SZA Brings Her Fans On An Emotional Voyage On 'SOS' Tour

In Chicago, the second night of her arena showcase found the singer sailing across a sea of victory

Tens of thousands of fans from all across Chicago and beyond braved the wet and chilly elements to watch SZA perform her first-ever arena show at the second night of the SOS tour at the United Center on February 22. With the help of her opening act, the newly Grammy-nominated singer Omar Apollo, the R&B singer brought fans along on an emotionally captivating maiden voyage across her catalog as she likewise enlivened our deepest feelings.

The scene was an optimistic rainbow of fans from all ages and ethnicities hanging out, posing with their freshest fits, and taking selfies all across the venue. SZA dipped her toe in different genres on SOS, and some fans credited the album's themes of being lost and finding yourself all over again with why her arena tour brought out so many different kinds of people.

“The world is in a pandemic, and we’re facing so many adversities with other countries and stuff,” said Bradley, a native from the Southeast side of Chicago. “Everybody is lost, and it felt like with this album, SZA was trying to explore different takes and show that she’s also in a state of being lost, but exploring different areas as well and embracing them. That’s something we need.”

Bradley, who was particularly moved by the ‘80s pop-channeling “Conceited,” said that the empowering messages delivered across the album are what help him and other fans get through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “I needed a lot of self-empowerment.  ‘Conceited’ is about feeling yourself, and I kinda needed that,” he said. Leah, another Chicago native from the Pilsen neighborhood, agreed. “No matter what background you’re from, everyone has the same problems. The things she speaks about, a lot of people go through. She speaks to everybody in her own way,” she said.

SZA performing in Chicago

Mark Braboy/MTV News

The SOS tour is the biggest live venture SZA has embarked on thus far in her career, and she and her team did not waste a single moment giving fans one of the most immersive auditory and emotional experiences from a concert this year. SZA created a musical journey, including some of her fan-favorite classics from her debut album Ctrl and the Black Panther soundtrack, bringing us all aboard a boat traveling across the ocean. The nature-themed special effects with tone-setting red, blue, and green color schemes (especially the frightening red light that turned SZA into someone's nightmare during one song) were striking, with creative, lonely maiden at sea-meets-Disney set design, like a giant lighthouse near the sound booth.

Despite a few reported hiccups from her previous show that kicked off the tour in Ohio, none of that was present at all in Chicago. From the moment SZA began singing “PSA” atop the giant plank as portrayed on the cover of SOS, her confidence and pop-star luster were as radiant as the various colorful dresses she wore throughout the show.

And in case you didn’t know if SZA’s true fans were in attendance, as she was gearing up to perform “Supermodel,” the whole United Center lit up, as the crowd sang every word without her even having to open her mouth. Her performance of “Kill Bill” was arguably one of the top moments for her faithful, if gruesome recreation of Quentin Tarantino’s hard-boiled revenge classic. The set loosely interpreted the iconic fight scene between Uma Thurman’s character, The Bride, and O-Ren Ishii's goons in the bath house (swinging mace and all); the song was brought to life through the choreography and visual effects.

The homages seen throughout the tour were plentiful. One could find plenty of Disney inspiration from films like Treasure Island, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and The Little Mermaid across the set design based on the color scheme, the various dresses worn, and within the stage effects that blended vibrant earthy sights with space. On the affectionate “Love Language,” which interpolates Aaliyah’s “I Don’t Wanna,” SZA beautifully channeled her late R&B predecessor, donning a similar red jacket to the one Aaliyah made famous in the early 2000s.

The pinnacle of the dazzling evening was during SZA’s captivating medley of “Supermodel” blending into the painful “Special” and the all-too-relatable “Nobody Gets Me.” In arresting fashion, she sailed across the crowd in a yellow raft, draped in a yellow dress akin to Belle’s famous digs from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast capturing every heart in attendance, with fans passionately screaming and waving to her and reacting to her gracious waves back. As soon as she transitioned into the fan-favorite “Special,” hearing her disarming vocals live had me trembling to my feet.

“It just makes her feel like the woman she wanted to be, or [the woman] she wanted her man to look at her as, because she specifically speaks about the woman the man is looking at,” said Jazmine, another Chicago-based fan. “I resonate with that because there have been plenty of men who overlooked me for a woman who I feel like I was better than.”

To see SZA hover adjacent to all six of the 1990s Chicago Bulls championship banners felt almost symbolic, as if we were watching a musical celebratory parade after she won a title of her own. When you take into consideration the personal struggles she has endured over the years, in addition to listening to her reminisce about performing at smaller venues in Chicago after “Good Things,” it's easy to understand why the whole building cheered for joy as she showered fans with yellow confetti with the biggest smile.

For Black women like Jazmine, SZA’s success hits so deeply because she inspires women like her in terms of “just being who you are, making sure you’re being honest with who you are, and making sure you can make it in life. Some of her songs also mention how she feels like she’s in the background sometimes and never looked at herself as being in the forefront. I feel like that resonates with me as well career-wise.”

While SZA delivered a world-class performance, the omission of songs that were practically made for a concert sing-along, like “Far,” was disappointing. However, having other catchy jams like “Conceited” and “Smoking on My Ex Pack” were still enough to keep fans happy.

From feeling her magnetic charm up close and the happiness she exuded to watching her close the show with “Good Days” sitting on the very same plank she opened the show with — but clad in a radiant purple dress backed by the sun rising — truly felt like the Disney moment fans were looking for her entire career. SZA, who is well on her way to becoming a pop icon, truly has some good days ahead of her.

SZA performing in Chicago

Mark Braboy/MTV News

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