Pleasure, Prioritised: Self Esteem at StyluS
Music Editor Alice Browne reviews...
For someone who began her music career in relative anonymity, slotting neatly in as half of twee indie-folk band Slow Club back in 2006, in the last year Rotherham born Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s presence has become inescapable. With two critically acclaimed albums under her belt, she’s embarking on her biggest tour yet, each night proving herself to be a world away from the wallflower image once forced upon her. Waiting for her to appear on stage, a drum proclaiming ‘keep lyrics uncomfortable’ catches my eye, something that comes to encapsulate everything Taylor, now performing as Self Esteem, has come to be. Her second album under this guise, Prioritise Pleasure, is a catchy yet gritty account of contemporary womanhood, that has been embraced as a central figure for end of year lists across the board.
Striding into the set with I’m Fine, a track that demystifies notions of ‘grey area’ sexual assault in a powerful reclamation of female rage, it’s clear Taylor already had the crowd at her beck and call. The song closes with a sample of a young woman warding off intimidating men by barking at them like dogs because ‘there is nothing that terrifies a man more than a woman that appears completely deranged’. It’s at this point, she begins to howl and, in perhaps a strange moment for those uninitiated into the world of Self Esteem, the crowd howl back. This instance, however, is not out of the ordinary- the delirious barking of a room largely filled with young women is a common occurrence at her shows. It’s at once a moment of collective submission into Taylor’s maximalist pop spectacular and a cathartic battle cry of painful relatability, a dizzying signifier of what’s to come as we’re taken on a ride through joy and heartache.
Moving into pop bangers Fucking Wizardry and album title track Prioritise Pleasure, the packed out room is sparked into life with glitching synths and soaring vocals. Whilst the music takes centre stage, it’s clear Self Esteem is all about the performance. Performing elaborately choreographed routines with a band come dance troupe all dressed in black tie, there’s an ever-present feeling that we’re forming some kind of burlesque-inspired circus, with Taylor as our ring leader. No more is this sentiment felt than when she roars into How Can I Help You?, taking complete control as she unapologetically takes to the drums herself.
For fan favourite Moody we see this mask of perfection begin to slip, as rejected selfies are projected onto the screen behind Taylor and her band. It’s in this that the embrace of an unpolished life that’s felt so strongly in her lyrics is reproduced on stage, though the joke is entirely on her own terms. It’s part of a sentiment felt across the show that the audience are in on something, moments that are as much a camp wink as they are a sincere statement of defiance.
The set reaches its climax with lead single I Do This All The Time. It’s a tender, life affirming track that feels part spoken word and part anthemic ballad. An ode to the complexities of growing up, taking things slow and embracing what’s thrown at us, it’s an intimate moment that unites both the crowd and performers in some form of choir, thrown into a state of pop-induced catharsis.
We’re reminded that the NME Awards are happening at the same time as her set, in a world outside of this fleeting sense of euphoric community, and Taylor is up for two awards- best live act and best UK album. In that moment, aptly one in which no phone signal can be reached to find out, whether she won or not seems void. What’s crucial is that we’re here to witness what feels like a turning point, and potentially one of the last gigs of this size we’ll see her play. Despite her length career in the music industry, Self Esteem feels like it’s only just getting started, with Taylor being reborn as exactly who she needs to be.
Words: Alice Browne
Photo credit: https://whenthehornblows.com/content/2022/3/3/live-review-self-esteem-leeds-university-stylus-02032022