Image: Abby Waisler

Gracie Abrams unveils raw emotion in Birmingham’s O2 Academy

O2 Academy Birmingham, 30 September 2023

I am surrounded by a sea of bows and anxious fans. Excited chatter hangs in the air, a palpable anticipation seeping through the room, drowning out the music on the speakers. People take photos in anticipation and admire one another’s bows, a fashion staple of the performer that has been adopted by her fans.  The venue’s fervent energy only has one recipient – Gracie Abrams, a 24-year-old singer-songwriter who has been gaining traction since her debut single ‘Mean It’ in 2019. Since then, she has had sold-out shows, a handful of slickly produced EPs, an acclaimed debut album and a spot opening for Taylor Swift on the current Eras Tour.

Her joys and mistakes are all laid bare against acoustic guitar melodies

When the anticipation is about to reach an uncontrollable level the stage lights start to flicker, emitting piercing white light before cutting out. Soon smoke starts to flood the stage, strobe lights move throughout the room and a thudding bassline comes from the speakers. Abrams’ band take their places and then as she appears in the stage’s haze and takes the microphone, everything falls silent, apart from the deafening screams of the fans.

Throughout the show, she weaves her way through introspective songs about heartbreak, friendship, love, and self-discovery. Her joys and mistakes are all lain bare against acoustic guitar melodies, synth lines, and piano chords. She moves from twangy ballads such as This is what the drugs are for’ to ‘I know it won’t work’ which feels like it is constantly building towards a crescendo that is never quite able to be released. There are some lighter moments in her set, the opening song ‘Where do we go now?’ has a joyful tinge to it that isn’t present on the album and there is something funny about the line “But my curfew is early and Dad’s at the door” on the song ‘minor’ and remembering the Abrams’s father is director JJ Abrams. The image of an overprotective father is somehow less powerful when it is associated with the man who directed Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Throughout the show, there is a clear sense of connection between Abrams and her audience

Abrams herself is warm and bubbly. Around 20 minutes into the show she directly addresses the audience, introducing her band and ensuring that everyone there stays safe, even stating that people should make an ‘X’ sign with their arms if they need help. It is not unnecessary advice as two people fainted during the opening act, Searows. Plastic cups of water are continually being passed around and medics escort people out of the venue throughout the show. But even with the safety of fans playing on her mind, Abrams remains upbeat, waving at fans and talking in between songs about how grateful she is for the opportunity to perform. On the song, ‘21’ you can feel a sense of glee within her as she has a call and response of “sorry” that generates almost deafening shouts from the crowd and the emotion that flows through both Abrams, illuminated by a spotlight, and everyone in the venue on the song ‘I should hate you’ is enough to bring a tear to your eye. Abrams has laid her emotion bare across her songs and in doing so, has allowed everyone in the crowd to connect with how she is feeling through her songs.

Throughout the show, there is a clear sense of connection between Abrams and her audience. Each song she performs elicits passionate screams, Abrams films her fans shouting the lyrics back at her, sometimes drowning out her vocals. Like many of her contemporaries such as Lizzy McAlpine, Maisie Peters, Ashe, and Conan Gray, Gracie Abrams uses her powerful vocals to paint pictures of her own experiences in a way that is simultaneously deeply personal and universal. And when you are watching her, dressed in a plain black set with a lace cloak, engaging in this cathartic experience with her bow-adorned fans, you feel drawn in. For an artist who has been seen as part of the ‘Sad Girl’ wave of pop singers, Abrams is genuine and deeply invested in both her music and delivering a good performance for her audience, things she achieves with ease.



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