So this blog post is like 5 years in the making. It finally happened: I got to see Ms. Tori Kelly live. She was amazing. I still can’t get over how amazing this show was. Allow me to elaborate.
Allow me to set the stage: (no pun intended) it’s a hot Saturday evening, the room is buzzing with excitement. The opening act, Us the Duo, finished their brief set and the crowd responded well to their performance. The lights dim down and the room erupts in a single, shrill scream. The room seems to shake from the screaming but no one in the room seems to notice. As the curly haired singer makes her way to the mic, she maintains her composure as she picks up her guitar and starts the first song. She sings a simple song introducing herself to the crowd, pretending as if she is meeting new friends for the first time. She finishes very quietly, but the band quickly kicks in and brings the energy in.
As the night goes on, her voice soars and fills the room; not only because of her microphone but her voice has a presence that does not change throughout the night. Ms. Kelly maintains a connection with her audience, looking them in the eyes and making it feel like she’s having a conversation with each and everyone of them. Her new songs feel reminiscent of another curly haired singer, Lauryn Hill, combining an R&B feel with the swagger of a seasoned rapper.
About halfway through her set, the band leaves and it’s just her with her guitar. As she plays and sings, her vocal ability and prowess becomes clear. Her runs are clear and crisp as she goes from the sweetest of highs to the deepest of lows. Her voice reminds us that she’s not just another cute girl with a guitar, she is a confident young woman with something to say. At one point, she starts a song and the audience sings in her stead. She continues to pluck along while allowing the audience to be apart of her show. She smiles looking around the room and it’s clear that she is humbled by the fact that these people that she’s just met are singing her words back to her.
As the show comes to a close, she reminds her audience that she is the same Tori she was when she started this journey as she is now yet her growth as a writer and performer is evident. She ends with her first radio single, Nobody Love and everyone is on their feet. As everyone is dancing and singing along to the last song, she reminds us one last time of the great vocal talent that she is with one last vocal run and the crowd goes wild. She finishes the song and takes her bows, thanking her audience for listening, with a huge grin on her face.
As an audience member, I walked away more in love with her talent than ever before. Tori not only performed but she shared the message that she wanted to share and truly reminded me the importance of being the artist that I am meant to be. The title track of her debut album even talks about this saying:
You see me hanging with my fam, but that don’t mean I’m living in a bubble
You’ll find me at church, but that don’t mean I can’t cause trouble
Stir up a little scene ’cause isn’t that what you want?
For me to mess up, so you can dress up some story
Saying, Tori this’ll sell more records
But I’d rather make ’em yawn than be a pawn on your chessboard
So call me boring, call me cookie cutter
Call me what you want
A matter of fact
Just say it loud and don’t st-stutter
‘Cause I know who I am, yeah I’m still the same
Just a California girl with big dreams
Thinking maybe they’ll let me sing songs about real things
And baby who knows maybe I can sell out shows without taking off my clothes
God made me sexy I don’t care if only I know
(Unbreakable Smile by Tori Kelly)
She acknowledges the life she lives, she acknowledges that she’s attractive, she acknowledges that she has dreams BUT she doesn’t apologize for ANY of that. She realizes the industry that she’s in will challenge her to succumb to the traps of presentation and hypersexuality. Yet she doesn’t let it stop her from pursuing her dream and in fact challenges the industry to be honest about the presentation they encourage young girls to have. As a young woman, she encourages a young artist like me to still stay true to who it is that God needs me to be. She made that clear at her show not only through her music but through the way she carried herself. It’s encouraging to know that there are voices out there who are standing up for healthier presentations of artistry and self.
She was absolutely wonderful and it was by far a night I will not forget. Hopefully one day, I’ll be able to work with her and tell her in person just how much her music has impacted me.
Until Next Time,
Peace & Harmonies