When you see a sold out room for an artist like Kehlani halfway across the world, you need to know that it’s all her. The Californian artist hasn’t had a huge hit here nor is she being big-noted by influencers, she’s simply built a big and dedicated fanbase by connecting with people through her music and social media approach. Her fans have grouped themselves together as the Tsunami Mob and they’re one of the most dedicated fanbases both on the internet and in real life. You only had to listen to the One Direction-level screams to know that the Tsunami Mob had infiltrated Sydney’s Enmore Theatre.
If you’re not going to read the rest of the review, read just this: Kehlani’s Sydney performance was flawless, the type that comes through once in a blue moon when an brilliant artist has hit their stride.
All the elements were there for success. She has a brilliant debut album SexySweetSavage and she had a deafly loud crowd and a prime Saturday night time. The night was hers for the taking if she wanted it and, as it turns out, she did. Entering the stage to Cardi B’s Bodak Yellow pumped out by her resident DJ Noodles, Kehlani seemed empowered from the start. She slid right on with the vibey Keep On, sliding in and out of dance moves with an effortless candour that set a positive tone for the night.
This was never going to be a night about flashiness but Kehlani brought enough perks, like two backup dancers, to orchestrate screams. She looked like a superstar and her voice filled the hole room with a power that few have brought to the Enmore. Given how strong the songs are, that was really all we need to make it a perfect night. Early cuts Distraction and Do U Dirty carried a sexy swagger that set a mood before she ramped it up with album highlights Get Like and Too Much. The phenomenal hook of Too Much was just as powerful in the live arena as we suspected while Get Like benefitted from a remixed, energetic bridge.
While Kehlani built a huge profile with her Grammy-nominated mixtape You Should Be Here, she left it basically untouched expect for dropping The Way for “day one” fans. That’s the sign of an artist that’s confident in their development and what’s best is the crowd left talking about how good the songs from the album were not how they wished she played more early material. And, to be fair, it’s difficult to be disappointed when you’re getting songs as moveable as I Wanna Be or as moving as Advice.
At just 22 years of age, Kehlani has gone through more than many go through in a lifetime but if the SexySweetSavage was a statement of anything, it was a statement of her growth. She’s really learning to look after herself as a high profile artist and the best part is she’s able to make that relatable for her young fans. At one point, she stopped to tell fans the importance of looking after your own mental space if you’re an empathetic person before breaking into Piece Of Mind, a song that celebrates finding a good space. She also brought up the same-sex marriage plebiscite which she learnt of while touring here. “It is 2017 and we’re still fighting over who we want to marry. This is ridiculous,” she said making more sense than most of our politicians. She’s an example of somebody who knows the capabilities of her words and she used them very poignantly on Saturday to activate a crowd of young, passionate fans.
While the set was steadily brilliant throughout, it really took off around Undercover as the dancing, vocals and crowd energy all seemed to hit their peak. She even wheeled out Faking It, her feature on Calvin Harris’ latest showcasing one of the best vocals of the year, pairing raw emotion with a boundless movability. She thanked the crowd before the apt Thank You and then ramped up the attitude again for CRZY showing how easily she can dart in and out of genres.
It’s rare the you get an artist that is already so brilliant but also so present and open to responding to the energy of every different crowd. It was inspiring to watch an artist hitting their stride and while we’ve seen a lot of good International acts out here on their debut tour lately, none have been as good as Kehlani. Any promoter in this country who makes excuses for not booking enough females, Kehlani would make a formidable headliner and if you disagree, you’re wrong.
Photos taken at Kehlani’s Melbourne show by Michelle Fish