February 5, 2016
Want to feel better about the future of pop music? Go see Alessia Cara in concert.
While the masses were still raving about Taylor Swift and the critics were (admittedly correctly) fawning over Carly Rae Jepsen, Cara quietly released one of the best pop albums in recent memory last year. Know-It-All is more than just “Here” and a bunch of other songs, it’s a genuinely great record with some incredible songwriting. It goes some weird places, but does so without being her big song ten different ways.
And because Cara is still in the early stages of her career, it’s the songs that take center stage in her live show. There’s no fancy graphics, no backup dancers, no costumes, just Cara and her band and her songs and a crowd eager to sing them with her.
For the most part, those songs shine live. “I’m Yours” is one of her few energetic tracks, and makes for a great opener for folks familiar and not-so-familiar with her body of work. “Scars to Your Beautiful” is probably the best version of the “love you for you” anthems that have sprung up over the past few years, and it’s one of those songs that will likely become a staple of her live shows for years to come.
As for “Here,” Cara didn’t even really need to do anything onstage but be there. It’s such a weird song to make it near the top of the charts in 2016, but seeing the way the crowd responded, it’s clear that it has really struck a nerve with people. Given the chance, they would have screamed out the lyrics to the entire song.
Alessia Cara doesn’t talk like anyone else in pop music. She talks when the rules of pop music concerts dictate that she has to — before “Scars to Your Beautiful” and “Here” specifically — but there’s something delightfully refreshing about the things she says. Pop pros — think Gaga and Swift — are experts at delivering the same speech every night but making it sound new. But when Cara speaks, it’s in a ramble that does come off like she’s speaking from the heart.
It’s delightfully refreshing. In a genre whose fans are lucky to occasionally get a peek at the person behind the curtain, Cara feels like an actual person who is actually happy to be performing her songs for a crowd and isn’t just going through the motions. It's refreshingly unpretentious.
That’s not to say that the standard pop tropes are not in her future. Maybe she’ll develop a gimmick and an elaborate stage show as she releases more music and becomes more of a known commodity in the world of music. But, for one night at least, it was the music that mattered, and when the music is as good as hers is, the future looks very bright indeed.
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Personal Bias: In the past, I’ve written about being miffed by Cara, but things really fell into place once Know-It-All dropped. So much so that the album ended up on my Top 10 for 2015. “Scars to Your Beautiful” was just outside my Top 10 songs list.
The Crowd: A little bit of everything, but mostly the type of folks who might actually add someone who mentions her Snapchat account onstage.
Smelled In the Crowd: Whenever shows skew toward a younger audience, I’m always amazed when someone lights up. I bet Denver smells awful.
Random Notebook Dump: Been a while since I’ve seen someone faint at a show. Remember to hydrate, folks: You don’t want to be the person carried out before hearing the big single.