5th October | O2 Academy
Photos: Hannah Rooke
A sold-out UK tour after the release of her debut album, features on songs with Drake and Stormzy and a stand-out contribution to the soundtrack of one of the biggest films of the year, Black Panther. Who else would it be, but Jorja Smith? Her rise to prominence is the urban fairy tale that millennials will be talking or tweeting about for years to come, but the night wasn’t about her story.
Her Bristol show was packed with adoring fans from the start, mainly filled with young girls who idolise the star and can relate to the soul in her record. The secret to her success lies in the raw diary-style lyrics that she pours her heart into, whether it be confused yearning in ‘Teenage Fantasy’ or displaying her take on introspective self-reflection with ‘Where Did I Go?’. In a world of pop stars making pointed moves to indicate authenticity, Smith is one of those that doesn’t have to prove how real she is.
Opening with ‘Lost & Found’, she walked onstage casually as if just popping into a shop for a pint of milk. Then she opened her mouth and revealed the pipes we have come to know, holding some killer notes at multiple points. ‘Teenage Fantasy’ was exactly what we were all dreaming of, with every devoted fan in the crowd knowing every single word.
You could tell from the start Smith was a little subdued, but only in pauses between songs. From beginning to end of every track, her voice never wavered, whether cooing in ‘February 3rd’ or belting out ‘The One’. Gradually, she began to move and sway more as she grew in confidence throughout the set. You could tell the audience response took time to build up, and it only made her stronger.
Her purest moment came in the form of ‘Goodbyes’ where she sang, “you’re never coming back now, you belong to the stars and the clouds”. It was the perfect encapsulation of grief and letting go to remember the good times with a loved one. This song in particular struck a chord; considering she is only twenty years old these lines show that her young years have come with hard lessons. It only goes to highlight how intensely personal her material is.
And wow, does she know how to close a song. The mounting crescendos of ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘Wandering Romance’ were suitably epic. She only raised the game higher with the dancehall-tinged ‘On Your Own’, where she really got her groove on. So much so that the crowd cheered her on when she stopped to dance around. Her playful sass developed more as the show progressed. She was at her most comfortable during ‘Lifeboats (Freestyle)’ where you could see that she can rap as well as she sings.
The most pleasant surprises were when she brought on the Ezra Collective, and when she later recruited Maverick Sabre for a dynamic duet of their collaboration, ‘Carry Me Home’. On top of all this she breezed through an unexpected cover of Rihanna’s ‘Man Down’ and ‘Be Careful’ by Cardi B. It was easy to forget how much of her dizzying discography can vary: from garage belter ‘On My Mind’ to the serene trip-hop of ‘Blue Lights’, she clearly isn’t bound by genre. After this live performance, calling Jorja Smith just another pop artist would seem reductive.