It’s more than clear that Kiesza sips her inspiration straight out of one of those Disney collectible cups from the 90’s. Hell, she probably has Roseanne playing in the background of her tour bus, while she re-homes her Beanie Baby collection on Ebay. Last Sunday, she appeared at the Hawthorne Theater as part of Soul’d Out Music Festival with her My Little Pony backpack full of Night at the Roxbury-like rave beats, plaid button-ups and moody lipstick. It’s natural that I was moved to a certain deja vu my fellow TGIF fans can relate to.
I have a tolerance for a diversity of artists across the board, but I still felt frustrated with Kiesza upon researching her music videos before the performance. Was it her high-pitched, over-the-top singing? Was it her Janelle Monae like coif or corresponding Stefani inspired duds? Maybe I had lost my appetite for kitschy babes? I was lost somehow, but I still found my way to Hawthorne Theater.
I arrived early which afforded me the luxury of a beer. I sipped it slowly like a cup of coffee, as I do all darker beers. While I sat, I thought too long about what I could expect. Not getting any real answers and also not wanting assumptions to creep in and take hold, I made my way into the show — which by this time had already started.
As I neared the stage, I noticed myself pulsing with energy. A mixture of bass and synth blared “Somebody Loves You” while hues of pink and purple light drowned out any other color in the room. I realized later while standing in line for the bathroom that it was Betty Who that had opened the show. I wasn’t familiar but I didn’t need to be; plenty of people there spoke of her. She towers just above 6-foot with hair light as baby’s breath and a smile almost as charming as Jon Snow’s.
I’m not huge on mainstream pop, yet I have to admit that seeing her perform did excite me in the same way I imagine it would if I saw Blondie. I felt guilty for laughing my way through but I couldn’t help it; it was mostly at myself anyway. I felt ridiculously out of place in a crowd of so many that had memorized the words to all of the songs that I never would.
In line for the bathroom, I was approached by a woman as I shifted my camera and adjusted my backpack. She mentioned that she was actually here to see Betty Who, the opening act, but her husband was there for Kiesza. She offered to buy me a drink and I politely obliged. After meeting her husband and the rest of her party I was able to ask what it was that interested him in Kiesza. He replied quickly saying that he “hadn’t experienced music like this since hearing Michael Jackson.” My eyes widened; he was serious.
I stepped back into the show and took position. When she appeared I found myself amazed that she resembled so much of her music video self, in appearance and fluidity of movement. It’s like she walked right out of the screen, except for some reason her voice hit me differently. It was better — 0r maybe I understood it better in the visual and live audio. It didn’t resemble Michael Jackson to me but I couldn’t get the comparison out of my head. Much like Jackson, Kiesza is a dancer, a talented one. If you absorb 90’s dance videos for a while, you’ll those movements in her; in essence her style is a crossover of skanking and jazzercise. She more truly resembles Michael’s sister Janet, but in her own way, brings post-modernity to the floor.
I believe I understand why Kiesza and Betty Who make an interesting tour together. There’s a likeness between these two performers, not in their music or dress, rather in the genuine surprise that I observed of them, one that drew me closer. I honestly think that they are still shocked to the core by their fame, which is a beautiful place to be as an emerging artist no matter the medium. I enjoyed watching both of them move about the stage, captivating the audience. There was a freshness I couldn’t mistake or miss making note of. I don’t know that I’ll ever fully get on the Kiesza bandwagon but I do know that there will always be a dark, brooding, glittery little corner of my heart that will be a place where she or any other 90’s kid can hang.