as i've previously mentioned on this blog, I! Am! Not! A! Spontaneous! Person!
this applies especially to gigs, which for me and many others, are something akin to a Religious Experience; finally being in the same room as an artist you love and yelling along to your favourite songs after months of playing them on repeat is a feeling like no other.
as writer ben smoke said in his review of robyn's now-iconic two night stint at alexandra palace:
"there’s an emotional weight to seeing an artist that you love. that much is obvious. to see the songs that soundtrack your life – the ones that permeate your deepest, darkest moments or are woven into sun drenched kisses, in the flesh is a deeply moving experience.
if you’re like me, you prepare for that. you listen to the music in the run up to the gig. you run through all the songs that matter to you. the ones that draw up vignettes of previous versions of you in your head – ready to lean in or away from them, depending on the flavour of the memory they evoke."
ironically, the last time i booked a last minute gig ticket was to see the wombats at that very same venue back in 2015, and it ended up being one of the best concerts i've ever attended.
i've been trying to take a more relaxed approach to my ideas of ~success~ and shake off these preconceived ideas of where i "should" be in terms of my "career" - this 2012 tweet from cher is an Eternal Mood - but i still find it difficult to make impromptu plans.
this brings us to girli: i've been a casual fan of her music for years and still remember reading this 2015 interview from when she first started releasing music on soundcloud. it was around the time that PC music was starting to make waves, confusing critics and listeners alike as they struggled to work out if the elective electronic collective was for real. mainstream feminism as we know it now was still in its infancy, with discussions about sexual assault and body positivity hidden in the depths of tumblr threads. with her bright pink hair and platform trainers, the artist originally known as millie toomey fit right in with the DIY aesthetic that had taken over my own tumblr feed.
admittedly i wasn't a huge fan of her early songs such as ASBOys, but remained intrigued and inspired by her unwillingness to conform to what the male-dominated music industry and critics expected of her. then, in 2016, came the Gay Bop i didn't know i needed - LGBT artists were only just starting to become more visible - in the form of girl i met on the internet. as the name suggests, it chronicled a romance that blossomed online and became an escape from her mundane teenage life, echoing my own experiences in a town where openly gay people were few and far between, forcing us to find connections slightly further afield.
another highlight included it was my party, which any teenager who came of age in the mid 2000s can surely relate to. with references to skin tight dresses, "layers of MUA foundation" and that glorious combination of "corky's mixed with tesco sprite", she perfectly captures that unbearable self-consciousness that frames our formative years and which we subsequently tried to hide under "fake lashes from the petrol station" in a bid to seem older than we really were.
i didn't pay much attention to girli after that, her songs failing to thrill me until she released feel ok in 2017, an accidental collaboration with grime artist lethal bizzle, who i have a vague recollection of being forced to watch at one of many student nights in kingston. the next year saw her release day month second, a super-catchy bop featuring her signature rap style (no doubt inspired by early lily allen).
the song that really made me sit up and take note of her upcoming album odd one out was deal with it, another slice of pop perfection which i had on repeat straight away. the album was released on the 5th april, and i was somewhat dismayed that it contained five tracks that had already been released.
it was around this time i started seeing promotion for her tour and though i'd been a fan for a while by this point, i still wasn't sure if there were enough songs i'd want to see live. however i couldn't shake the feeling that they'd probably sound a whole lot better live, so two days before the gig i bought two last minute tickets for my (reluctant) mother and i.
naturally, i was correct.
tucked away behind the main streets of manchester's northern quarter, the legendary band on the wall seems fairly unassuming from outside but gives way to a cosy bar decorated with a plethora of fairy lights and paintings from local artists. after feeling incredibly self conscious in my outfit that would be considered pretty Out There for people in my town, i instantly felt at home when i saw the sea of fishnet tights, crop tops and ugly trainers; the crowd looked like an advertisement for manic panic.
the first thing that struck me was how young everyone was. i jokingly made this tweet but as soon as we made our way downstairs where the gig was taking place, i literally felt like i was at a school disco as hordes of excitable teenagers bopped to lorde, robyn and charli xcx. luckily i didn't have long to assess the situation as support act ashnikko took to the (tiny) stage.
with her bright blue pigtails and blunt fringe, she reminded me of a young(er) brooke candy, and this was even more evident in her sound, a plethora of sex-positive rap tracks that covered everything from halloween to consent. the people around me knew pretty much every word; a devastating reminder of how deeply out of touch i now am with The Teens. nevertheless, i couldn't help bop along to every song.
soundtracking the agonisingly long wait until girli blessed us with her presence were classics such as hollaback girl and mr brightside, which took the vibe from school disco to a student night without the alcohol. hearing people around me talking about their a-level options and struggling to get into the venue without ID, i suddenly felt about a thousand years old, even though it's only six years ago that i was discovering the joy of getting drunk at my now ex-girlfriend's house (who i did in fact meet on the internet).
but once she bounded onto the stage, pink ponytail bobbing animatedly, i was ready to scream every word back to her, and my platform shoes ensured i could pogo with the rest of the sprightly young things around me. she opened the set with young, and i took great pleasure in yelling about "how much it hurts" and that "no-one told us it would be this way". this was swiftly followed by pink - now a firm fixture in my karaoke playlist - and fuck right back off to LA, another new favourite that i've had stuck in my head ever since.
one of my highlights from odd one out, friday night big screen was emotional in all the best ways, a synth-heavy ode to rom-com classics such as heathers and grease that had me tearing up despite never having been In Love. after all that, i was thankful for day month second to bring the energy back up before not that girl, another song i recently discovered. this is Peak Girli, unafraid to be herself despite the expectations constantly being placed on women in spite of all the "progress" we've supposedly made.
it would seem life really does imitate art; about three quarters of the way through the gig, an incredibly drunk girl who'd been sitting on the edge of the stage, close to passing out, was removed from the venue after a valiant effort from the security staff. as girli said in it was my party, "that chick can't handle herself, there's always one". usually i choose my spot quite well - off to the side so as to avoid a potential mosh pit situation that i really am far too old to partake in - but of course this girl was only a few people in front of me, making it slightly more difficult to enjoy new tracks up and down and stick out, but by the encore i somehow managed to make my way to the front row for closing tracks deal with it (my favourite!) and hot mess, and i certainly lived up to that, leaving the venue soaked in sweat.
for someone who complained about being horrendously old, i'd like to think i had more energy than most of the crowd and i'd forgotten how good it feels to really Let Go and not care about what other people think - two central ideas that have shaped girli into the artist she's become since her early soundcloud days. much like lily allen, she seems somewhat ahead of her time as the topics she sang about back in 2015 have made their way into the mainstream, and PC music have become fully fledged artists, collaborating with pop mainstays like carly rae jepsen.
i often wonder what it's like for teenagers these days and whether school has become a slightly more tolerant and accepting place for those who refuse to conform, but it seems that snapchat and reality TV stars continue to shape the way they see the world and their appearance. while this might always be the case, it's reassuring to know that people like girli provide a safe space for young people questioning themselves and their place in the world, and i only hope her message travels even further in the years to come.
in contrast to robyn's world-weary fans, girli's teenage audience have yet to experience the crushing blows often dealt by adulthood, but i'm certain they're in good hands as her powerful message of self-acceptance will no doubt see them through any hard times that lie ahead.