Grace VanderWaal headlines ‘Ur So Beautiful’ tour
VanderWaal is a wonder. Her concert, not so much
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Grace VanderWaal, 15-year-old wunderkind, sweeps in amidst cheers and a swell of percussion. Fog billows across the stage. In the orange-lit haze, VanderWaal, with her signature ukulele and ash-blonde braids, appears almost elfin.
Perhaps the fairytale look is appropriate, given her Cinderella-esque story. At age 12, she was catapulted to viral fame by her America’s Got Talent audition; the YouTube clip boasts nearly 100 million views to date. She proceeded to win the 2016 season, then fulfilled the meteoric rise to fame promised by reality show competitions everywhere: she released a full-length album, opened for Imagine Dragons on tour, and will star in Disney’s Stargirl next year, all before getting her driver’s license.
Her age is evident in her music, which doesn’t strive to emulate the life experiences that her professional peers often sing of. She veers far from the more adult themes that dominate modern pop, instead committing to youthful candor. “Damn, you’re so beautiful/And don’t you know it?” she asks in her tour’s eponymous song “Ur So Beautiful.” The question is purportedly posed towards a love interest, but it’s meant for the audience, too. She follows with “Escape My Mind,” an upbeat, bright-toned romp through frustrations familiar to anyone ever afflicted with a high school crush. “Clearly” is a warbling marvel: each note undulates with remarkable control. “Moonlight,” four minutes of pure summer fun, is my favorite of the night. Its infectious beat, underpinned by acoustic ukulele, gives way to urgency as VanderWaal sings of a friend who is “about to break.” She reminisces about happier times, recalling that “the light in your eyes/Made it feel like we were dancing in the moonlight.”
Unfortunately, VanderWaal’s frank lyricism and ebullient sound is marred by factors likely outside of her control. The venue floor is mysteriously sticky, no seating is provided, and the live band smothers VanderWaal’s vocals. Her soft fingerpicking and raspy voice, perfect for long car rides and lazy afternoons, doesn’t quite translate to a stage replete with neon spotlights and crescendo after crescendo.