LA Pride was months ago, but British electropop trio Years & Years brought a queer triumph of their own to The Wiltern recently. The infectious energy and spirit of the band had the sold-out crowd in a frenzy. People came to dance. The crowd was fabulous, dressed to the nines, with many sporting glittery outfits and rainbow attire (one fan proudly wore a rainbow cape — yaas!). There was an undeniable feeling of kinship in the venue which made the night feel very special, much like a celebration.
Opening the night was up-and-coming Australian pop star Jess Kent. Kent took the stage solo, with only a guitar and a bright smile to engage the audience with. She didn’t need much more. Kent has a bit of a hip-hop/ r&b vibe mixed in with her obvious pop stylings.
The crowd that arrived early enough to catch her approved and danced along to her catchy tracks. The standout song of the the set was her new single “Girl,” an anthem that sings about the struggles that come with being born female, and the expectations society places on women. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also a good song that screams radio play. Jess Kent proves to be on her way there.
Next up was on the rise pop starlet, CYN (born Cynthia Nabozny) who is signed to Katy Perry’s label UnSub Records. After seeing her perform live it makes total sense for a pop sensation like Perry to be the one to discover this gem. Their stylings are similar, and CYN shows potential to blow up the same way Perry did 10 years ago.
Looking flawless in a killer red latex outfit, she instantly demanded the audience’s full attention and commanded the stage like a seasoned pro. She smiled and danced around the stage, showing how comfortable she is in the limelight. She performed a handful of her melody driven pop tracks including “Only With You,” “Together,” and “Believer” but the stand out song of the night for me was her stripped-down performance of the emotionally driven ballad “I’ll Still Have Me.” CYN stood in the center of the stage, but it was her mellifluous voice that took the spotlight for this one. The room was in awe. Katy Perry, who I heard was in the crowd, must be proud. I don’t doubt it will be soon before CYN reaches that level.
After the two perfect fitting openers, it was time for Years & Years. The fans went wild when the band hit the stage and started the night off with new single “Sanctify” from their latest album Palo Santo. The song, which sings about a love affair with a notionally straight man, had a contagious dance beat that reminded me of pop mega hit, “Slave For You”. Frontman Olly Alexander slithered around the stage with as much sex appeal as Britney had with that snake. Alexander knows how to dominate the stage and immediately got the party underway, blissfully gyrating to the beats. Wearing a zipped down jumper, a sheer body suit, a fashionable shoulder harness and choker, Alexander was the epitome of a flourishing queer icon. He is unapologetically flamboyant and the crowd was loving every second of it.
The set was equally divided with tracks from their first album, 2015’s Communion and this year’s Palo Santo. This was the first time I have seen Years & Years live and I was impressed when they delivered an arena-worthy performance. Alexander has some real star power. If Britney and Justin had a baby, I imagine it would’ve looked a lot like Olly! He can dance, he can sing and he just has that “it” that a star needs. And it makes me very happy to see the world evolving into a place where more openly queer artists are able to be front runners in the scene.
In the past, it was such a hush hush thing to be gay and most artists would have to sing their songs in a heterosexual narrative. It may not seem like a big deal for the younger generation who are lucky to live in these more accepting times to hear songs about same sex love and relationships, but for someone who, as a kid, never imagined gay marriage could exist and watched artists like George Michael wait years to come out, it’s heartwarming to witness artists unashamedly singing their truths. For this reason, and the sheer fun Years & Years exude, I hope they become an even more mainstream act.
Years & Years maintained nonstop momentum throughout their 90-minute set and had the crowd dancing along to every song, only giving the audience a couple of small breaks to rest their feet on two of their slower tunes. For the ballad “Eyes Shut,” Alexander took a seat at a piano in the middle of the stage. “Palo Santo” was also a slower number that showcased his vocal abilities.
The rest of the set was ignited with their upbeat tunes including fan favorites, “Karma,” “Desire,” “Shine” and “Worship.” Even if you aren’t super familiar with their songs, it would be impossible not to dance. Every song is catchy. Some have some heavy R&B vibes, while most are pure pop pleasure. There were even moments where I heard a little Michael Jackson coming through.
The center of attention was undoubtedly on Alexander, but that is not to say the other members did not have a great impact on the magic of the show. Bringing a dance friendly sound to a live show doesn’t always translate the same as a recording but the skilled musicians, which consist of Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Turkmen, pulled it off effortlessly. Paris Jeffree was a bad ass on the drums and I gotta say, there’s just something about a female drummer that makes my heart patter. Her energy and hair flying all about to the beats added even more energy to the electrifying performance.
“Hallelujah” may have sparked the most epic dance party of the night. It’s one of those tracks that everyone rushes to the dance floor to get down to. It was so much fun watching the crowd freely moving around and dancing together in a safe place. The empowered break up song, “If You’re Over Me” was the final (pre-encore) song of the night. The perky pop number sings of a hot and cold relationship where Alexander begs his ex, “Well you should set me free, Baby if you’re over me.” The crowd was feeling it, singing every lyric with passion.
After a quick break, Y&Y returned to the stage for a 3 song encore that included a brand new song called “Valentino” and featured an appearance by fellow queer artist Mnek. It was a fun back and forth exchange, singing about a player that they both fell for, and even though I don’t think the lyrics suggest a rivalry, it was definitely giving me some Brandy and Monica, “The Boy Is Mine” vibes. So much fun to watch! The night finally came to an end with “King” and I can imagine that’s exactly what Alexander was feeling like when he took his final bow to the deafening cheers and applause. I think it’s safe to say Alexander and Y&Y will be around on their throne for many more years and years to come.
Words and photos by Betsy Martinez