The pressure is greater on singer-songwriters than big bands. They have a concentrated responsibility of being as equally captivating as they were when they were first introduced to us in our private spaces. I have to admit that the songs on Yuna’s debut album did not stick in my brain like Taylor Swift or Katy Perry’s hits are somehow able to. (Let’s admit something here without our usual elitist attitudes: Pop songs are catchy as hell.)
Continuing on that vein of honesty, the closest I had to an earworm was not any of Yuna’s originals but the Frank Ocean cover she is famous for. As a result, I had very little to zero expectations about her debut concert in Singapore. Her voice is the soothing folky kind, but when it comes to her songwriting, it was disappointing that some of her originals were not so easy to connect with. Nevertheless, I was excited to see how she would sound live.
Two musical acts opened for Yuna that night; the first being Singapore’s very own The Stoned Revivals, who were accompanied by a lively horn section, followed by another upcoming singer-songwriter who has recently been signed to Yuna’s record label, Diandra, backed by a full band. The Stoned Revivals played their tunes, both old and new, with the calm ease of veteran performers. Despite some awkward silences between songs (this is Singapore, after all), founding member and lead singer Esam Salleh, was charming enough to transform the awkwardness with some light audience banter. Including the horn section, they were an eight-piece band and their sound filled the theatre. There was a slightly overwhelming montage of Salleh’s family featured during one of the songs, where a picture of him biting his wife’s tongue became a vivid representation of their love (and perhaps a stark image as to how their passion translated into their baby boy). Overall, the visuals featured on the screens and panels suited their music and kept the audience focused.
Diandra Arjunaidi came next. She is a beauty, with a deep and soulful voice, but while she had cute originals songs, her newness to performing for a live audience showed in how she moved around the stage and interacted with her band. She was a little uncertain, but there was also an obvious lack in chemistry between her and her band. It was unlike the laid back camaraderie seen with The Stoned Revivals, who could easily pass as brothers. Diandra performed a few of her own songs, including tracks like ‘Remember’, as well as a cover of an Indonesian song, Serbah Sala by Raisa, which got some of the crowd going. While her set was full of originals, they were not powerful enough to keep some of us from wondering when Yuna’s set would begin.
Between Diandra and Yuna’s performances, there was a very strange intermission where Imran, who had been acting as the host for the evening, surprised us with a new talent. A pre-recorded light jazz track came through the PA system and the lights dimmed. We had no idea what to expect. Then, it dawned on us: Imran was also sand artist. With a gentle spray of sand, a butterfly became a flower, which became a landscape which then wispily transformed into a tearful girl gazing out of a window. While charming, it was painful to watch. It felt out of place.
One-by-one, Yuna’s bandmates came onstage and played their respective instruments. At this point, we were all on the edge of our seats. Then a roar erupted from the audience, when Yuna’s silhouette, distinctly hers, finally appeared. Lights came on to reveal that her bright headscarf, reminiscent of 90s Erykah Badu’s was matched with an elegant all-black outfit. While she exuded the calm and grace expected of an international performer, this was apparently hard to maintain because by the end of the night, you could see that she was drained. When she announced that she was going to play a cover of her favourite current artist, we were giddy. Despite a few false starts (our screams were recorded in the first loop), she aced Frank Ocean’s ‘Thinkin’ ‘Bout You’. The other cover, Nirvana’s ‘Come As You Are’ was another refreshing rendition. She played a total of twenty songs, including two encore songs, which she pre-empted when she remarked upon how long the twenty song set had felt like – though she had only sung eighteen. We all know encores are planned, but it’s a tradition that goes without saying.
True music fans, of singer-songwriters especially, should not be swayed by mere vocal quality, because the performance must speak to the collective, it must move us. They must make us feel like we belong in that moment with them and their song must become our song. As someone who wasn’t a big fan to begin with, some of Yuna’s songs were effective in making me believe in them, but there were many that missed the mark. There were definitely people in the audience who mouthed the lyrics and sang along, and though she did sound much better live than her recordings, we didn’t leave the theatre feeling like we got to know Yuna any better. Yuna is no doubt a singer, but we should give her a few more years to hopefully, blow our minds or if she must – leave us in tears.
By Cat Cortes