Emily King | photo by Gabriela Barbieri for WXPN
Free At Noon Flashback: Emily King brings nostalgia and 80s glam to World Cafe Live
What do you get when you pair Michael Jackson, Prince, a sequin jacket, and one-hundred mile journey across New York State? You get Emily King.
More specifically, you get King’s new album, Scenery, which explores her move from her home in the South Bronx to Woodstock, New York. The album is bursting with the vibrant spirit of someone who believes in the power of new beginnings. King performed several songs from her new album at the World Cafe Live’s Free at Noon concert today, along with selections from her previous EP, The Switch. Dressed in all black, complete with black satin gloves and a sequined tuxedo jacket, King commanded the stage from start to finish. The crowd clapped, danced, and cheered her on throughout the set — especially when King twirled and danced on stage in razor-thin stiletto boots.
Many critics have compared King’s sound and persona to Michael Jackson and Prince. These parallels are emphasized in her stage performance. You can hear Prince in King’s breathy, pointed vocals. You can see Michael Jackson in King’s devastatingly fashionable outfit and her near-moonwalk dancing. During “Look At Me Now,” the third song of the set, King sang about her hard won successes as the stage lights changed to purple. If her sequin jacket and shoulder pads weren’t enough to convince you of a King-Prince-Michael connection, the purple lights coupled with King’s curly hair bopping to the music drove the point home.
At her core, King is an artist who values nostalgia. Her love of 80s sounds coupled with a self-professed adoration for 80s movies illuminates the stage. During “2nd Guess,” King was John Cusack, holding a boombox on your lawn and begging for a second chance. During “Can’t Hold Me Now”, she was Ferris Bueller, confident, powerful, and having the time of her life. King wants you to feel good. But this desire for joy is not separate from explorations of deeper, more complicated truths. King sings about love, loss, change, and regret. She feels everything at once in the same way being a teenager in a 1980s romance movie is a searing, poignant, and almost-overwhelming experience.
Her penultimate song of the set, “Go Back,” reflected on her recent move and her career to this point. King’s career began with a short-lived record deal in 2004. After being dropped by the label, she released her debut album, East Side Story, in 2007 and was nominated for a Grammy award for “Best Contemporary R&B Album of the Year.” Now, twelve years and two more albums later, King rocks the stage with lessons learns and renewed hope. “Go Back,” and Scenery as a whole, is a tribute to the artist’s journey. King closed the set with a disco ball swirling light throughout the World Cafe Live downstairs, and the audience danced with her until the final note. It was a perfect touch for a musician who pushes us to reflect on the wonder of our own experiences and encourages us to dance through life’s many ups and downs.
Emily King will return to Philadelphia to perform at the World Cafe Live on April 5. Check out the WXPN Concert Calendar to learn more, and check out photos from today’s performance below.