Teddy Sinclair (fka Natalia Kills) is killing it with her new project Cruel Youth. The all-female three-piece band fronted by Sinclair and co-produced by her husband, Willy Moon, was a smash hit last Thursday at The Echo in Los Angeles. The show was sold-out, with rising pop star KIIARA headlining the evening — but Cruel Youth definitely pulled some serious weight filling the room. Let’s just put it this way, even with KIIARA’s heavy support of friends, family and “industry,” Cruel Youth stole the show.
With an exquisite track record, consisting of co-written songs for Rihanna, Madonna, Alicia Keys, and many more – Cruel Youth dazzled The Echo, enamoring new and old fans of Sinclair. Considering Sinclair has worked wonders for so many other artists, it was nice to see her ruling the spotlight.
With writing chops all her own, Sinclair displays true emotion and passion through her songs that describe her painful past. As a live performance, Cruel Youth is no frills, no sugary pop anecdotes, no obsessive amounts of auto-tune — just pure dizzying lullabies full of r&b flavor and smokey beats. Oh, and that voice! The woman’s got some serious vocal swagger. You know an artist is legit when they perform live and surpass the capacity of their recorded studio album.
Performing their entire debut EP +30mg, Cruel Youth warmed up The Echo with the dreamy sounds and soft vocals from “Everything Was Beautiful.” The song transitioned seamlessly to “Alexis Texas” where we heard more of Sinclair’s dynamic voice and commanding hip hop beats. Ballads “Mr. Watson” and “Hatefuck” unveiled Teddy’s striking range, while reflecting on past abusive relationships. Without a doubt, Sinclair performs with a bad girl attitude that compliments her provocative and powerful lyrics. To top it all off, Cruel Youth’s production value and live sounds aren’t a fabricated mix of radio-friendly hooks that appeal to every Forever 21-shopping millennial. There is depth and skill to their sound. It’s dark, it’s intricate, it’s unique, it’s layered, and it’s sexy. It may not be as catchy as headliner KIIARA, but that’s what we love about it.
Cruel Youth was already a pleasure to listen to through speakers, and they just shone up with their live performance. Straight up, on point. No fluff, just those smooth sonic goods.
KIIARA headlined the evening with a very produced pop performance full of lots of auto-tune (watch here). On recording, her six-song debut EP, low kii savage, is drenched with audio magic, addicting hooks and that same electronic pop sound we’ve heard from many artists. It’s a fun listen, especially for your average iHeartRadio-addicted listener, but there’s nothing unique to it.
There’s potential for this already-on Atlantic Records (with just one debut EP) artist, but her performance at The Echo was overloaded with the same auto-tune magic her album is doused in. KIIARA’s vocals were low and her backtrack was too obvious. I would have loved to have heard her real and true voice, but it was nearly impossible with all the fluffy sound production. Her posse of friends, family and “industry” folks that support the whole straight from the pop-factory aesthetic, were very supportive of her performance. Myself, along with many others were a bit taken and not in a positive way.
It’s always interesting when new artists take this route (or when management decides this). I don’t know if it’s nerves, or a strategic move to conceal any vocal “inaccuracies,” but a more raw and real vocal prowess (like that of Sinclair), would have been tighter and far more impressive. It felt like listening to homogenized pop radio attempting to come off edgy. With all that auto-tune, it kinda sheds a light on KIIARA’s “no professional photo” policy (hence why Grimy Goods has no live photos of KIIARA, but you can watch here); which I always find questionable coming from any newbie artist. I understand if you’re Madonaa, but … well, you know.
It seems as though KIIARA is trying to be similar to artists such as FKA Twigs, Grimes, Banks, Kelela and other leading ladies of alternative pop and R&B. That’s awesome and a good path to follow; however, there’s a couple huge differences. We can actually hear all these ladies’ voices both on and off their studio albums, and some even produce their own beats. Needless to say, I’m pretty sure KIIARA will do very well in 2016. That’s just how it works when you’re a graduate of the pop factory, and know all the right people.
Hopefully with some proper notches under her touring belt, we’ll get a better feel for KIIARA’s vocals and live show; but right now, her excessive use of auto-tune and other filters is taking away from her live performance. We just don’t what them “Feels” are truly about.
Words: Chloe Matise
Photography: Andrew Gomez