Self Esteem at the Sound House, Dublin on 21st October 2019
It had been a good day for the LGBT community with gay marriage in Northern Ireland set to become legal at midnight. Self Esteem (aka Rebecca Taylor) who has spoken frankly about untangling her own sexuality arrived in Ireland in boisterous form.
Last year’s ‘Compliments Please’ was Taylor’s first album since calling time on Slow Club in 2017 (the band’s split is chronicled in the ‘Our Most Brilliant Friends’ docu-film).
Having been plighted by the band’s ‘heteronormative’ setup, self-abnegation and a split in her personal life, the album (criminally overlooked by the Mercury Prize) was Self Esteem’s defiant response.
One of its sui generis highlights, the self-proclaimed ‘bi-bop’, Girl Crush stuck two fingers up to fauxmosexuality in modern pop culture.
Here, the song transcended The Sound House’s limited capacity. With a stage setup comprising of a fan and some modest lighting and performed with a dance routine and female backing vocalists on either side of her. Girl Crush captured Self Esteem at her most vicarious and vivacious, expertly matching her lofty ambitions and centring her at the forefront of a well-drilled unit.
Somewhat ironically for somebody who was able to deliver such a meticulously curated set with such affirmation, Taylor also wears her anxieties on her sleeve. Taylor recently took part in a songwriting panel for BBC’s Music Week and there’s no secret as to what her proudest line from ‘Compliments Please’ is.
Self-deprecatingly played around with on her social media, “…I’m gonna get drunk and slag you off/Them I’m gonna go home and eat my feelings up” earned the most emphatic response of the night.
Speaking recently, Taylor commented, “I’ve always responded more to grooviness, to rhythm, and to the body moving between the beats.” In Time’s syncopated framework was both propulsive and elevating in the way that it rarefied the crowd.
Self Esteem was expressive throughout her set, not only with her dance routines, but in how she unlocked a new raw, cathartic emotions within the tracks with her emphatic vocals in a live setting.
Although an easy comparison to make, there was an angelic quality to the way Taylor et al performed. Whether that was through the ritualistic and teasing stop-start refrain of opener, Wrestling, the huddled hush to explosive orchestral chorus of I’m Shy, the audience was left completely engrossed during the time they were privileged enough to be in her company.
It would be patronising to say that Self Esteem has reinvented herself. Taylor was as resplendent as her peroxide blonde hair and the ‘you don’t owe them anything’ mantra that adorned her t-shirt, however.
This summer, Self Esteem toured with Florence + the Machine. While it would also be easy to pigeonhole them together with both of their grand and choreographed yet still very much left of centre takes on pop, Self Esteem proved on Monday that she is able to remain companionable and down to earth.
The terms, ‘real’ and ‘self-empowerment’ are brandished about a lot in the popisphere. Off the back of this performance, they can’t help but feel applicable here though.
Showy yet resonating, Self Esteem did not once let up. Taylor managed to sit disparate styles alongside each other perfectly, all while maintaining a strong sense of identity.
Whether taking up arms with the same velocity of her idols (Kanye, Beyonce etc.) like on I’m Shy or pausing to reflect in the form of spoken word such as during On the Edge of Another One. At a time when music is more bombastic than ever, Self Esteem exhibited several strings to her bow.
Herein lied pop that is palpable.