Michael Jackson’s iconic 1993 Superbowl halftime performance is one of the greatest displays of performative presence. Famously, he stood still for close to two whole minutes, during which the screams of his fans only increased in intensity. There was a reason that MJ could do that, and not many others could. His charisma and presence were unmatched. That performance is the simplest and clearest example of how charisma and charm and character can not only enhance a performance but be one of their own. I wasn’t alive to ever experience that firsthand. But, when Little Simz took to the stage of Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion, I think I got a glimpse into what a truly charismatic performer looks like.
From the beginning of the night, the talent was on display, as Wik and Solomon Islander heritage artist Ziggy Ramo brought the bars from both his debut album Black Thoughts and sophomore effort Sugar Coated Lies. His tight rhymes about personal struggle, intergenerational trauma, and cultural identity emanated an optimistic outlook for the future. On stage, he wore a metal chain around his neck, symbolising the chains he so often raps about breaking free from. He even put on a rendition of the classic Lauryn Hill tune, “Doo Wop (That Thing)”. Safe to say Ziggy Ramo is an artist on the rise.
Following Ziggy Ramo, the buzz and anticipation built steadil, with the Hordern Pavilion’s floorspace filled with an eager audience. So, imagine the hysteria when the lights dropped and the instrumentals for “Silhouette” took over the airwaves. Little Simz walked out, cool, calm, in control. That led into “No Merci”, another mellow, laid-back track off NO THANK YOU.
As she moved through more songs from both NO THANK YOU and her brilliant Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, it felt that the audience were truly hers; her fans there for her, not just a night out. Unlike so many other shows that feel a mindless sea of phones recording for the entirety of the night, Little Simz hit different, with people mostly ditching the screens and vibing to brilliant music.
Just beyond the halfway point she paused for a moment, with the guitarist and bassist who had joined her for “Introvert” jointly taking centre stage to fill the absence. The excitement and clamour when their freestyling turned into Simz’s latest hit, “Gorilla”, was immense. It was the most enjoyed song of the night, with a truly engaged audience singing along with Simz’s effortlessly cool rhymes, atop blaring horns, and punchy bass loops.
As she continued through more songs from Introvert and NO THANK YOU, it was clear that Simz had found her space. The audience were all there for her and she delivered. A fan even managed to give Simz a beautiful handmade fabric painting. By the time she called on the women present to help her with “Woman”, somehow 90 minutes had already passed, and the show had to come to a close.
It was a wonderful night, and everyone I could see was bouncing and chanting along to her songs. I’ve been to the shows of talented artists whose similarly mellow music failed to grab and hold onto the audiences’ attention, and Little Simz stands above as a shining example of how to do it. Her fans cheered enormously after each song, but no cheering was louder than in the few moments that Simz stood still and just embraced it all.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Image credit: Lady Drewniak, taken at Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, July 19th 2023