SZA takes a victory lap at Camp Flog Gnaw festival

The second and final day of Tyler, the Creator’s Camp Flog Gnaw festival, making its return after a four-year hiatus, was led by top Grammy nominee SZA and featured winning sets from an array of left-field, genre-hopping pop acts.

August Brown, Kenan Draughorne and Mikael Wood caught all the action from a sold-out Dodger Stadium.

Articulating the perils of millennial romance

How quotable are SZA’s lyrics about the cursed complexities of millennial romance? So quotable that one fun thing to do during her festival-closing set Sunday night was watching fans sing along with certain key lines — “Now I’m ovulating and I need rough sex,” from “F2F,” was a popular one — while their friends shot chaotic video clips presumably destined for social media.

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A heavily abbreviated version of the elaborate arena show the 34-year-old R&B star has been touring for much of 2023, SZA’s hour-long Flog Gnaw gig served as a victory lap of sorts to the field-leading nine Grammy nominations SZA received last week, including nods for album, record and song of the year for her blockbuster “SOS” LP and its chart-topping single “Kill Bill.”

SZA performs at Camp Flog Gnaw on Sunday.

SZA performs at Camp Flog Gnaw on Sunday. (Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

Is a victory lap the right way to describe a concert consisting of songs as full of irritation and self-doubt as “F2F,” “Blind” and “Ghost in the Machine”? On Twitter after her performance, SZA responded to a fan who’d pointed out that she hadn’t commented on the nominations by explaining that she was feeling overwhelmed and that “it gives me alotta anxiety to think of words.” (She also posted a sweet throwback photo from a previous Grammys ceremony in which Ryan Seacrest is seen interviewing the singer’s grandmother on the red carpet.)


Yet the beauty of SZA’s artistry is how vividly she articulates that anxiety in the winding melodies, the eclectic grooves and indeed the moving and hilarious words of her music, which came through here even if the careful plotting of her “SOS” live production didn’t. “I worry that I wasted the best of me on you, babe,” she told one ex in “Good Days.” Dude should be so lucky. — Mikael Wood

Los Angeles, CA - November 11: Tyler the Creator performs during the Camp Flog Gnaw festival at Dodgers Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. (Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

MUSIC

At Camp Flog Gnaw, Tyler, the Creator, Kendrick Lamar and Ice Spice bring star power

Upstaged by a former labelmate


In January 2023, Lil Yachty took an abrupt left-turn on his album “Let’s Start Here,” a psychedelic experiment that traded bars and punch lines for warbling melodies drenched in reverb. During his appearance at Camp Flog Gnaw, however, the ambition of that album felt like a distant memory, as Yachty opted to go the full set without so much as a single lyric from his most recent body of work.

Instead, Yachty built his set around post-album loosies designed for the mosh pits. Mid-set, he produced his former Quality Control labelmate Offset, who stole the show with a three-song medley consisting of “Say My Grace” and his verse from “Bad and Boujee,” along with the Yachty-Migos collaboration “Peek a Boo.”

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Performance-wise, Yachty didn’t offer much aside from empty screams and occasional ad-libs over the backing tracks, and his energy visibly slumped after security paused the show to check on pinned fans in the crowd who needed assistance. But before he left, he made sure to promote his upcoming L.A. stop on his “Field Trip” tour. — Kenan Draughorne

Lil Yachty performing at Camp Flog Gnaw.


Lil Yachty performing at Camp Flog Gnaw. (Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

Gen Z heartthrobs

Before SZA’s headlining appearance, Flog Gnaw’s main stage hosted back-to-back sets by Dominic Fike and Rex Orange County — hip-hop-attuned guitar guys who’ve parlayed Tyler, the Creator’s enthusiasm into full-fledged careers as sensitive Gen Z heartthrobs.

Each pointed to his own lodestars: Playing tunes from this year’s excellent (if overlooked) “Sunburn,” Fike channeled Sublime and Red Hot Chili Peppers, while Rex Orange County located the midpoint between Frank Ocean and Elvis Costello. — M.W.

Dominic Fike by the pool

‘Euphoria’s’ Dominic Fike is on the verge of pop stardom, whether he likes it or not

Learning to have fun onstage

Dressed in Y2K-era low-rise jeans and clutching a Hello Kitty handbag, PinkPantheress sauntered onto the Flog stage and told the crowd she planned to play some new stuff as well as some old stuff — the old stuff being from late 2020, when this 22-year-old British singer and producer began posting songs online that almost immediately attracted a devoted following (and eventually led to a deal with a major label, which released her debut studio LP last week).

The PinkPantheress sound is scrappy yet wistful, with echoes of early-2000s pop pinging beneath her high, sighing vocals.

One of her tricks is to throw in some wholly unanticipated texture like the Irish fiddle licks that crop up in “Angel,” which appears on the “Barbie” soundtrack and which here occasioned a cameo by a guy doing “Riverdance”-style moves as PinkPantheress sang about her baby going away.

Another is building songs that move 10% to 15% faster than you’d expect, such as her and Ice Spice’s smash “Boy’s a Liar, Pt. 2,” which she performed less than 24 hours after her duet partner did so in the same spot.

A textbook bedroom-pop operator, PinkPantheress earned harsh reviews early on with live gigs that seemed to put her well outside her comfort zone. Three not-so-long years into her career, though, she’s learning to have fun onstage: After announcing that her “t—” had nearly fallen out of her halter top, she said, “I just dropped an album,” then added: “Who the f— cares?” — M.W.

PinkPantheress performs at Camp Flog Gnaw.

PinkPantheress performs at Camp Flog Gnaw. (Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

A new beginning

Cuco, the 25-year-old, Hawthorne singer-songwriter born Omar Banos, rocketed to fame for his bilingual, dryly funny love songs, but the last few years have been much more somber for him.

His sound is rooted in the plaintive longing of his favorite oldies (his viral breakout was a Santo & Johnny cover) and effect-washed post-punk that’s long imbued the L.A. underground. Singles like “Lo Que Siento” got him a deal with Interscope and the weight of expectations that came with it.

Yet after taking time off to work on substance abuse and other issues, Cuco returned in 2022 with “Fantasy Gateway.”

On Sunday, he found fresh energy to go deeper into the psych-rock furnace. Song like “Keeping Tabs,” with lyrics about “getting high like every single day,” now rang with more regret than languid appeal.

“Junkies and Rarities,” off his new EP, “Hitchhiker,” hit the throttle with Krautrock drums and vicious guitar solos. Whatever work he’s done in private, it showed in his performance, and this felt like the start of a new era. — August Brown

Cuco performs at Camp Flog Gnaw.

Cuco performs at Camp Flog Gnaw. (Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

Climbing the Smith ranking

After a tumultuous few years in the Smith household, it’s high time to inaugurate Willow as the family’s lead ambassador to pop culture.

The 23-year-old singer-songwriter — the daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith — has more than proved her mettle in rock since her 2015 debut LP.

Her Flog Gnaw performance triangulated perfectly among the emo revivalism, metal and hardcore shredding and genre-hopping camaraderie that the festival champions.

Willow’s earnest vocal acrobatics owe a lot to Paramore’s Hayley Williams, but she found even more coiled-spring melodrama in songs like “Why?” and “Split.”

She played a new single, “Alone,” that had some jazzy, jagged percussion and Björk-worthy vocal quivers, showing she’s getting only more ambitious with time.

When her brother Jaden made a cameo for their duet “Summertime in Paris,” he wore a shirt that read “Willow’s Brother” —a fair ranking, given the occasion. — A.B.


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