As soon as I heard Yungblud’s “I Love You, Will You Marry Me”, I was determined to see the rising South Yorkshire musician live. Contrary to what one might expect, the single’s far from a sappy, Ed Sheeran-style ballad. Rather, it’s a frenetic rock song inspired by a piece of graffiti, bold as a bright streak of stray paint. Naturally, when I had the opportunity to attend the Yungblud/K.Flay show at the 9:30 Club in D. C., I was elated. (I wasn’t as familiar with K. Flay’s music, but I had heard high praise for her, so I was excited to see her in action.) My high expectations for the night were on point—both artists charged the air with infectious energy, shaking up the crowd as they shook up traditional notions of genre.
When I arrived, the stage was aglow in pink. Magenta lighting made the equipment shine; pink duct tape had been used to create smiley faces with tongues out and Xs for eyes. The decor was perfect for Yungblud, who wears pink socks as a nod to England’s northern soul movement. As the 20-year-old stepped out in a black hoodie and paced back and forth, gesturing wildly, he vaguely resembled Eminem. Yet as I nodded along to his music, I found myself thinking, “Yungblud is the new Jamie T.” Of course, that’s not a completely fair statement; Yungblud clearly has his own unique style already, and that should be recognized. But the similarities between the two—their skillful blend of hip-hop and rock influences; the controlled chaos of their vocal delivery; their readiness to touch on social issues—show that Yungblud has a thrilling future to look forward to. Many artists are still struggling to find an identity on their debuts, but songs like “I Love You, Will You Marry Me” and the earnest, easily singable “Anarachist” (both of which sounded even better live) are sure to be fan favorites years into the future.
One of Yungblud’s greatest strengths is that he’s not just a musician, but also a performer. He was a pro at switching his tone to match whatever he was singing. During the Britpop-influenced “Loner,” he sounded like “Country House”-era Damon Albarn; during “Casual Sabotage,” he seemed heartbreakingly earnest as he declared, “I need to exist.” He was also quite a spectacle to watch. He leapt into the air, kicking with abandon; he clapped his hands; he dropped to the floor. At one point, he even shook a tambourine like Mick Jagger in the ’60s. The finale was arguably his greatest moment—he knocked over his mic stand and slammed his guitar into one of his drummer’s cymbals, literally ending the set with a bang. Rock and roll is not dead.
The Grammy-nominated K. Flay made a powerful impression, as well. Clad in all black except for her burgundy Doc Martens, she radiated confidence as she alternated between pacing and impassioned dancing during opening number “Make Me Fade.” After a few more high-energy songs, she slowed down to address the crowd. “I’d like to make a toast to anyone who’s loved someone who hasn’t loved them back,” she said “It’s a quintessential human experience… and it hurts, but it’s also human and good.” That was the perfect way to prepare us for the brutal dissection of romance that lay ahead. K. Flay’s style is brash and unapologetic; whether she’s belting out a ballad or rapping at breakneck speeds, she lays her emotions bare.
As K. Flay performed songs like “Dreamers” and “Can’t Sleep,” it was easy to see that she got her start making an alternative hip-hop mixtape. Yet she shone just as brightly when singing her more rock-influenced songs. “High Enough” managed to sell the “high on life” mindset in a completely convincing manner due to killer vocals and an aggressive guitar riff. “Mean It,” which saw K. Flay trading rapid-fire rhymes and flashing lights for a piano, was moving, especially when she quietly and sincerely said, “Thanks” afterward. “Blood in the Cut” was equally memorable. It’s this track that was recently a contender for Best Rock Song, and with good reason. It can best be described as cathartic; dozens of concertgoers sang along, punching their fists into the air triumphantly.
How to bring such an intense night to an end? K. Flay did it by bringing out an old favorite. “In the spirit of humble beginnings, we’re gonna play a song I wrote in my parents’ basement before I even knew how to write songs,” she said before launching into rap song “So Fast, So Maybe.” Then she ended the night with some words of wisdom about unfortunate situations: “However sad it is, it isn’t forever; it’s just right now.” Seeing how she and Yungblud had turned their frustration into art that night, it was impossible not to believe her.