Dressed in a black leotard and custom jacket, Kehlani jokes that she’s put in some real effort tonight, by not coming out in sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt. It’s tongue-in-cheek, but it’s also true: throughout the hour and a half performance she delivers at Manchester’s O2 Ritz, her attention to detail is clear. Without the need for a bloated production budget, the Oakland songstress works within her means to create an evening of entertainment that never gets boring. With the use of small costume variations, props and choreography, as well as careful sequencing, Kehlani keeps the audience captivated throughout her lengthy set - which even includes a mid-way toilet break!
Every song feels purposeful and thoughtfully planned; she covers all of her notable singles and mixtape stand-outs. She takes centre stage for an arresting, no-frills performance of ‘Gangsta’ her ode to Harley Quinn’s hopeless infatuation with the Joker from Suicide Squad, and just as easily sets herself up as the perfect candidate to soundtrack the next Disney movie with a breathtaking rendition of ‘Hold My Heart’. Then there is the choreography that she executes with her dancers, throwing back to the 90’s girl group influence that she wears proudly on her sleeve.
Of course, it’s her vocals that ultimately shine through, without the need for pre-recorded backing tracks even while dancing. Kehlani clearly is a phenomenal vocalist, and not one who’s managed to make it work thanks to studio wizardry. While so many new R&B and hip-hop acts are able to surf on pre-determined hype - and the fact that their audience is largely in attendance to create fomo-inducing Snapchat content - it’s refreshing to watch Kehlani dispel these ideas and share something that’s dripping with talent, hard work and self-improvement.