Last night the struggling streaming brand Pandora Radio assembled three of this year’s hottest artists into one room to perform some of their respectively hottest tracks. It was a curious mix: Ty Dolla $ign opened with his slurry romantic gambit to be this generation’s R. Kelly and this year’s dubious charttopper Post Malone strutted onto stage thirty minutes late and, most ignobly, long past the close of the VIP open bar. But neither of these things mattered: in between these arch symbols of music industry machinery was the LA’s SZA, who begun her first run of New York media outlets since her debut full-length Ctrl won the hearts and minds of the Brooklyn set way back in January. Chilly without veering into mumbly ambiance and catchy without sounding like crap, Ctrl remains a strong contender for one of the year’s sharpest albums. In concert, SZA was exuberant, performing her record’s disappointed passion to a house packed tightly to hear the gospel of her lovelorn Los Angeles, synthesicially connected to the mise-en-scène of HBO’s Insecure, the blare of feeling attractive but awkward, of being at a party and feeling incredibly alone. To be hip and heartbroken! SZA will hit SNL this Saturday and a sold-out Brooklyn Steel crowd the day after. If her next record is just as good, she’ll be headlining the Garden soon enough.
The concert, billed as #SoundsLike2017, was one of the last of a series that Pandora had been running this year connecting their access to top-streaming pop and rap acts with brands desperate for young blood. In an industry sense, this is interesting: having given up trying to fight with Spotify and Apple Music for space in the streaming marketplace, the brand has pivoted to selling music as pure promotional space, betting that the allure of waiting in line to see SZA and Post Malone will bring the people to rapturously consume advertisements. To wit: brand representatives of a communication conglomerate thrust flashing styrofoam sticks at me while, around the corner of the slightly packed storage shed-turned-indoor-basketball court/event space, an air freshener company were hurling plastic snowglobes at the crowd rushing to leave after SZA’s set. Even Glade®’s gotta feel like a rockstar.