Remember When: Pop Music Felt Simpler And Happier

I arrived to a Jess Glynne show with a few reservations - and I left with a newfound perspective on what it means to put on a good show.
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I go to tons of concerts and understand that most tend to veer on the positive side. An act fulfilling their musical dreams in front of a crowd who loves them for it - there are few other experiences which feel so communally enjoyable. As with everything, some do this better than others, and singer Jess Glynne did so at LA’s Wiltern Theatre. Admittedly, when a friend invited me along to the show, I worried she wouldn’t be all that thrilling.

When it comes to Jess Glynne, the material is positive and extremely accessible. Her song titles make their meanings more than obvious, and their gospel qualities ensure that they will bang but not necessarily bite. She’s not known for expansive choreography and a Justice-style laser light show never seemed like an option either. Instead of focusing on her better qualities such as her voice or honesty, I concerned myself with possible shortcomings. I soon learned what a miscalculation I had made. I love an intricate, thought-provoking performance a la FKA Twigs as much as the next person, but sometimes it refreshes the soul to watch a bit of no-nonsense, feel-good music.

Vocalist Abir served as the night’s opener, joined by a guitarist, keyboardist, and trumpeter. As Glynne would do later in the evening, Abir relied on vocal prowess to impress the audience.

“I really had no one to look up to as a Muslim girl,” she shared with the audience before finishing off with “Young & Rude”. This track was probably about as “negative” as this evening ever got, but its overall feelings of rebellion and individuality resonated with the generally optimistic atmosphere. The moment Abir finished her set, “Tears Dry On Their Own” began playing through the venue. Since the song failed to match the cheerful mood, sound engineers cut it off before Winehouse even finished her first verse. As I said before, this night was all about good vibes.

Armed with a husky yet caramel-sweet voice Americans like me roll in the deep over, Glynne needed little else to charm the crowd. Her slight rasp lent her a relatable quality; her outfit, a onesie that, with her red locks, only made me see Herbie Fully Loaded, suited her without elevating her too high from us plebeians. Basically, Glynne presented herself more like a friend at a jam session than a pop star headlining a concert.

This lent itself nicely to the Always in Between tour, an experience centered on the basic tenets of pop music. Starting the night on the right foot, Glynne launched into “Hold My Hand”. From the moment she started, the crowd just sang right along with her. Songs like “Far To Go”, “These Days”, and “123” are perfect singalongs because not only are they quite gospel-esque but they also display an honest and straightforward look at life’s better emotions.

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At many points in the evening, Glynne took the time to feature her backing singers and bandmates. Her vocalists left their section and joined her for a simple yet fun bit of choreo at the head of the stage; meanwhile, guitarists sidled up between them to join them in the fun. As Glynne swayed and laughed, so did the crowd.

None of the performance felt especially fresh, but that largely played into its success. The vocals sounded great, especially Glynne’s mic control on “Take Me Home” where she echoed her voice for a beautiful effect. Basic lights illuminated the stage, yet combinations of turquoise and orange or red and purple melded together so well that the effect still dazzled.

Even Glynne’s banter hit all the expected notes. “I always take a moment to say thank you. I wouldn’t be where I am without you,” is something you hear at 95% of shows, though I cared little because Always in Between never pretended to be something other than it was: a pop concert.

*Taken on an iPhone 6S*

*Taken on an iPhone 6S*

Pop shows give the fans what they want, and Glynne mashing up “So Real”, “Real Love”, and “My Love” was exactly what the girls and gays at this show wanted. Ever a gracious performer, she used this to segue into the massive and inescapable “Rather Be”, sending the audience over the edge of joy and into glory. While most interpretations of “Rather Be” see Glynne singing to a love interest, at the Wiltern it felt as if she was singing to her fans. The eventual finale with “Never Be Alone Again” happened as what I assumed to be a polyamorous relationship of 5+ people embraced in front of me. After all, communal love is just as real as any other kind.

In the end, I realized this concert offered a nice release from the menace of Billie Eilish or the utter sorrow of Lana del Rey. As the world of pop and the world at large continue to become darker and sadder, Jess Glynne delivered a jolt of serotonin the old-fashioned way - with strong vocals, accessibility, and a chance to escape. I never forgot that live music could do that for you, but I had forgotten that one can achieve the same results with a bit of “sacred simplicity.”