Heaven – March 2nd
Having been chewed-up and spat-out by the music industry with failed girl-group The Stunners, Tinashe is something like a phoenix-rising. Despite the setback, she went on to write, produce and self-release two critically-acclaimed mixtapes as a solo artist. Her tenacity in maintaining creative control and bouncing back after what seemed likely to be an early exit from the music industry is impressive, and a rarity, to say the least (and she’s still only 21 years old). With this in mind, it was perhaps surprising how polished her major label debut Aquarius was when it landed back in October last year. Retaining her role as the central songwriter but working with big-name producers like DJ Mustard, Mike WeLL Made It and Stargate, the album was an unashamedly super-slick, hyper-commercialised RnB-pop affair and it earned enthusiastic reviews across the board. Though she has the artistic credentials more associated with artists on the fringes of the pop world, Tinashe clearly wants to be in the centre of it all.
With this in mind, her live show seems like an extension of this quest for pop-world domination – and thus falls foul of the same pitfalls of a lot of big, over-the-top American pop shows. But she does, however, demonstrate just how perfect she would be, up there with the big guns.
It all starts in pretty spectacular, near-hazardous, style – behind the stage a wall of lights repetitively burst out flashes of light so bright that audience members physically recoil to protect their retinas from burning. When Tinashe arrives after our mass X-ray session (wearing a crystal mask that resembles a cross between Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull and the rabbit from Donnie Darko) she rips into songs from Aquarius at full-throttle pace. There is no let up. The weak, the children and the elderly are left to wither and die at the bar. It’s brutal.
Throughout the set we are treated to the same stage production tricks most pop artists use these days; high-octane dance routines with backing dancers, lofty, artistically-shot videos between songs, dance breakdowns every two songs, musical interludes (DJ Snake/Lil Jon’s ‘Turn Down For What’ and Rae Sremmurd’s ‘No Type’ go down particularly well) and many more hair flicks than I thought were possible before succumbing to neck cramp. That might sound cynical but all the tricks work – the show is exhilarating to watch. Credit must also be given to the drummer that accompanies Tinashe tonight. He’s the only live musician onstage and he beats the living shit out of every song, giving them a more arena-like atmosphere than the reality of this relatively small venue.
For a brief period, songs start to blur into each other. This is part due to that really annoying habit of American pop stars to perform only one verse and chorus of each song to fit more in. This would only really work if you had a lot of hits under your belt, which Tinashe doesn’t, but syrupy slow jam ‘How Many Times’ gets things back in gear and a bouncy and boisterous version of ‘All Hands On Deck’ gets the room rocking again. It’s left to an OTT-version of ‘Pretend’ (complete with another extended dance breakdown) and ‘2 On’, her ratchet-pop masterpiece, to close the show with note-perfect finesse.
We’re not sure if Tinashe brings much new to the table but she is, without doubt, the real deal. Where many RnB singers have tried and failed to get a foothold in the public consciousness past a couple of singles, tonight, Tinashe looked like the type of star who could hold it down for a much longer period. We can’t help but wonder, however, whether she’d be better off carving out a more unique style than sticking with the tried-and-tested methods seen tonight.
Listen: Tinashe – Aquarius