By: Benjamin Cannon
Empress Of took The Great Hall by storm last Wednesday with her left-field approach to making bangers.
Empress Of, real name Lorely Rodriguez, gained a little bit of attention with her independent project Color Minutes, where she released one minute songs attached to bright colors. It was kinda like Whack World, but these songs were more first drafts. From there, she released two EPs, followed by her debut record Me on Terrible Records in 2015. On this album, Rodriguez deconstructed trends in Top 40, EDM, and indie pop in a way kept the pleasure of these genres in-tact. This record was included on a fair amount of year-ends lists by prominent publications such as Pitchfork & Noisey. She then became sought-out collaborator, working with Blood Orange, Dirty Projectors, and Khalid, the last of whom helped give Rodriguez her first Billboard Hot 100 entry. And last year, she released her sophomore record Us. The first single, “When I’m With Him” has catapulted Rodriguez to become one of the most prominent artists in the indie-pop world.
Despite growing in size, Empress of live setup was pretty lowkey. Her band was herself, and a backup singer, both of whom were also controlling synthesizers, drum machines, and what appeared to be Ableton Live on a laptop behind Rodriguez. She opened up the night with the promotional single “Trust Me Baby”, followed by its B-side “In Dreams.” She then seamlessly transition into the first song off of Us. One of the most impressive parts of the night was the way she got all of the songs to transition into one another, much like a House Dj set. The best part was when she played “When I’m With Him”; she took a loop of the beat, and placed the chorus to Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next”. It was a surprising move that paid off well. She also played her other big singles like “Water Water”, “I Don’t Even Smoke Weed”, & “Woman is a Word”.
But one of the most impressive parts of the night was her performance of her one-off single “Realize You”. Considering it was released before she released any project, and the fact that it can’t be found on major streaming services, this song should be considered an Empress Of rarity. You have to be an Empress Of stan to know about this gem.Within the first 8 bars of the track, Rodriguez managed to completely change the mood in the Great Hall into something more serious. An accusatory song about infidelity, it is one of the more aggressive tracks from her discography, and has more in familiar with the jagged edges of Me than the lush textures of Us. But somehow, she was able to capture the original sentimality while combining these two sonic worlds. When she sang to the crowd, “Have you been you with you lately? / Because you haven’t been you with me”, I felt everyone in the crowd consider their answer to her question.
In her encore, Empress Of slowed down the pace of her concert. She played “Again”, a dream-pop ballad about lovers who are destined to be together, and that transitioned that into a drumless rendition of “Best to You”. Without the rushing percussion, Rodriguez could paint the picture of an abusive relationship with vivid colors. Co-written with Devonte Hynes for a Blood Orange record, the runaway success of this song is a testament to everything that Rodriguez is capable of. She will continue to be one to watch.