bobbit energy of Sza’s record-breaking modern murder-ballad “Kill Bill” soon cascaded into the emotional DDT of “I Hate U.”
And by the time the giant LCD screens went full waterfall for a rowdy, fully-blossomed run through “The Weekend,” a few things about Sza became very clear.
While the songs she pressed for SOS are about the solitude and despair of separation, there are actually no sad songs—or even sulking—in Sza’s world. Instead, what she offers are opportunities to exercise demons and then advocate and care for yourself en route to hopefully getting to the end of the dark tunnel.
Sza gets painted as the sad girl, but, like Tampa, she’s different. And what she actually brought to the city on Friday was a little bit of healing—and a whole lot of happiness, too.
Seek & Destroy
Love Galore > Broken Clocks
Used > Bag Lady (Erykah Badu)
Ghost In the Machine
Smoking On My Ex-Pack
All the Stars
Garden (Say It Like Dat)
Doves In the Wind
Open Arms (snippet)
Supermodel > Special
Nobody Gets Me
Kiss Me More
OD Diamond Boy
I Hate U
Notes From A Wrist
Take Me to the Sun
Here With Me