Live Review: Self Esteem @ Metronome and Rough Trade

What better way to start the New Year, with a refreshing reflection on Self Esteem's visit to our fine city a few months back. Rebecca Lucy Taylor and her wonderful ensemble graced the stages of Nottingham's Metronome and Rough Trade- Freya Saulsbury Martin and Joe Hughes relive two very different performances.

Self Esteem @ Metronome

Self Esteem, a.k.a. Rebecca Lucy Taylor, is an artist who promises you a show, and she certainly delivered. Kicking off her set at Metronome with the slow, pounding beats of I Feel Fine, Taylor is preceded onto the stage by the appearance of her three backing dancers and vocalists, clad in top-to-toe leopard print and striding to the rhythmic cracking of the first beats. Taylor herself followed, wind machine blowing and adorned in a black corset, as she plunged into the opening verse of the track, a powerful reclamation of her body and her sexuality.

Self Esteem is a musical project created by Taylor to both poignantly yet cynically address the misogyny ingrained and institutionalised into the music industry and beyond, as well as the barriers and behaviours that young women, particularly bisexual women, as she herself identifies, encounter on a daily basis. This backlash against gender-based oppression is the common theme of the show and indeed of Prioritise Pleasure, Self Esteem’s second and highly praised album. The set was populated by many of the tracks from Prioritise Pleasure as well as a number from her debut Compliments Please, as Taylor guided the crowd from anthemic and rousing call-to-arms such as ‘How Can I Help You’ to emotional and disenchanted pop ballads with the likes of ‘John Elton’ and ‘The 345’. Taylor is a woman who isn’t afraid to confront painful realties, nor make her lyrics uncomfortable: at 35 years old and with a decade long music career already under her belt, she is beyond caring what people think.

"The performance was truly breath-taking, every member of the audience captivated by Taylor, who seemed to feed of this concentration of energy in her passionate and emotional delivery"

Perhaps the highlight of the show was ‘Fucking Wizardry’, an acerbic and astute analysis of betrayal and resultant resilience, as well as Taylor’s own relationship flaws and struggles with trust. A sense of righteous outrage and pain was conveyed as she sang “To even get near to me / was some fucking wizardry / I ignored the warnings / But from that, I'm learning.” The audience at Metronome felt this too, packed to the rafters and screaming back the lyrics with a powerful feeling of understanding and intent. The same sense of shared awe and understanding was palpable during ‘I Do This All The Time’, a soul-baring spoken word ballad describing Taylor’s stream of consciousness as she grapples with difficult social situations, and the track that first propelled her to notoriety ahead of the release of Prioritise Pleasure. The performance was truly breath-taking, every member of the audience captivated by Taylor, who seemed to feed of this concentration of energy in her passionate and emotional delivery. Taylor’s lyrics bare all, an honest account of her lived experiences and past trauma in terms of sexuality, relationships and mental health, yet throughout it all runs a powerful vein of hope, an uplifting and overwhelming feeling of solidarity and sisterhood.

This is clear during her performance of titular track ‘Prioritise Pleasure’ , a rousing battle cry of a song about reclaiming your body and releasing it from the shackles of the male gaze. The electrifying chorus itself is enough to give you goosebumps, let alone combined with the choreography of Taylor and her dancers, moving as one unit on stage with seamless grace and awe-inspiring strength. The spectacle of a Self Esteem show has clearly been painstakingly thought out and has been created in the mould of female pop powerhouses such as Madonna or Beyonce, albeit presented with a Rotherham accent, a cheeky smirk and a self-confessed hangover.

Every track by Self Esteem is rousing and empowering, perfectly describing the difficulty and imperfection we all find in navigating sex, relationships and social life in the 21st century, and dealing with the trauma that that accompanies this throughout our lives. To have a woman like Taylor elocuting these feelings into perfectly formed pop sings so apparently effortlessly and flawlessly but also without gimmick, is not only refreshing but well needed. She may not be polished and perfect in the same way as many modern pop stars are, but it is for this reason that she is all the more accessible and relatable, a woman who has seen it all and is ready to shout about it. Now is the era of Self Esteem.

Freya Saulsbury Martin

Self Esteem @ Rough Trade

Hungover and hilarious, Britain’s new pop obsession graced the stage at the rather stifling upstairs room of Rough Trade. Recovering from an apparently raucous album launch the night prior, Rebecca Lucy Taylor, now moonlighting as Self Esteem shone through the dark space as she was joined on stage by three bandmates- all gloriously backlit. Back to back album tracks (Prioritise Pleasure) were littered with witty asides and very droll anecdotes. The intimate acoustic set was no less impressive- and certainly more emotionally affecting- than the massive, spacious soundscapes achieved on the studio recording of the album. Fan favourite ‘M-O-O-D-Y’ was particularly well received by a small, but completely devoted audience.

Her ensemble wore T-shirts emblazoned with ‘97%’ to represent the percentage of women who have experienced sexual assault. “Not a fun one” Rebecca admitted as she divulged that she was prevented from appearing on Sunday Brunch wearing the shirt because it was deemed ‘too political’. The perfect ending to what felt like a seminal set (and coincidentally my signature karaoke number) was a stunning rendition of Shania Twain’s magnum opus ‘Man! I Feel Like a Woman’.

Joe Hughes


Featured image courtesy of Self Esteem via Facebook. Embedded videos courtesy of Self Esteem via YouTube