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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

‘SOS’: I haven’t recovered after SZA’s stop at Bridgestone Arena

At the “SOS Tour,” d4vd started the night off strong with an energetic performance, and SZA took the audience on a nautical voyage through the highs and lows following a heartbreak.
Narenkumar Thirmiya
SZA sings on a diving board at Bridgestone Arena, as photographed Sept. 24, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Narenkumar Thirmiya)

“Y’all have the best energy,” SZA said. 

After she played an encore of “Good Days” and the lights went dark, SZA returned to the stage, not to sing another song, but to personally thank the audience for their enthusiasm. In a night that can only be described as an odyssey, SZA brought the crowd on a nautical journey through feelings of self-assurance and post-breakup blues on her “SOS Tour.” 

Solána Imani Rowe, or SZA, is an acclaimed multi-genre artist. Rather than being reduced to a single genre, SZA aims to be expansive in her music, creating hits that appeal to a wide range of audiences and moods. She came out with her debut studio album, “Ctrl” in 2017, visiting Vanderbilt at Commodore Quake the same year. Since then, she’s gone on to win Grammy and AMA awards, and her 2022 release “SOS” received widespread acclaim, making multiple lists of the best albums of the year (and The Hustler’s list of the best album covers of 2022). “SOS” is a standout album, diving deep into the complexities and contradictions of love and loss, simultaneously swaying between outspoken confidence and quiet introspection. Needless to say, I was excited for the show. 

The night began with the newly famous 18-year-old David Anthony Burke, known professionally as d4vd, giving a lively and vocally impressive performance. d4vd started making music approximately a year ago on BandLab, recording vocals on his phone and sharing his music over TikTok. In a short time, he has quickly amassed a fan base and become a RIAA Multi-Platinum certified artist. Just six months ago, he attended his first-ever concert, SZA, and now, he’s opening for her. Running, stomping and backflipping across the stage, he performed “WORTHLESS,” engaging the audience while singing about finding purpose. Moments later, he slowed down the tempo to introduce a special guest on stage. 

“I made a lot of these songs on a phone in my little sister’s closet,” d4vd said. “So I thought it’d only be right to bring my little sister on stage.” 

d4vd and his 6-year-old sister sang his hit “Here With Me,” harmonizing to the words “I don’t care how long it takes / As long as I’m with you, I’ve got a smile on my face.” After, d4vd ended his set with “Romantic Homicide,” showcasing his ability to hit a wide range of notes while maintaining high energy on stage. While his rise to fame seems rapid, given his skill both lyrically and in performance, it’s not surprising.

Whereas usually the wait between an opener and headliner can be dull, the crowd at Bridgestone maintained high energy throughout the break. At least five separate times, audience members on the floor broke out into dance, earning cheering from across the arena and engaging in mini-performances to hold the crowd over until SZA came onstage. 

At long last, the lights dimmed and giant screens on stage projected ocean waves. Slowly, as the screens rose, SZA came into view, sitting on the ledge of a diving board, reminiscent of the cover of “SOS.” She started the night with “Seek & Destroy” and “Notice Me,” both of which touch on the harmful sides of love. For the first act of the night, SZA and her crew of dancers performed on the set of an abandoned shipyard; when joined with the destructive lyrics of her opening songs, this set the opening scene for the night: a deserted relationship.

The journey continued in the second act of the night, as SZA ventured into the engine room and played self-analyzing songs alone amid the interior of the ship. In her ballad, “Blind,” she sang about the embarrassment of seeking love, and in “Ghost in the Machine,” she hit high notes while singing about the machine that is the entertainment industry. 

Leaving the interior of the ship, SZA journeyed to its deck to dance along to songs from both of her albums and bring us on the tumultuous journey of love. She played disco-sounding “Prom” and psychedelic “Drew Barrymore,” which focus on the confusion of growing up and navigating casual relationships. This theme continued in the electric “F2F,” and as SZA sang “Get a rise out of watchin’ you fall / Get a kick out of missin’ your call,” the crowd jumped along to the beat.

If the audience needed to be saved after this wild ride, SZA was ready to do so in her fourth act, where she climbed on a red lifeboat that sailed in the air. As SZA gracefully floated through the sky toward a lighthouse across the arena, she performed some of her most intimate and melancholic songs. The act gave the impression of floating away from a relationship that is no longer serving you, while still feeling contradictory emotions about it. In “Special,” a quiet pop ballad, she sang “I wish I was special / I gave all my special / Away to a loser / Now I’m just a loser.” She continued the theme of questioning yourself after ending a relationship in “Nobody Gets Me,” where she beautifully belted about feeling like the only person who understands her is her ex.  

As the journey continued, the mood lifted as SZA ventured under the sea, complete with a giant anchor fit for Vanderbilt fans. She got the arena dancing along to her cover of Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me More” and raised the energy even more when she performed “Kill Bill.” This act focused on getting over the earlier contemplative sadness to focus on revenge and living your best life after the end of a relationship. She temporarily ended the set with “The Weekend,” before leaving the stage as the lights dimmed.

Finally, in a full circle moment, SZA appeared back on stage on the diving board from the beginning of the show. Rather than the previous stormy waters, the background behind her displayed the pinks, oranges and yellows of a sunset, and she sang “Good Days.” The song centers around moving on from the past and signaled the end of the “SOS Tour” journey, which took us through the many emotions that come with navigating a failed relationship.

After the lights were dark for a few minutes and the crowd began leaving their seats, SZA returned to thank her fans for their energy and speak with specific audience members with whom she felt a connection. 

The night brought a voyage across the range of emotions that come with falling in love and losing someone. Like all of SZA’s music, the songs retained both an incredible ability to illuminate feelings that are hard to put into words and genre-bending sounds that keep listeners wanting more. Looking around after the show, it felt like the crowd had gone on a journey of loss and learned to move on together. 

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About the Contributors
Claire Gatlin, Life Editor
Claire Gatlin ('24) is a student in Peabody College studying human and organizational development and political science. In her free time, she enjoys going to concerts, reading and rollerblading. You can reach her at [email protected].
Narenkumar Thirmiya, Staff Photographer
Narenkumar Thirmiya ('24) is from Orlando, Fla., and is majoring in neuroscience and medicine, health, and society in the College of Arts and Science. When not shooting for The Hustler, he is streaming TV, playing the piano or guitar or exploring nature photography. You can reach him at [email protected].
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