When I first saw Reggie Watts giving a TED talk, I was confused. None of it made sense. It was weird. It sounded alright, but it was just a confusing looking man with sentient hair, who moves with a fluidity you’d be forgiven for thinking exceeded his physical limits.
Watts, in a tight green jumper, started talking on stage in an unrecognisable, but uncannily human language. This then morphed into an unmistakably French voice, which easily passed as authentic to my untrained ear. His language then morphed again, this time into that of an English professor, talking about philosophy, fear, anti-fear. It was poetic, yet indecipherable. An example of the phrase he uses in this portion is: “the future states, that there is no time other than the collapsation, of that sensation of the mirror of the memories in which we are living”. It’s ridiculous, disorientating, but strangely wonderful in Watts’ nearly impeccable and assured English voice.
But it’s when Reggie Watts starts his musical performance that the senses are truly tested. It is evocative and discordant. It is crazy, beautiful, strange, muddled, rambling, articulate, and a host of other words you can find on thesaurus.com. I later learnt that Watts’ performances are all improvised. It wasn’t shocking. They literally make no sense, but kinda do.
Months later I watched his Netflix special, ‘Spatial’. This is a more ‘traditional’ performance, than the TED talk. It is primarily music based, albeit with plenty of other elements, like the intermittent performance of an improvised sit-com called ‘The Crowe’s Nest’. He rounds off the show with a song he dubs ‘A Song about Apples’. Needless to say, it’s not about apples. He sings about love, life, the importance of understanding our inner darkness, watching a movie and thinking “it’s like, yeah”, insecurities, biological needs to procreate, our need for cultural belonging, and of course, a zoo.
In most of his performances Watts uses a loop pedal and his voice. An adept beatboxer, he’s not confined to a genre. He sings or talks in a myriad of accents and ‘languages’, and isn’t afraid of being just bizarre. His singing voice is more an instrument than the subject of one of his ‘songs’. It can be the forefront of a powerful, soulful, tune just as easily as it can be the backing track to his ‘looped’ voice. He flits between genre’s as well; from soul, to country to techno, to a mish-mash of all genres, to no discernible genre at all.
If you do listen to what he’s saying, those little nuggets of wisdom in the midst of his theatrical outburst are enriching, fulfilling, and as meaningful as you want them to be
Nowadays, he can be found in a more traditional setting, as band leader on James Corden’s Late Late Show. What is pleasing is that the traditional American Late Night construct has not stifled his creative genius, or is bizarreness. He still comes out with lines like “you don’t have to have a tattoo that says that you’re cool. You are a tattoo”, and “I put some butter on my toast. I put some butter on your cheeks, yeah. I lick the butter of your cheeks”.
I’ve personally found Reggie Watts to be enjoyable in so many ways. Musically, he’s incredibly gifted. You can listen to him and completely disregard his lyrics, and its still a hugely fulfilling listen. If you do listen to what he’s saying, those little nuggets of wisdom in the midst of his theatrical outburst are enriching, fulfilling, and as meaningful as you want them to be. It’s also worth mentioning that he’s very, very funny, but certainly an acquired taste.