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For many Glastonbury headliners, the Sunday night audience is a prime, easy-to-please crowd. The attendees who’ve endured the four-day festival are often exhausted, running on little sleep and high emotions, making them susceptible to even the lightest touch of nostalgia or sentimentality. However, SZA, also known as Solána Imani Rowe, defies that norm. Instead of leaning into easy emotional wins, she offers something more intricate and personal.

At 34, SZA is an R&B singer with a soul-baring style that sets her apart from acts like Dua Lipa and Coldplay, who rely on laser-focused performances and impactful pyrotechnics. Although not a ubiquitous name in the UK—many even wonder, “SZA who?”—she possesses an ability to bridge emotional gaps, especially significant in a festival scenario where heightened feelings and camaraderie are abundant.

Rising from a visually stunning stage that merges elements of an ice cave with those of an ancient Egyptian palace, SZA kicks off her set with the string-heavy “PSA,” quickly segueing into a fervent rendition of “Love Galore.” Adorned in a bronze tasselled dress and supported by a dynamic troupe of dancers, she delivers lines like “Why you bother me when you know you got a woman?” with the same feverish intensity felt by the weary festival-goers.

The high-energy production and live band build on the trajectory set by her 2017 album CTRL and its 2022 follow-up, SOS. The latter not only topped the US charts but also redefined her intimate bedroom confessions for a broader audience. Each musical cue is accompanied by fairy lights, and pauses are drawn out like overfilled balloons on the brink of bursting.

Although the crowd is one of the smallest in recent memory, it grants fans ample space to enact theatrical serenades. The pop-punk explosion of “FWF” even incites the formation of numerous mini mosh pits. SZA herself embraces a whimsical fairytale vibe, interacting with her elaborate stage set by riding a giant model ant, grinding on a throne-shaped humanoid, and engaging in a sword-wielding dance sequence atop a large tree trunk while wearing fairy wings. This choreography sometimes distracts from her intoxicating vocal delivery, yet when she fully engages, her melismatic tones and half-rapped confessions are captivating.

As night falls, a well-timed medley of her collaboration with Doja Cat, “Kiss Me More,” and a surprise cover of Prince’s “Kiss” electrifies the crowd, effectively transitioning into a party atmosphere. However, songs like “Supermodel” offer a stark contrast. Portraying themes of social anxiety, jealousy, and self-recrimination delivered with a sense of ennui and apology, these tracks diverge sharply from the empowerment anthems of contemporaries like Dua Lipa. Where Lipa’s work is infused with Radical Optimism, SZA brings Radical Nihilism to the fore.

By the time she closes with “Twentysomethings,” SZA has led her most devoted fans through an emotional, dream-like experience. While she may not have converted new followers, her refusal to resort to cheap thrills or easy fireworks left a deeper impact. The melancholy and intimate spectacle felt earned and authentic, resonating strongly with Glastonbury’s tired but devoted crowd. For one night, SZA and the festival’s weary attendees shared a poignant, collective moment of vulnerability and connection.

Source: CNN