Never Met A Genre She Cannot Conquer

People like to throw the term “industry plant” around at artists that encounter rapid success. Oftentimes these musicians exist in the major label system. And, often they are women. What exactly the term means has dozens of interpretations, but can generally be narrowed down to an artist having an unfair advantage in the music biz, where they are propped up for accolades they do not deserve, getting big looks despite not having the fanbase that should be necessary for such success.

While these sorts of criticisms have a myriad of issues, one of the biggest faults is that they tend to explain away something someone doesn’t understand (or doesn’t attempt to understand) as the product of conspiracy. If you look around at the news in just about any field, this tends to be a running theme around how things are discussed on the internet. Rarely do people actually take the time to see how things work for themselves.

For HER, the Bay Area renaissance woman who has faced such criticisms for the last half-decade, the chance to disengage with online discourse was available on Friday night at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Performing the first of two nights in front of a capacity crowd of more than 16,000, HER took an audience of young and old across her many influences, where classical, jazz, R&B, rock, spoken word poetry, and more all made appearances over the course of two-and-a-half hours of music. Backed by conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic as well as her own more traditional band backing set-up complete with a quartet of backing singers, it was a moment where no amount of industry favors could do much good. The Hollywood Bowl is an unforgiving stage that’s been conquered by the biggest and brightest stars of music. And HER spent every moment showing how much she belonged there.

Dustin Downing on behalf of the LA Phil

The evening’s opening gave attendees that frequent the Bowl for contemporary fare a chance to see how the venue functions otherwise. Dudamel led the Phil through a couple of opening numbers, notably both originally by Black composers, showing off the majesty of LA’s premier orchestra. And then without much warning, the music gently transitioned into Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” with HER’s unmistakable, disembodied vocals appearing before she made her way to the stage. As she traversed a sampling of material new and old with the orchestra, HER made it known that she’d never in her wildest dreams imagined performing with the LA Philharmonic, another entry to a resume that began as a child prodigy and has included wins at the Oscars and Grammys, support from artists like Rihanna and Usher, and appearances in major national ad campaigns.

HER’s bona fides are abundant, but even so, it’s not surprising that she felt the need to point them out on Friday night. When people spend as much time telling you you don’t deserve something, it’s up to you to highlight your own CV. Still, when she pointed out her own Oscar win or a song’s No. 1 status, it never came across as HER having a chip on her shoulder. It didn’t even come across as having something to prove. No, as she made her way through some of the best tunes of the last five years — including the lively “Fight For You,” the showstopping “Hold On,” and especially on what she called “the wedding song of 2021” “Best Part” — HER’s brand of confidence was anchored by grace. You couldn’t help root for the artist whose trajectory had been heading for this moment since childhood.

HER spent her final hour without the orchestra, showing that superb songwriting and musicianship are not mutually exclusive. She slapped the bass, played guitar behind her head, showed rock star swagger with covers of Lenny Kravitz and Queen, and even played piano and the frickin’ drums to Coldplay’s “Clocks.” If she grabbed Gustavo’s baton and started leading the orchestra herself, no one would have really been surprised. Noting that it was her first proper show since releasing her debut album earlier in the year, Back Of My Mind, HER displayed no cobwebs in what was a deserving coronation for one of music’s newest stars. Surely many helped along the way, but on this night, all the flowers belonged to HER.

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