Self Esteem is a truly charismatic, ingenious talent and her live shows are a testament to this, as evidenced by her performance at Electric Brixton a few weeks ago.
Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s Self Esteem is an act with such supreme depth that it deserves countless thousands of words to discuss and dissect how it deconstructs and satirises whilst simultaneously idolises and embraces what it is to be a pop star in this always-online age.
An act of anachronism by design, the band plays out choreographed dance moves with perfect pop flair, while flanking Taylor who is wearing a dress which has printed upon it a phone’s camera reel with dozens of slightly different images of herself, trying to find that perfect angle. This, of course, is not her first incredibly creative stage costume – earlier in 2019 she sold out Village Underground (her first #BigLondonGig) while wearing a dress made up of Boots rewards cards.
Defining an act by its aesthetic often does it a disservice, but in this case it is not entirely unfounded. Self Esteem started as a curio art project for Taylor, mostly in the form of an Instagram account where she’d routinely post screenshots of one or two line quips from her notes which expose both her wry style and raw emotions. Along with the usual ‘band on the road’ content, Taylor still uploads those kinds of posts along with other distinctly on-brand tidbits – my personal favourite was a selfie video of herself reacting to not receiving a Mercury Prize nomination in which she puts on an initial brave face before crying an exaggerated “why not?!” and then furiously eating a magnum.
That’s the joy of Self Esteem. For Taylor’s somewhat sardonic persona, this is a band of ‘post-irony’ in the mould of Tao Lin. Though perhaps with more of a sense of humour than the American writer, Self Esteem is simply about the beauty of the mundane and everyday, warts and all. And this isn’t the forced relatability of some pop stars signed to major record labels who opt for a shabby presentation in order to appear humble. There is a very real and unaffected quality to Self Esteem that can’t really be bottled. When people talk about being cool by not trying to be cool, they’re talking about Rebecca Lucy Taylor.
It is for this reason that a packed Electric Brixton hangs off every word as the band performs most of the stellar debut from earlier this year, Compliments Please. Taylor doesn’t write heartache songs as someone who spent a decade in an indie band or write about an aspirational cool girl life. She creates songs that are righteous, feminine, powerful and utterly genuine. Only from this position can someone write – and have it screamed back to them – “so I’m gonna get drunk and slag you off, and then I’m gonna go home and eat my feelings up.” There’s a wink and a nudge for sure, but the emotion is real and it’s bittersweet.
But none of this is to say there isn’t polish, far from it. The presentation of tracks like ‘Rollout’, ‘The Best’ and ‘Your Wife’ is as slick as you’re going to get on any stage in London. Taylor channels the energy of Sugarbabes, Girls Aloud and Atomic Kitten et al. in an “I like to be well presented and glossy, but I also like to order in a dominos and drink a bottle of Lambrini before I go out dancing” kind of way.
Music is not all about being relatable. The late David Bowie, whose face has been immortalised on a mural a stone’s throw away from the venue opposite Brixton underground, wasn’t trying to be relatable when he sang about spiders on mars or sad clowns, but the world got an eye inside of the man. Far be it for me to draw a comparison between one of rock music’s biggest legends and an artist with a sole album to her name, but it’s fair to say that even in the relative infancy of the project, Self Esteem has resonated.
There are few casual Self Esteem fans, as evidenced from the Brixton crowd. There are people of all shapes, sizes and genders who have strongly connected with Taylor’s music, and this shows as the singer takes a moment to draw a breath and note that she never thought people would properly get what she was saying.
While her dress showed her trying to find the right angle, Taylor seems to have found the perfect one in Self Esteem and this is only just the beginning.