Image: J.

Self Esteem live review: “It is hard to imagine Self Esteem doing anything else”

O2 Institute Birmingham, 2 March 2023

As a small set of marble steps is on stage, accompanied by billowing smoke the crowd generates electric energy as they wait for Self Esteem. Both of the captivating opening acts (Tom Rasmussen and MEGA) ensure the crowd that the main act is one of the best they’ve ever seen, the audience is full of anticipation. Chattering voices and thumping background music merge as everyone waits for the main event.

Then she arrives. Dressed in a grey suit and accompanied by her uniformed band and backing singers and dancers, Rebecca Lucy Taylor AKA Self Esteem commands the stage entirely. As the opening song ‘Prioritise Pleasure’ starts it feels like an awakening within the audience and as she cries ” I’m free” in the chorus it feels as though she has never said anything more earnest. The first few songs operate in a similar manner with ‘Fucking Wizardry’ and ‘Moody’ being powerful pop songs that work perfectly on stage. 

The final section of the performance… is the most human

After the more stripped back ‘Just Kids’, a song about longing for the better days in a failing relationship, Self Esteem leaves the stage. Her dancers move to the centre and strip off their grey suits and black gloves to reveal skin-tight jumpsuits and leather harnesses. Self Esteem re-emerges in a similar outfit, adorned with a cowboy hat before launching into her new song ‘Mother’. It’s a mixture of sarcasm and earnest anger drawing influence from both Madonna and her own recent work on the play Prima Facie. The new song blends perfectly into ‘How Can I Help You’, a pounding number that feels like an updated version of ‘Black Skinhead’ by Kanye West. As an Argento-style red light flood the stage and bleeds into the audience Self Esteem and her amazing dancers, the middle section ends with all of the band proudly smearing the lipsticeleck across their face, something they maintain for the rest of the show, almost as if it is a badge of pride.


The final section of the performance, where the band switch into black suits and white shirts, is the most human. Self Esteem appears alone to sing ‘John Elton’ quietly on the guitar before finally addressing the audience. In these brief moments, it is clear how much this means to her, that her songs resonate so deeply and are seen in such a positive way. Even when she states that “it only took me fucking fifteen years to get here” in a reference to Slow Club, the band Rebecca Lucy Taylor was a part of before Self Esteem, there is an overwhelming sense of happiness for where she has managed to get to. By the time of the song that closes the main set, ‘I Do This All the Time’ there is such a deep sense of catharsis that everyone in the room singing. It’s an amazing song to end on, mixing some of the best vocals of the evening with spoken word verses full of biting specificity and emotional resonance. 

There is, of course, an encore. Though the wink is given just before ‘I do this all the time’ shows that they already planned this, the fierce cheers and cries from the crowd would have meant they perform anyway. And everyone in the room throws themselves into them entirely. The barking at the end of ‘I’m fine’ encompasses the whole room and in the final song ‘Still Reigning’ the collective singing of the lines “I feel everything, nothing at all/Everything, nothing at all” goes on and on in unity. The crowd is so passionate that even after Self Esteem has left the stage there are still large amounts of people cheering, shouting and stomping their feet. 

When Self Esteem left her old band in 2017 there were many critics who were sceptical of whether or not she would be able to flourish on her own. However, following this concert Self Esteem has presented herself to be one of the leading performers in music and an electric, engaging performer. It is genuinely hard to think of her doing anything else. 


All images are credited to J.


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