Every music writer battles with the urge to constantly describe new talent as a variation on an already well known musician. Seeing Sky Ferriera, this urge was so strong in me that I just had to text it to myself so that I wouldn’t forget. Looking at my phone now, the text reads, simply, “Art-Rock Taylor Swift”.
Reflecting on it now, this description is not only reductive, but wrong. Without her band, Sky isn’t really art-rock at all, past her saggy eyes and unwillingness to speak to the audience. She’s just Taylor Swift. Sure, her voice is little deeper and definitely a shade more powerful than the notoriously thin-voiced pop-star, but her songs are written and performed with the same attention to drama and nuanced, unironic sincerity.
Like Taylor, as well, she plays on the relatability of her own exaggerated awkwardness. While Swift shows it with a girl-next-door relatability, Sky does something entirely more severe, showing an almost embarrassing inability to know how to act, a understandable, but very raw pain. It was almost a little hard to watch. When she finished her set, she raised her hand to the audience for half a second and immediately exited the stage, as if she were trying to avoid making eye contact with a stranger. And like Taylor, its more than likely a little bit affected. It looks like particularly morbid and cripplingly uncomfortable teens might have a star on their hands.
Her band and two very well placed strobe lights were responsible for holding her aloft during the short set. This is where the art-rock comes in, filling in the awkward cracks in her overly honest stage presence. Sound-wise, the show varied widely as far as genre goes, sounding like anything from early 2000s New Yorkers like LCD Soundsystem and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to mid-90’s abrasive-blues-era PJ Harvey.
At this point, the formula works. The show was hard and riveting in its emotion, and while it seemed like she got some vocal help from her bass player and a little bit of reverb, her talent was in the intensity and specificity of her mood. We’ll see whether she has the creative chops to expand upon that.