Cuervonochaser party hosted by jose cuervo x afropunk on cinco de mayo 3
Photo by Benjamin Lozovsky |
Photo Credit: Benjamin Lozovsky for BFA

Out of Ctrl? SZA Pop-Up Shuts Down a NYC Block

What was intended to be an intimate free show quickly spiraled into an unmanageable mess outside of NYC's The Box last night.

Announced via Instagram over the weekend, SZA's Ctrl pop-up was set up as a gesture of gratitude for the support the singer had received in the wake of her debut album's release. Its lead single, "Love Galore," had gone platinum only a few weeks earlier and as of this morning, the album as a whole is now certified gold. There was a lot to celebrate. But as fans learned last night, sometimes these well-intentioned gifts are grander in premise than in practice.

Fans could be seen lining up outside of The Box as early as noon yesterday, waiting on wristbands that would grant them entry to a pair of free shows at the tiny burlesque club on Chrystie Street. By 6pm, when doors were slated to open for the show, a patient crowd of hundreds (potentially thousands) shut down the block. A group of maybe 20 suspiciously-friendly cops arrived with barricades to help manage a line that had bloomed into a joyous congregation of diehards, singing album cuts as they anxiously awaited a rare opportunity to see the singer perform at such an intimate venue.

But as we approached the top of the next hour, SZA took to her social media platforms to break a bleak prognosis. The second set had been canceled and the show was threatened with an all-out repeal due to complaints from neighbors on a somewhat residential block between Soho and Chinatown. Visibly disappointed, but never deterred, the crowd stuck around right up until the venue reached its 250-person capacity, with some still hoping that a second set might materialize.

It didn't, but the whole thing might have gone down a little easier had that line not watched two buses -- first, a short party bus, then a full greyhound -- deliver 70 or so people from what I am told was the singer's label, RCA, directly to the door. Again, there was a lot to celebrate. For the artist, an unexpected victory that's only growing in sweetness and impact as the year in music continues to unfold. For the label, the fruits of a good investment. But for the fans, it was a moment to get that much closer to the woman that gave the world a hug and measure of control with a fearlessly confessional project. That this night didn't go according to plan as a result of an unforeseen burden on the neighborhood is a touch disingenuous. Had the suits not taken priority over those waiting tirelessly up and down the block, there would have been room for the overwhelming majority of us still standing.

Music writers learn of these avoidable miscalculations at little to no cost. Even the power of the almighty guest list is no match for the suffocating mismanagements of a generously ambitious gesture. Some of our most memorable moments tend to be on the outside looking in (or just around, in this case.) But we didn't put the full day into securing a spot and we'll likely work our way into the next appearance with a new favor to cash. That leverage is not afforded to the hundreds turned away after sacrificing whatever their day was supposed to entail before responding to the singer's call.

SZA, for her part, is trying to make it right, offering fans discounted tickets to a pair of December shows in the city and promising another free show at a more fitting venue for the occasion down the line. But the burden of compensating fans for their unrequited dedication should fall on the suits, not the artist who stepped out in front of their mess.