Keri Hilson is an artist confusing in stature. Standing tall, she’s the writer of a treasure trove of mega-hits including Britney Spears‘ Gimme More and the centrepiece of two excellent solo albums; cowering in the corner shamefully, a proportion of tickets for this rare UK date at the 2,500-capacity Indigo2 venue ended up selling for half-price on Groupon.
The Atlanta-born singer’s line is, essentially, a child of Whitney Houston; she sings about why she loves being female and why although it’s hard, us girls should all truly love ourselves – even though Dove’s pesky Real Beauty campaigns suggest it’s just a click away from our birth instinct. She employs a variety of male guest stars on her albums so yes, it’s inconsistent – and that’s why she’s got more depth than many of the current Choice FM crop. But on a less positive note, it’s why she’s not got enough power to become the female Drake.
This live show, sadly, provides the answer why. There’s a distinct lack of gung-ho from Hilson, from the half-baked set-up (the singer, her DJ and a drummer) to the shoddily out-of-sync dancers. Her fans seem to scream contentedly even in the face of songs puzzlingly trimmed to minute-long reincarnations, as if she’s recording a one-song appearance for TV. The DJ’s hypey ranting between and over Hilson’s songs fills up way too much of this hour-long headline set too, as her power rapidly disintegrates before our eyes.
The ominous opening airhorns of Bahm Bahm (Do It Once Again/I Want You) quickly peter out as the shortened song ends abruptly, while the biggest moment of the night is bequeathed upon unannounced guest star Chipmunk – for In The Air, a song featuring Keri Hilson rather than vice versa.
Hilson’s thrusting hips cut an objectified silhouette in leather pants against the No Boys Allowed backdrop behind her. It feels as though Hilson has compromised the big sell of her last album – no-nonsense defiance, a unified call to arms to females everywhere. The slow-burn of Energy is lost in the intro in spite of a strong vocal performance.
The sweet and endlessly confident Pretty Girl Rock is fortunately the song given the most space; its forthright brags, thankfully, refuse to be demoted. This is a singer who can sing, and there’s no need for her talent to be packaged in a show so desperate to promote its own version of fun.
This set’s break-neck speed is no match for an artist whose back catalogue only totals two albums and some guest appearances – even if her collaborations include Kanye West, R Kelly, Ne-Yo, Timbaland and Lil Wayne. It’s a shame that her great voice and moves are relegated here, confining Keri Hilson further into the bridesmaid role.
Hilson’s combination of songs, nous, challenge and voice should make for far more than this disappointingly flat show, but perhaps she’s just not designed for a live forum. There’s far more pleasure to be gained – at least on this show – from her recorded material.