Sapphic Supreme Being Kehlani has truly made quarantine-era artistry her bitch. No other artist has quite mastered the pure fun she has with social-distanced content creation and making it effortless as it is bold. With her livestream concert “It Was Live Until It Wasn’t,” it is evident that her creativity knows no bounds.
The show was a celebration of her album It Was Good Until It Wasn’t— an authentic showpiece with her truth at the heart of every track. Yet it was apparent throughout the album that the reality of her life managed to trump her artistic version of it. It’s rare for social media users to give anyone a wide berth. Kehlani is no exception; the vitriol became especially heinous with a spiteful friend’s soundbites and most memorably, a man’s indiscretions somehow managed to eclipse the music.
The distractions weren’t completely a bad thing, and that’s mainly because Kehlani makes it precisely that: just a thing. She managed to weave through the drama with balletic grace. Since then, she’s freed herself from being concerned over the optics of her personal life. “It Was Live Until It Wasn’t” is a revelatory look back of the past year of emotional aftermaths.
While track “Lexii’s Outro” is placed at the end of her album, it was the first thing listeners heard at the start of the show. Played in complete darkness, the track highlighted the strength of friend and rapper Lexii Alijai’s voice, who passed away last year. She let the track start the show off intimately somber feelings temporarily softened by reminders of Alijai’s radiant talent.
Throughout the show, Kehlani was bathed in voltaic neon lights, serving viewers “Euphoria”-like aesthetics — sans 30-year-olds playing high schoolers. There weren’t too many bells and whistles. Like when she removed rapper Tory Lanez off the album’s track “Can I,” trimming off the excess only makes her work stronger. No large props or pyrotechnics were there to impede the focus on her agile, addictive vocals.
Whether it’s singing or dancing, when Kehlani performs, she’s completely at home. Her formidable charisma was the true headliner of the show. Kehlani held her own against her professional backup dancers during intricate dance breaks, which were the only times she relied on the backing track. During performances for “Serial Lover” and “CRZY” where there weren’t choreographed moves, Berkeley-born Kehlani squeezed in Bay Area-bred dance moves, such as the quick smeeze she did before diving back into singing.
When she quickly returned to singing, she sounded like she was feasting on her CD. Her live vocals were almost identical to the studio versions, save for the melismas-filled ad-libs and runs for days. There were also various renditions of classic tracks, such as “Distraction.” Songs were made more stunning with additions of electric guitar riffs or soft strummings on an acoustic guitar for textural variety.
Kehlani had perfect chemistry with every single person on stage, especially during guest appearances from her features. The show was total buttery brilliance as she harmonized with frequent collaborator and “little brother” Destin Conrad.
Her crew of backup dancers and live band managed to outshine her as they marched by her side, confidently wielding keytars and drum sticks as faux weapons. Kehlani welcomed being in the background, letting her guitarist captivate viewers with a solo, causing both awe and horniness. The feeling of support was clear. When Kehlani hit a particularly heavenly riff, her band excitedly danced and brought their fingers to their lips in an excited Italian chef’s kiss.
She frequently included heartbreaking tracks such as “Everybody Business,” but sang them with a smile instead. They’re reminders of a past life where love was created with pain and growth with chaos.
“Hopefully by now you know my name,” Kehlani said as she cheekily shimmied off stage. Her name and her life have grown beyond herself. It’s rare she gets a chance to truly just be herself without answering to others’ perception as a budding icon.
“It Was Live Until It Wasn’t” was finally just about the music and letting Kehlani celebrate finding her peace in 2021. Through the show’s 57 minutes, she got a chance to shield everyone — herself especially — from the chaos of today’s world.
Contact Kelly Nguyen at [email protected].