The 22-year-old Oakland native Kehlani is making some of today’s most innovative R&B, but it was the connection to her fans that made her 80-minute performance at Myth on Saturday night so memorable.
Released in January, SweetSexySavage, Kehlani’s proper debut album, is even catchier and tighter than her beloved 2015 mixtape You Should Be Here. Her lyrics are still honest and blunt, conveying a wide emotional range from youthful elation to lovelorn pain, and -- as demonstrated time and again and Myth this weekend -- conducive to heartfelt audience singalongs.
Though Kehlani also performed earlier material like “Deserve Better” and “The Way” at Myth, it was the SSS songs that confirmed her status as a superstar in the making. At times, she would sang a chorus differently than she did on the original recording to show off her vocal power -- even if that meant sacrificing some of the song's melody, it was a wise choice, and SSS is so absolutely filled with hooks there were plenty more where that came from.
Kehlani’s stage presence was magnetic, but she also gave the audience other things to look at, particularly her two dancers and an excellent live drummer. (Not to mention a stomach-exposing top drawing attention to her famous abs.) An exceptional dancer in her own right, Kehlani moves with sweetness, sexiness, and savagery. At times she focused so much on her moves so much that she neglected her singing (her most impressive gift), but that hardly took anything away from what she would call the SSS tour’s “most fired up show yet” on Instagram.
Between songs, Kehlani delivered warm, friendly stage banter. An encouraging, extended shout-out to the LGBTQ community led into her Akon-interpolating “Undercover,” adding extra significance to the lyrics “They don’t wanna see us together/ But it don’t matter, no, ‘cause I got you.” By the time she ended with the explosive, exuberant SSS hit “CRZY,” the room was filled with a downright euphoric energy.
Critic’s bias: SweetSexySavage is an album I’ve been listening to a lot in recent weeks, one of my favorites of the year, and I was excited to experience live performances of its songs for the first time.
The crowd: Young AF. At least 65 percent female. Lots of (presumably) single ladies dancing with their besties.
Overheard in the crowd: “God, I wish I had abs like hers!”
Random notebook dump: Kehlani brought the young St. Paul singer/rapper Lexii Alijai on stage for about 10 minutes during her set, and Alijai proved yeat again that she's a talent to watch out for. Learn more about her in this 2016 City Pages profile.