With a smooth soul voice as warming as rum, Nilüfer Yanya doesn’t have to fight for your attention. Inside Shepherd's Bush Empire with her (and a guitar and microphone), it’s already required.
Yanya obviously has talent. Give her newest single H34T RISES half a listen, or watch her set with Jools Holland, and you’ll have the same response as most – “She’s unbearably cool". But like, obviously – she’s a young singer-songwriter with smooth as hell vocals and an aptitude for addictive saxophone solos. For a first album, her music speaks to an audio intelligence beyond her years.
Like her debut album Miss Universe, the entrance of Yanya is marked with one of a few satirical bits on her album, a part of why her album has been described as ‘anxiety dreams’. So yeah, while she is unbearably cool, this admittance of pain immediately strips it back. It’s the reason so many of the kids in this audience have fallen into Yanya – she’s cool, but she also gets it. They see not only a star, but themselves in her.
As she walks on stage, guitar in hand, glittery flares and cowboy boots sparkling as she begins It’s All In Your Head – you’re struck. She’s captivating, contrasting, and enigmatic. Coming off as comfortable and still kinda nervous, charming in an awkward kinda way, Yanya welcomes you into an expression of her discography to date.
Her lyrics might lend themselves to anxiety, but it’s also they’re also dry and witty and that’s exactly how Yanya comes off.
Her voice is soft, slow and warming, like mulled wine. She also plays the guitar her concerts – besides being a talented player, every second her fingers aren’t on strings they’re feeling through the air, like she’s reaching out for the notes. She’s playing with her voice as she goes and she’s so good at it, it hurts.
Stood playing in amongst the vines and snowy noughties televisions that make up her set, her act embodies the ‘snowflake’ vs ‘boomer’ debate that’s dominating conversations right now. Her throwback aesthetic (the TV static and retro-vaporwave visuals) sit her in a place that conveys the fear of technology that so many older people mistake for reverence. Older generations fear tech because they don’t understand, younger generations fear it because they know the effects too well. How much easier were things when technology was four early morning channels and a CD player? The vines that wrap around the television sets fade into the wires for Yanya’s microphone. She smiles into the crowd of tiny cameras.
There are some acts you see and think, this is as far as you’ll go. With Nilüfer Yanya, it’s hard to believe this is all the attention she’s getting right now. It’s the same lure that Billie Eilish has, weird but relatable, the unbearably cool outcast with the killer vocals (especially live). She’s also a bit more interesting, with her deep soul voice and desolate brand of humour/chill experimental trap pop, but that’s a personal taste thing.
Catch the London local quick and get a guaranteed pass to being one of those ‘I heard it first’ fans when she’s playing Glastonbury in a year’s time.