On The Scene: American Express ‘UNSTAGED’ with SZA

The Grammy-nominated artist performed songs from her debut album for American Express membership week and dropped new, exclusive merch.

To celebrate the fourth anniversary of CTRL, SZA held a concert in partnership with American Express for their membership week Thursday, June 17. UNSTAGED performances serve to connect fans in an immersive way to their favorite artists while also connecting them to the American Express brand. Amex members had the opportunity to purchase merchandise designed by Brooklyn-based artist Sage Adams throughout the show. Adams is the creative director behind the visuals for the CTRL album.

For her first full-length set in two years, SZA and director Alfred Marroquin wanted to take a fresh approach to Amex UNSTAGED through the lens of transformation. The concert focused heavily on the theme in three sets. Begging with SZA traveling in a van singing songs like ‘Anything’ and ‘Supermodel.’ It’s there we see the origins of SZA in a minimalist setting doing what she does best—performing. 

Then, came the songs where the world got to know her even more—‘Drew Berrymore’ and ‘Love Galore’ for which she brought out rapper Travis Scott. Previously, SZA tweeted for the rapper to perform their hit at least one more time, and he responded that he would be happy to. “Love Galore’ was nominated at the 60th Grammy awards for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.

The second set of songs took place at a beach in Santa Barbara illuminated by fiery visuals and an intricate rollercoaster-type arch. It’s worth noting that the singer’s band brought an additional immersive experience to the already ear-tingling performances. The band never faded into the background, rather made themselves known to audience members through their eccentric playing.

The third set saw her lifelong love for the natural world into focus, blending the ethereal and eco into one. Here, SZA sang her most recent hits ‘Kiss Me More’ and ‘Good Days.’  Frequent collaborator Isaiah Rashad came out to perform ‘Headshots’ with the singer. Both are signed to Top Dawg Entertainment along with Sir, Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Schoolboy Q. The last set of songs were filmed with simplistic nature and in a monotone hue. It gave a feeling of nostalgia while additionally revolving around a new chapter for SZA. It was the perfect ending to her story.

The anthology format wove themes of songwriting, spirit, and earth throughout the show, with each chapter defined by unique art direction, distinctive set design, styling, and camerawork. There’s no telling what other stories SZA will integrate in soon. Hopefully, an album is on the way!

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