BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend Norwich 2015



Note: This is as much a diary entry for me as a shared account or review for all of you so fair warning if it turns into a stream-of-consciousness post.

From the moment I first heard about this year’s Big Weekend, it all seemed implausibly fortuitous. My best friend texted me to say that when she saw Norwich trending on Twitter that wonderful morning, she had never expected Taylor Swift to be the reason. Not only was this year’s Big Weekend going to be held walking distance from my friend’s house, the headliner was the very person we had been spiralling over since the 1989-era had begun: Taylor fucking Swift, y’all. It also happened to be the weekend immediately after my final university deadline. The perfect celebration.

Taylor Swift in Norwich is truly the most insane, unbelievable thing to happen in Norwich since… well, since last year when The Avengers came to town. (Seeeriously, people, Norwich is the place to be.) For my friends who attended UEA, I can’t imagine how bizarre it must be to go from Captain America strolling around the Sainsbury Centre one year to the world’s biggest popstar rocking up the next. In addition to Taylor, the lineup included a mixture of fresh (Florence and the Machine, Years and Years, Hozier, etc.) and throwback (Snoop Dogg, Fall Out Boy, Muse, etc.). Prior to ticket release day, only Taylor, Florence and a handful of smaller bands were announced. It didn’t matter. They had us at Taylor. We woke up and began frantically tapping refresh, secured tickets for both days and then wondered how we could possibly go back to our mundane lives what with a Taylor Swift show on our horizon. (more…)

Falling Swiftly: Get Excited For 1989-Era Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift 1989Does anyone else feel a little like the Taylor tide is turning? Mama gonna ride that wave.

Taylor Swift has always been a curiously divisive public figure. Flawed but seemingly a fundamentally nice (and, crucially, cat-loving) person, the backlash against Swift seems to have endured throughout all of her success. I would never have referred to myself as a fan (though we all celebrated turning 22 with a loud sing-along of the track of the same name, right?), but I always felt a little bemused by the ferocity of her critics. It’s long been apparent to me that Swift possesses a rare gift for damn catchy songwriting, with hits like “I Knew You Were Trouble” ubiquitous on international radio and eternally trapped inside my head. On the eve of Taylor Swift’s fifth studio album, 1989, I’ve been feeling a very new and fervent affection for the young singer-songwriter, though. And it’s not just because of the cats. (It’s at least 50% because of the cats.)

Criticism of Swift has been extensive, to say the least. My personal issues with her have been with problematic lyrics of early hits, the boy-centric psychology that has permeated her previous albums and her pretty firm attempt to dissociate with feminism (asked if she would consider herself a feminist, Swift answered: “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”). In the past few months, though, I would argue that Swift has adequately addressed all of those issues. Regarding one of her early songs, “Better Than Revenge” (a song about a girl who “stole” Swift’s ex-boyfriend from her), she has since commented: “I was 17 when I wrote that. That’s the age you are when you think someone can actually take your boyfriend. Then you grow up and realise no one takes someone from you if they don’t want to leave.” I think it is, as Swift herself points out, crucial to remember the age that she was when she was penning her early hits. No one has the world figured out at 17 and being immersed in the catfight-loving media, it’s hardly surprising that this naïve attitude emerged from a young Swift.

Possibly most widespread of all Taylor Swift’s criticism has been the condemnation she’s received for her openness regarding her relationships with Joe Jonas, John Mayer, Jake Gyllenhaal and other people whose names don’t begin with ‘J’. This is perhaps the preposterous argument of all time, and I’ll waste as little time as possible addressing it. Do you know how many songs are written about break-ups? Most. Do you like Ed Sheeran? Do you like Adele? Do you like Maroon 5? Do you like ABBA? Do you like Justin Timberlake? None of these artists have provoked the toxic, aggressive backlash that Swift has faced. If you want to argue that Adele was let off the hook owing to the private identity of her subject, then look at the Justin Timberlake example. He wrote a breakup anthem about Britney Spears, and yet “Cry Me a River” is never blasted for its autobiographical nature (likewise Ed Sheeran). My personal frustration with some of Swift’s music, that it is a tad boy-centric for my taste, has been curbed lately, with “Shake It Off” providing an encouraging introduction to an album that has been teased as a move away from the relationship post-mortems of her previous hits. Swift herself says, “It’s definitely much more about the last two years of my life which have been about moving to New York, surrounding myself with my friends, figuring out who I am, independence, freedom, all of those things. When I am reflecting back on a romantic relationship, it’s mostly just looking back on the things I learned from it.” Is it weird to feel proud of a person who is two years older than you? Because I feel it.

She also told Esquire: “I do not need some guy around in order to get inspiration, in order to make a great record, in order to live my life, in order to feel okay about myself. And I wanted to show my fans the same thing.” My heart soars.

The final slice of beef that I have had in the past with the “Love Story” hitmaker is perhaps a little more complicated, though once again comes down to age and growth, I think. Swift’s previous comments about feminism seem to illustrate a fundamental misunderstanding of what feminism is and does, a result, no doubt, of the prevalent derogative rhetoric surrounding the term. In more recent interviews, though, a very different attitude seems to have emerged from Swift, who told The Guardian: “As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means.”


Swift recently extended support to Emma Watson following the actress’s speech at the UN.

This statement underlines the significance of Emma Watson’s recent UN speech (which directly addressed this misunderstanding), which Swift herself noted in an interview with Tout Le Monde En Parle. She explained: “I wish when I was younger I had been able to watch a video of my favourite actress explaining in such an intellectual, beautiful, poignant way the definition of feminism. Because I would have understood it. And then earlier on in my life, I would have proudly claimed I was a feminist because I would have understood what the word means.”

While Emma Watson and Taylor Swift’s comments on feminism might be criticised as overly simplistic, they provide a much-needed introduction to the concept of feminism for their young fans. Certainly, Swift’s enlightenment regarding gender issues is something that has me won over. While I was always optimistic that she never opposed equality of the genders, endorsement of the term “feminism” itself is a significant move forward. I think it’s important to note that her earlier comments had come when she was still exceptionally young. She’s still young now, in fact, but her recent statements seem to be considerably more informed. She’s not alone in her transformation, I feel inclined to point out. Queen Bey herself, now celebrated for her notable use of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s definition of feminism in “Flawless”, sang lead on the Destiny’s Child track “Nasty Girl” (a lesson in slut-shaming, with lyrics like: “These men don’t want no hot female that’s been around the block female, you nasty girl”). The media in general seems to have forgiven and forgotten in Beyoncé’s case (she’s instead attacked for a multitude of other sins, stemming from the media’s blatant and continued sexism and racism), and yet Swift still seems to be persecuted for the problematic lyrics of her youth. I think in both instances, these women have become more informed and mature since the release of these early records.

One decision by Swift that I think is particularly brilliant is that for her covers of both “Just a Dream” by Nelly and “Riptide” by Vance Joy, she opts out of changing the pronouns. This heteronormative habit of the pop industry is pretty prevalent when it comes to covers, but it’s so good to see Swift bucking that trend. It allows queer female fans to identify with the music in a way that they wouldn’t have been able to had the pronouns been changed. Added to that, her latest track, “Welcome To New York”, includes the line, “Everyone else here was someone else before. You can want who you want; boys and boys and girls and girls.”

Untitled-3To me, whether or not Swift’s virtues outweigh her flaws isn’t even a question. From “no, it’s becky”, to her considerable generosity with fans, to her philanthropic efforts, Swift seems like just the kind of person I’d want to sit down and marathon Parks and Rec with while consuming a big ol’ batch of her homemade cookies. If you take one look at her cute-ass Tumblr page, you can’t ignore the wonderfully down-to-earth person that Swift proves to be. Legit, if I was a famous person, I would aspire to be everything that Taylor is (we’re on first name terms now). Everything on that page reads in perfect keeping with Tumblr’s slightly odd, totally brilliant sense of humour. The fact that Taylor gets it and actively seeks to be on the same level as her fans speaks volumes if you ask me. Even at her ridiculous level of fame, she manages to become an involved member of her own fan community. Stories of Swift’s efforts for her fans have included her surprising a bride-to-be, visiting and singing to a sick fan in hospital, inviting fans to hang with her and listen to 1989 ahead of the release, giving a fan she ran into $90 because it was her birthday, inviting a fan who was hit by a car on the way to her concert backstage at another tour date, sending love on Instagram to a fan being bullied, and reportedly donating thousands of dollars to a homeless fan. I’ll buy her record because it’s catchy as hell, and damn those hooks, but I write this blog because girl deserves a break from all those who won’t.

Her newest tracks have slayed. “Shake It Off” is one of my favourite songs that Taylor has yet delivered. It’s fun, fast and freeing; it’s an invitation to have a good time, to let loose. In message, it seems an updated “22”, with an even fresher sound. It is also the best track in my iTunes for pushing me through the end of a 5k run. “Out of the Woods” is just as impressive, a near-perfect pop song that shows the vast potential of Taylor Swift. At 25, she’s producing some of the best pop around. It’s hard to imagine how good she’ll be in the future, but I’m hella excited about it.

I really hope the momentum of public opinion is beginning to shift in Taylor Swift’s favour. It’s about time we all just dance like it’s 1989.

HAIM 14/03/14: Concert Review


“I was worried your expectations were maybe a little too high,” admits my best friend, The Wise One, after the lights of the LCR come up and people begin filtering out. She was probably right to be worried too. Since we’d very serendipitously procured our tickets, I’d been monomaniacally immersing myself in all things HAIM. It’s fair to say I was monumentally pumped.

The day itself proves a stressful experience, and one that I would not recommend to friend or enemy. The usual seven-hour trip from Bournemouth to Norwich comes with a bonus hour, a pair of crying babies (a pair!) and stifling heat, to the point that the cheese in my Mum-made sandwiches actually melts. By the time I arrive at Norwich Coach Station, I couldn’t be less in the mood to party down. We go straight off to the LCR, though, get in line with some very excitable people (too many of which pronounce it “Hame”, those fools), and by the time we hear a few drumbeats of the “Falling” soundcheck I’m game-ready. My mood is as changeable as the English weather, after all.

The support act, Saint Raymond (band or person, no one knows), keep us all happy for their half hour set, putting in a solid performance. There were definitely some songs that I’m keen to check out now, and I know my bud felt the same. Supports can be hit and miss, and I would definitely call them a hit. As we watch them, I find myself distractingly amused by the timidity of the Saint Raymond bassist in comparison to Este’s approach. After they finish up, we are then treated to pretty much a complete run-through of the most recent Beyoncé album, with the crowd enthusiastically singing along to tunes like “Drunk in Love” and “XO” – an exciting tease for what is to come.

HAIM open with “Falling”, taking the concert so far off the ground with their first song that it is going to take the entire set to land again. The band’s third single is the biggest lyrical treat they’ve offered as yet, with lines like “I can feel the heat but I’m not burning”, but it is the concluding proverb that Danielle repeats over and over that has the crowd yelling at the stage: “Never look back, never give up.” In fact, the atmosphere at the venue adds another dimension to what already felt pretty close to perfection. The HAIM ladies seem truly warmed by the reception, and the confidence with which the entire room sings along makes for a flawless introduction. “Falling” quickly transitions into “If I Could Change Your Mind”, with an equally impressive performance that sees Danielle get to show off her mad guitar skillz (a recurring treat that night).

As soon as “IICCYM” finishes up, odd members of the crowd begin the birthday heckles to the now-28-year-old Este. She beams, touched. “It took us a while but we finally fucking got here. And it’s my fucking birthday!” Este announces loudly so as to be heard over the small crowd. Cue a merry singsong of ‘Happy Birthday’ that gets the eldest Haim sister extra giddy, and then, in return, she and her younger sisters blow up the speakers with a killer cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”. This is perhaps the biggest opportunity of the night that HAIM have to show off just what brilliant musicians they are, and it doesn’t get squandered. Danielle and Este look and sound unstoppable on the right hand side of the stage, while Alana parades some serious swagger around the left. I truly don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone play a maraca with as much gusto as Baby Haim during “Oh Well”. Props.

Next comes “Honey and I”, my personal favourite, and the first album track of the night. It’s another example of how beautifully HAIM seem able to adapt their songs for each medium they explore. The laidback album version of “Honey and I” works perfectly for iPod listens, but on-stage they play much more with the build-up of the song, toying with their audience until everyone is joyously dancing around on the spot, yelling, “My, my, my, my honey and I!” The album’s title track, “Days Are Gone”, quickly follows and still the energy of the audience doesn’t let up. Every syllable seems to bounce right back at the stage.

One of the highlights of the evening comes in “My Song 5”. It might well be the peak song of the set for bassface, though Este’s game was looking tight all night, and we see Danielle let loose once again at centre stage. She seems to get a real kick out of coaxing the audience into bellowing, “Honey, I’m not your honey pie!” prematurely, before that particular lyric eventually does blast out – as though in response to the audience’s eager attempt.



It is in the preamble to “Don’t Save Me” that the sisters, famed for their on-stage banter, kick things up a gear with Danielle telling the audience to prepare for a rap. “Y’all have to come up with a really good topic,” she explains, with a charming shyness that sharply contrasts the entertaining brashness of her older sister. Este adds, “I’m like the Jay-Z of jingles.” The crowd then proceed to soak up an explosive performance of “Don’t Save Me” that has me mentally booking more HAIM concert tickets to dates not yet announced. The chosen topic for the rap is Tinder and, with the help of soft-spoken drummer Dash Hutton and the littlest Haim, Este freestyles: “Motherfucker better impress me… Don’t try to trust me. No, you can’t undress me, ‘cause what? My name is Este!” Without missing a beat, as Este takes her bow, Middle Haim is already kicking off the band’s inaugural hit, “Forever”. It proves to be yet another contender for song of the night.

After “Forever”, the band disappear off-stage and the crowd is standing still for what seems like the first time in… well, forever. I think we suddenly all realise how mobile we’ve been, throwing shapes in whatever space we could make for ourselves. Thankfully, before we even have time to worry about where they’ve gone, Danielle quietly reappears behind the drum kit. A spotlight comes down on her, and she starts “XO” as Este, Alana and Dash return to front-of-stage. It’s Este’s biggest moment of the night, and somehow a thousand times better than their Radio 1 Live Lounge rendition. It’s also the most mellow that the show gets all night, but still everyone sings along, echoing Este’s conviction as they go. “The Wire” follows, giving a nice close to the evening as each of the sisters gets their own lead vocal through the song with a corresponding big cheer from their appreciative crowd.

“Let Me Go”, really the only decent way you can end a concert like the one we’ve just beheld, closes out the night. It begins with the sisters all playing their guitars and heartily singing their pleading lyrics. What it builds to is other-worldly. Halfway through, after a guitar solo that blows the roof off the building, Danielle puts her instrument down and picks up her drum sticks. Soon those perfectly-conditioned manes are flying everywhere as the sisters unite for a drum battle finale the likes of which I have never witnessed before. The four accomplished musicians on stage reach the climax of the song and the show triumphantly, as there’s no doubt that what we’re witnessing is special. I can’t imagine a single person who saw that concert not wanting to go back for more. The band briefly stay on stage a while longer to drink to the end of the tour and to Este’s birthday. Alana soaks it all up, having run around the stage so much that it seems she’s grown attached to the place. And then it’s goodnight.


“I was worried your expectations were maybe a little too high,” admits my best friend, The Wise One, after the lights of the LCR come up and people begin filtering out. “But that was unbelievable. HAIM live are a religious experience.”

She’s a wise one, like I say. Best. Night. Ever.

A Matter of HAIM


To give my nearest and dearest some respite from all the HAIM all the time, I thought I would indulge in a little public gushing. If you haven’t yet discovered the Californian sisters, Este, Danielle and Alana Haim, I suggest you get on it – stat! (Stat means now!) There are two reasons for urgency: one is because why deprive yourself for a second longer, the other is that their days of playing intimate venues are numbered. Or rather, those days are gone.

Haim1_0When I belatedly discovered the percussive sister trio, I was immediately struck by their on-stage energy. At times, the electricity of their performances seems to inspire an almost orgasmic reaction in the musicians – especially bass player and resident badass, Este Haim. Their quirks  – “bassface”, shoulder shaking, hair flying everywhere, the just-sipped-a-Coke “ahs” – are immensely compelling, without ever seeming performative. Danielle, the more enigmatic of the sisters, often delivers lyrics with an aggression that the studio recordings don’t capture, and the conviction of her delivery makes the performances all the more enthralling.  In fact, there are moments (lots of them, extremely close together), where it seems as though HAIM are completely caught up in their music, running on the energy radiating from their audience without conscious performance. The climactic drum battle of Let Me Go perfectly showcases exactly this quality, a rhythmic explosion of raw talent for all to see. They are just making their music and we’re all invited to watch.

In a mere couple of weeks, my time has come for the live experience and I’m monumentally pumped. In my ideal world, they would play every track they’ve ever put out and every cover they have ever touched (notably, Strong Enough and Hazy Shade of Winter). Honey and I, If I Could Change Your Mind, Falling and Oh Well are the songs that I’m most excited to hear of the likely choices, while Better Off, of the 2012 Forever EP, is probably more of a pipedream. No matter what they play, though, I know I’m in good hands. Those ladies are rockstars.

In contrast to the explosive live show, studio HAIM has an entirely different vibe. Their debut album is mellower than their performances might lead you to expect, but benefits from it. Days Are Gone is one of very few albums of which I can honestly say, I love every single track. The songs are a versatile bunch, perfect for writing to, running to, relaxing to and, most delightfully, for dancing to. The band’s latest single, If I Could Change Your Mind, is perhaps the finest example of all of the above. The track had been a go-to for my writing playlists, until the video came along, filled with throwback dance routines that looked slick and cool, and so much fun. I no longer have the ability to sit still when I hear IICCYM, its lyrics now catchier than ever. It reminded me of being ten years old and pretending to be in a girlband with my best friends, making up dance routines in our bedrooms. HAIM have a knack for inadvertently celebrating the form of female friendship that rings true for me, just in the way they interact. Watching them in the Forever, Falling, Don’t Save Me and If I Could Change Your Mind videos, it’s clear that they enjoy dancing together and are doing it for the love of music. It struck me as rare in 2014 to see three female musicians, or popstars, or whatever you want to refer to them as, dancing in a completely non-sexualised but completely sincere, fun, freeing way. Thank god for it. They make me want to dance! 

17806-alana-haim-este-haim-and-danielle-haim-0x375-1Of HAIM‘s many virtues, their enviable style is not to be overlooked. The perfect waves of Haim hair are a constant, and you can usually count on at least one leather jacket between the three of them, as well as a nice pair of shades. Este’s trademark style is the bold red lip, light blonde ombre and an LBD of the day. You can expect to see Alana in a pair of cut-off denim shorts and a top borrowed from Danielle’s wardrobe. Danielle herself is, her sisters claim, the most stylish of the bunch with a chic wardrobe that sees her showing up even the most fashionable of humans. It’s usually trousers for the middle sister, but they range from the YSL suit she rocked for the Brits to her beloved black jeans. No matter what, their fashion choices really make it seem like they have their lives together. And if they don’t make you want to rush out and buy a leather jacket, well then I just don’t think we’re on the same wavelength.

As their ‘Sound of 2013’ accolade might suggest, HAIM seem to have nailed a formula that draws upon innumerable musical influences, both past and present, while still sounding completely current. While Forever was the perfect soundtrack to 2013, If I Could Change Your Mind confidently brings them into the new year and leaves me desperate for album two. Given that it took Este, Danielle and Alana about six years to perfect their debut, I should probably hold my damn horses. In the meantime, I shall just spend my money buying leather jackets and red lipstick in the hope of waking up of one day waking up as the fourth Haim sister. Oh, and happily snapping up every HAIM concert ticket I can get my little mits on!