Contemporary R&B artist H.E.R. recently performed at the Observatory OC. (Michael Nagle / For The Times)

Concert Review: H.E.R.’s crash course on self-love

H.E.R. is a paragon of an artist. Watching her play in the confines of The Observatory is a lesson in the art of being unabashedly passionate, and unwavering in a desire to create, to punctuate each moment with ingenuity.

With her craft of music, she constantly innovates. Transforming the boundaries of every genre she creates in, refusing to remain stagnant in her sound. The privilege of hearing her play is like feeling awake after a sizable slumber, a desire to live after trudging through equanimity we promised we wouldn’t feel too comfortable in falling into, leading to an unobstructed pathway to monotony and a pain filled treatment of reality. Her work has an honesty that is biting.

It’s supposed to be scalding, to reach into you and make you feel. Make you feel uneasy weight you feel as emotions slam recklessly against your chest in a variety with heartbreak, simple bursts of energy, or unbridled elan. 

Walking into the small space of The Observatory, and it’s the slightest bit alienating. I mean, who goes to concerts alone? No one, I thought to myself. Or, lonely bitches

Darn. I was right. Entering alone, I realized that among the majority of the crowd, the solitary concert going experience was an exception. I attempt to uncover the rest of the solo fans (fellow lonely bitches) after accidentally trying to cram myself in the diminutive space that had security admonishing me.

On the verge of tears after being thoroughly chastised (I’m sensitive), I find my people on the ground floor closest to the stage, filled with so much uncontainable joy at my instant discovery, as though I was a man just discovering 3-in-1 shampoo, conditioner, and body wash could not wipe away the odious remnants of pubescent body odor.

We awkwardly sway to H.E.R.’s opening act, or pretend there was an oh so important text needing immediate attention, as opposed to the terror and public humiliation of standing awkwardly alone.

A couple manages to wade experimentally through the land of lonely bitches, only to be met with scrutiny as they begin arguing. Acrylic nails at the ready, the woman had her artillery prepared to properly relay her message to her hubby. I watch without interrupting, because I trust her claws would be used as a form of reparations. For feminism. They shuffle away as the crowd of the unaccompanied began to focus intently on them, with palpable judgement. 

There’s a unified lightness with the crowd, as though we congregated as in a celebratory party for H.E.R.’s achievements. Concerts in the case of other popular artists range from fans singing along passionately throughout the night, to the acts with intense fanbases, always prepared to pull at extensions or aiming for eyeballs for a better concert view, and belting lyrics at a formidable volume. 

It was clear, from the start, that H.E.R. had a distinctive group of fans. They were proudly yelling in awe of her five Grammy nominations.

“That’s some hard shit to pull off,” the opening act declares.

Yet, when H.E.R. first appears on stage, there is a tangible excitement, exhilaration buzzing through the air, the listeners with not as audible screams one might hear at a BTS concert, for instance. There’s still signs of their raptness, evident as phones began whipping out, and the murmuring ignites conversations about predicting setlists, and eventually evolving into contained cheering.

A calm that can be rare at a concert, where it’s typical for a calamity to ensue at the prospect of seeing one’s dream artist. People are still elated, but it becomes a test of truly experiencing the music, and not automatically losing one’s mind, as I’ve grown accustomed to at other shows I’ve attended. 

The show kicks off with a video talking about the most talented 11 year olds in the world, a news story of a young Gabi Wilson and her dreams for prospering in the industry with her expertise in music. Succeeding on talent alone in the maw of a music industry, typically rife with scandals and publicity stunts, is an acute demonstration of H.E.R.’s artistry. It’s subversive, her flipping the narrative on how the media hyper fixates on female artists’ appearance, or artists relying on bells and whistles, rather than melodic aptitude.

The video is a quiet acknowledgement of her identity no longer remaining a secret like she originally intended. Now, she gets to confidently display her musical talents, and her fans can bask in the one of a kind capabilities. Donned in simple cargo pants and signature sunglasses, she takes the stage by storm, transitioning from electric guitar, to piano, to drums throughout the course of just one song, all while managing to hit whistle notes, the highest register human voices can go. 

Her music is the alimentary keeping her fans alive in the midst of the everyday workday, on which this concert takes place. Inviting itself to sully the rigidness of a practiced routine of a day that forgoes any sort of deviation. With the small space of The Observatory, the lighting and set up of the stage is minimalist and brings the focus entirely to her music. Once the lights change to accommodate each song, it illuminate her in a soft, hazy surroundings making her appear absolutely angelic.

Her voice is bewitching, at times leaving her audience in a catatonic state as they try to comprehend the amount of talent onstage. After making her initial appearance, she walks around stage, crooning about the complexities of women’s status in society, relationships, and with themselves in general. For her first few songs, she was bouncing onstage, yet still remaining vocally stable.

In “Against Me,” she bathes in a light orange light, sitting only a stool, and still delivers the most powerful performance of the night. “Lights On” off her Grammy award winning album H.E.R., was one of the most popular songs of the night. Nearly everyone in the audience began singing along. People began turning on the flashlight feature on their phone, waving their arms back in forth as the slight mumbling evolved to the crowd belting out lyrics. 

Midway through the show, she picks up her bottle of water to take a sip, and disappears backstage. Everyone automatically made the assumption that she was taking a quick break, or making a surprise stage outfit change. Soft murmurs encased the audience inwards, people checking their phones as the few minutes pass by. It caused whiplash the way it happened. One moment, we were idly checking our phones. I scrolled through social media mindlessly, until I heard screaming. The entire night, the crowd was excitedly cheering, yelping at a reasonable volume. It was no match for the unbelievable caterwauls threatening to pierce eardrums without mercy. 

“What is happening?” someone wails, everyone shaking their heads in disbelief. 

Onstage was Snoop Dogg, prancing around in a fitted velour tracksuit. It was the loudest the audience ever became, screaming uncontrollably while Snoop Dogg calmly just keeps shoulder shimmying at the front of the stage with his hits like “Drop It Like It’s Hot.”

After a brief shout out to Snoop Dogg’s hometown, Long Beach, the show retreats back to the tranquil attitude from earlier in the evening with Daniel Caesar and H.E.R.’s hit track “Best Part.” She regularly leaves room for the audience to sing with her, and remembers to celebrate the love between herself and her fans. 

It’s evident that her music is deeply personal with how she is able to pinpoint and capture the essence of emotions effortlessly. She talks about her new projects, with themes of being caught between yourself and someone else, between what’s good for you and for someone else. Throughout the last few songs of the night, she’s pointing to the audience to complete the songs, simply smiling.

Yet, she’s able to so easily evoke emotion from her fans. From pure elation, to self-reflection, the crash course she gives in reveling in self awareness and self care is like the wiser, older sister who seemingly always have the answers. She manages to make her music a cathartic embrace we can escape within the few minutes of each song.

“I love you too,” she reminds us as she returns to the piano to perform “I’m Not Ok.” Her voice cuts through the pitch black with her raw honesty. It’s easy for her to be vulnerable, to talk about how she struggles with keeping a happy facade, and to encourage fans to check on friends and family with their mental health. 

It’s nothing but joy when The Observatory becomes encased in uninterrupted screaming. Talking about the Grammys, she shakes her head, thanking the crowd, and reveals how feeling blessed she feels to be doing what she loves. Humbly expressing gratitude “for making [her] dreams come true,” she proudly shouts in excitement as she mentions her five Grammy nominations. The end of her show results in a shy Snoop Dogg coming to duplicate his previous shoulder shimmying, and H.E.R. looking blissfully to the crowd while singing “As I Am.” 

“Her voice is like butter and toast!” someone yelps in the parking lot. Everyone begins laughing, the guffaws genuine. It felt like being hypnotized by the salve of her gentle hums and trills, the feeling of everyone huddled was a collective foray into intimacy with oneself.

A congregation effortlessly swaying the the beats, bodies moving with the motions of the melodies and beats that seem to rule every thought, every exhale, every discernible movement belongs to the music. At only 21, H.E.R. certainly is dominating the industry by living by a cardinal rule: “making it all about the music,” as she says.

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