Before she ran on stage to the black and pink graffiti backdrop that read “why am I like this,” the warm glow of a neon pink light spelling “girli” lit the stage.
With a quick spin of the mic, girli herself appeared in seconds, crooning the lyrics “you used to kiss me in the morning” as she flew into “Has Been” from Damsel in Distress, twisting through nonchalant anger and mounting confidence.
Shouting and dancing in a black shirt and bright pink corset, girli bridged feminine strength and confident defiance in her playful pop-rock show March 24 at Oakland’s Fox Theater.
As fog curled across the stage and lights flashed purple and pink with the bass, the room thrummed with girli’s high energy, rebellious spirit. Squeezed into a 30-minute set, girli, who opened for alt-J, sang about young love, identity and insecurity — giving themes typically dismissed as frivolous and “girly” a nod of recognition.
She followed “Has Been” with “I Don’t Like Myself,” an animated, catchy beat that acknowledges a struggle for self-acceptance, underwritten by a sense of longing; yet live, girli never sacrificed the track’s easy, peppy spirit. Through it all, she preserved righteous punk while defining her own femininity, complete with anger and flaws.
The more girli dove into her rage, sexuality and self-perception, she retained confidence in her personal and unobscured honesty. In “Imposter Syndrome,” even as she sang on stage in front of hundreds, she voiced an otherwise invisible insecurity as she desperately questioned: “Might be an imposter, maybe I’m a poser/ What if I’m a fake?”
For all her songs about insecurity and uncertainty, girli had a casual confidence interacting with the crowd. Warmed by pulsing lights, she paused between songs to tell the audience that a water bottle spilled on stage: “We’ve had a spillage,” girli laughed, as her crew scrambled to sop it up. Even singing about her “damage” and rage, girli shimmered with a real, restless self-assurance. Both in lyrics and persona, her sincerity spilled into genuine connection.
As she introduced and thanked her all-female-identifying touring crew, picked to counteract the male-dominated music industry, girli pulled this feminine community into focus as she harmonized with her backup singer. Pacing across the stage, they locked eyes and turned toward each other, meeting in center stage, sharing in the rage and joy.
Toward the end of her performance, girli revealed a surprise debut of her then-unreleased single “Cheap Love.”
“It’s about my first relationship when I was a teen,” girli explained, “and drinking cheap wine out of bottles at the park.” The youthful repetition of the chorus effortlessly relived the drunk innocence of first love as the crowd relaxed into comfortable head-bobbing and swaying.
But the crowd still hummed with unspoken expectation, incomplete until the closing performance of her lesbian anthem “More Than a friend.” Dripping off every word, the crowd vibrated as a single unit, filled with shared recognition. With each lyric, girli’s show forged a space of intimate vulnerability and vividly singular shared experience.
girli didn’t stand alone from the crowd either. After a stray fan screamed “I love you,” girli called back an automatic, “I love you, too.” All around, corsets and flashes of pink caught the light. girli said she hoped to be back as a headliner someday, and it was clear this performance was something more than an end.