Don’t lie. You’ve sat up like a fool and cried over a love interest before, just like the rest of us. SZA’s ability to tap into that universal experience is what makes her work so good. At times her lyrics sprain the heart. On “Gone Girl,” from her long-awaited second album, SOS, she sings, “I need your touch, not your scrutiny”—which might have you recalling a partner you let toy with your emotions a little too long. But even when her songs sound sad or emo on the surface, you’d be remiss to tag them with such limiting labels. SZA will release you into whatever makes musical sense at the time—you could be crying one minute and p-popping the next.
The Saint Louis native is an anti-star. SZA’s career is peppered with public spats with record-label execs, revelations that she’s been scared of success, and long breaks between releases. None of it matters. She consistently creates music that’s highly relatable, relentlessly quotable, and widely celebrated, and her virality on TikTok and her collaborations with artists such as fellow genre-bending star Doja Cat (they won a Grammy last year for their single “Kiss Me More”) both demonstrate how many souls her work can reach.
SZA’s 2017 full-length debut, Ctrl, was certified triple platinum and largely adored. Since then, her collaborations with a variety of artists, including rapper and producer DJ Khaled and R&B singer Summer Walker, have kept her in the public eye, but fans were frothing at the mouth for new solo material. By SZA’s own admission, SOS is “super alternative” (as she put it in a December interview with Hot 97). The evidence is everywhere too: there’s the shout-out from Taylor Swift, the feature from Phoebe Bridgers, and songs such as the spin-around-your-room-singing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs acoustic heartbreaker “Nobody Gets Me.” As SZA leaps from hip-hop to indie rock to achy, syrupy soul, she proves herself an artist you can’t pigeonhole. You just have to let go and dance along.
SZA Omar Apollo opens. Wed 2/22, 8 PM, United Center, 1901 W. Madison, $190-$736, all ages