- Coucou Chloe
MYKKI BLANCO wants you to feel at home. You’re not a mere spectator, but a friend, brought into a room full of characters with common interests and perhaps from similar walks of life.
REMÉE and COUCOU CHLOE open the show, forcing an admittedly sleepy crowd to gather closer together. Remée gives us experimental RnB. She’s the personification of a siren, sporting crimson red tresses, a flawless mug and a pitch perfect vocal that hypnotises us. We can’t draw our attention away.
It’s a relaxed and welcome appetiser before Chloe, who brings the party, bouncing around the stage to a supposedly “shit” demo, a Shygirl collab and a remix of Lady Gaga’s Stupid Love, which appears on the Dawn of Chromatica album. It’s almost comical that someone in the crowd yells, “What’s your name?” She humours them, replying in her seductive, southern French accent: “My name is Coucou Chloe, what is your name?” before dedicating the next song to Jim or Jill or whoever. She ensures we’re all in good spirits, guaranteeing Blanco’s team gets the welcome they deserve.
As Blanco’s band performs a cinematic intro piece, the California-born rapper casually strolls around the corner and onto the stage, embodying an alluring milk maiden, quite literally embracing everyone in sight one by one. The corset must not hinder movement too much though, as she slut-drops and prances around stage, rapping expressively through all manner of accents, the theatrics limitless. With the growls, wide eyes and body language, I’m reminded of a 2012 Minaj, or Azealia Banks. But the aforementioned were never quite so unpredictable.
Blanco commands us to form a circle, as she rips a metal barrier from the side of the stage, rolling around on the floor with it, as though trapped in a cage, before proceeding to hoist herself up onto the bar (to the joy of the staff, who seem to be as full of adrenaline as the rest of us). She shoves the iconic Kitchen Street disco ball without hesitation and knocks over a speaker, which we have to set back onstage. It’s almost as though she’s too vibrant for the venue – a superstar forced to perform in the confines of a box – but she won’t let it stifle her creativity.
She informs us that, as this is an intimate venue, “I’m gonna be looking you dead in your fuckin’ eyes.” She does exactly that. Every lyric bores through to the soul, which could be unnerving, but it feels like we know each other already, the artist confirming that she’s already falling in love with the city. “I’ve always wanted a Northern boy,” she announces to the delight of the crowd, who’d like to think we have a shot at a post-gig rendezvous.
Every band member gets their moment in the limelight, Blanco dipping off stage while her two back-up singers zap us into a whirlpool of vocal runs, weaving gospel renditions of Ja Rule’s Always on Time, Ghost Town DJs’ My Boo and Crystal Waters’ Gypsy Woman into the set. The live translation of I’m In A Mood from Blanco’s self-titled 2016 album is magical. The studio version is distorted through heavy auto-tuning, but she lets her band take the wheel on the chorus, harmonising perfectly as they croon, “My life’s on play play fuck shit / Aka my killa muppet / Gucci girl realness with dem villains if you feeling lucky”.
There’s a clear musical theatre influence throughout her set, but during Gypsy Woman, it’s as though we’re at a rave with a refreshing twist; like a Boiler Room set but with live vocals, and then we’re back to hip-hop again, reflecting Blanco’s constant experimentation with different genres throughout her discography. Having been making music for 10 years (from the age of 25) the show is an ode to her past work, showcasing how it all knits together to create her current sound: a New Age melting pot of styles.
She opens up about her HIV-positive diagnosis, and how she assumed going public would be the end of her career. But it did quite the opposite, bringing new people and experiences into her life, introducing her to a warm and supportive community that she wouldn’t have been acquainted with otherwise. She voices this before performing Hideaway, a track that depicts the tale of a person falling in love with someone diagnosed as positive, and the stigma that comes with it. The song is infused with gangster rap clichés, a decision that somehow works.
But there’s a femininity to her rap, an expressiveness and precision that is seldom found in other artists: “Getting twisted, they hella lifted, they askin ’bout them xans / trouble making these baby faces, I’m blunted with some man / asking me about poetry and I wanna leave but I can’t”. There are no rules or limits to her wordplay. The way she intonates and recounts cautionary tales about boys, high school and drug use is captivating. It feels as though she’s channelling her Lil’ Kim inspired alter ego to teleport us to a campfire in Orange County; we’re huddled around, listening intently to every bar.
The two songs that might cultivate the most response from the crowd feature Big Freedia and Blood Orange. The Freedia track infuses New Orleans bounce music into the mix, while the Blood Orange tune reminds us of Blanco’s West Coast origins, through a subtle homage to Lana Del Rey: “Or some EPT / or some you need me / I’m high by the beach / Lana please save me”.
We’re left feeling warm afterwards, as though Blanco is on our team, and that everyone here kind of gets it. We hover around for a bit, hoping she makes another appearance, which she does. But wearing an orange crochet bucket hat this time around, and significantly less sweaty, having pushed her body to its limits for three hours straight. She invites the Kitchen Street staff to head over to the Homobloc party with her entourage in Manchester, all travel expenses paid for, and we have to stop ourselves from being groupies even though we want to be. I tell her how magical the set was, and she talks to each of us with no exasperation, very down to earth, despite being preternatural onstage.
Having been unsure if Blanco was my cup of tea upon the first few listens, I leave the gig reeling. I can’t resist becoming a fan knowing what I do now. It’s the countless stories behind each tune, the theatricality of their live renditions, and the life and enthusiasm her team bring to a room that makes Mykki Blanco a very special and unique artist. She deserves to win, and for a predominantly queer fanbase, it’s empowering to see her doing just that.