SZA was sublime but Glastonbury fans were unsure as she drew a small audience

SZA was sublime but Glastonbury fans were unsure as she drew a small audience

SZA’s performance at Glastonbury 2024 was a sublime showcase of her talent, but it left many festival-goers unsure, resulting in a smaller audience than expected for a headliner. Following the polished sets of Dua Lipa and Coldplay, SZA had a tough act to follow on Sunday night. Initially, there were rumors that pop icon Madonna might take the slot, but it ultimately went to the US R&B star.

Despite being one of the most-streamed artists globally, SZA’s intricate and emotionally charged songs about modern relationships didn’t seem to resonate with the Pyramid Stage crowd. The audience was the smallest I’ve seen for a Glastonbury headliner in over two decades of attending the festival. Technical issues plagued the first half-hour of her set, with her microphone sounding both distorted and muffled. This was particularly problematic for an artist whose appeal lies in the precision of her lyrics and the beauty of her jazzy vocal runs.

Adding to the disconnect, SZA committed the festival faux pas of not engaging with the crowd. Her only interaction early on was asking if any of her “day one” fans were present, saying, “You know I need you, right?” This seemed to acknowledge that the Glastonbury audience might not be her natural fan base. By the time she performed her biggest hit, “Kill Bill,” many had already drifted away to other stages to catch acts like The National, James Blake, and London Grammar.

However, those who stayed were treated to a performance that showcased SZA’s spectacular vocal command. She managed to project to the back of the field without losing the intimacy that makes her music so compelling. One of the most moving moments came when she performed “Nobody Gets Me,” a ballad about struggling to move on after a breakup. Young fans in the audience were visibly moved, clasping their hands to their chests and mouthing the lyrics silently.

Other highlights included the rock-infused “F2F” and the 80s-inspired pop hit “Kiss Me More,” which she seamlessly blended with Prince’s “Kiss.” Visually, the show was a feast, divided into three sections that mapped out the emotional journey of getting over a broken heart. She began in a cave-like setting, symbolizing solitude, and performed “Drew Barrymore” while perched on a giant ant. The second section, “robot world,” featured songs like “Snooze,” “Kill Bill,” and “I Hate U,” reflecting conflicting emotions. The final segment, “Coming Home,” saw SZA sprout wings and climb a tree, performing more liberated, feel-good songs like “Saturn” and “Good Days.”

Her final song, “20 Something,” was a declaration of solidarity for anyone navigating the turmoil of their twenties. She descended from her elaborate set to sing directly to fans in the front row, saying, “Glastonbury, I was so nervous about today. I’m so grateful. You have my deepest love and my deepest respect. God bless you and please get home safely.”

Despite the smaller crowd, SZA’s set was a sublime show, albeit in the wrong venue. This year’s Glastonbury seemed to struggle with matching acts to appropriate stages. Beloved artists like Sugababes, Fred Again, and Avril Lavigne were placed in areas too small to accommodate their fans, while the Pyramid Stage had trouble drawing sufficient numbers for compelling sets by PJ Harvey and Janelle Monae.

After her set, SZA posted a message that seemed to acknowledge the mixed response: “The bravery required to be alive in public is remarkable,” she wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “So over everybody doing that [expletive].”

Elsewhere on Sunday, Shania Twain played the coveted Legends slot, delivering big anthems like “That Don’t Impress Me Much” and “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!” Over on the Other Stage, Avril Lavigne caused major traffic jams as fans flocked to hear her era-defining pop-punk hits. Janelle Monae delivered a tight, funky set on the Pyramid Stage, celebrating her sexual freedom and dedicating her performance to the queer community and other marginalized groups.

Nigerian star Burna Boy followed Monae, racing through Afro-fusion hits and flirting with the audience. Headline sets also came from French dance maestros Justice and indie-pop group London Grammar, who drew an enormous crowd despite singer Hannah Reid’s concerns about being scheduled against SZA.

The biggest headliners in terms of audience size were US indie band The National, who closed the Other Stage with their epic guitars and emotive lyrics. Their grown-up sound and intense delivery capped off an uneven Sunday as Glastonbury prepared to shut down for another year. The festival will return in 2025, with a fallow year planned for 2026.

Source: Mark Savage, Music Correspondent

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