First published in Loud And Quiet
Katy B at Koko, London
12th May 2011
There was a time in Popworld when a silk bomber jacket and a pasting of Juicy Tubes lip gloss counted as ‘making an effort’ – think back to that classic wave of early Noughties combat-trousered lady-pop, the am-I-bothered cool of Miss Dynamite, All Saints and early Sugababes. Fast forward 10 years and prosthetic face humps and a foghorn voice are just the start of a very, very long checklist for the new breed of starlets who think Gaga was the first person to draw a bloody lightning bolt on her face.
Sigh. And yet here we have Katy B, a pop star who clearly did not receive that memo. And here we are at her first headline tour of the UK, squeezed into a sold-out Koko crowd (about 50/50 male to female) who can only be described as ‘up for it’, watching her bounce around on stage in silk bomber jacket and curls, effortlessly trailing dust in Jessie J’s airbrushed-to-all-hell face.
And effortless is the operative word with the Princess of Rinse and her youthful pop swagger. Her voice – so girlish, so untroubled – nails every note with unforced finesse while she slides stage right to stage left, serving up her already-formidable back catalogue of hits: ‘Perfect Stranger’ (live version above), ‘Broken Record’, ‘Lights On’, ‘Katy On A Mission’. Saxophone and trumpet provide jazzy punctuation to one side while a drummer and DJ provide the beats – it’s such a basic set-up you could barely call it a stage show. No smoke or mirrors, no wigs or pyrotechnic corsetry, no self-help “love yourself” bullshit or patronising motivational pep-talks. Just that effervescent voice trilling about boys she wants to dance with and beats she wants to dance to.
And it just works. Ignoring that checklist, Katy B has hewn together her own authentic pop formula from the echoes of the club, fragments of UK funky rhythms and big fat dubstep, touting chart-ready bangers to pop-pickers who just want the songs and not the rest of the wannabe crap and the Autotune and meat dresses and crocodile tears. I wish her Gagazillions of global mega-stardom, sure, but for now, can we keep her? Can we?