This past Saturday, I spent my night in the Ralph S. O'Connor Center for Recreation and Well-Being. Instead of smelling like sweat and disinfectant wipes, the Rec Center was filled with the White-Claw breath of hordes of Hopkins students after a day of dartying. We were all gathered (way too close together) on the basketball court to watch Kehlani, this year’s Spring Fair Concert headliner.
Kehlani Parrish is a rhythm-and-blues-pop singer-songwriter from Oakland, Calif. who has more than a decade of experience in the music industry and has collaborated with artists such as Justin Bieber, Jhené Aiko and Zedd. When I heard that Kehlani would be the Spring Fair Concert headliner, I was shocked that Hopkins could afford someone so well known. That being said, while I listened to their song “Honey” frequently in high school, I still wasn’t super familiar with Kehlani’s discography. So, on April 19, after CampusGroups crashed several times, I made my ticket purchase and started streaming Kehlani’s biggest hits in preparation.
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the concert. I didn’t attend last year’s Spring Fair Concert, headlined by Meek Mill, and thankfully didn’t get the subsequent “Meek Mill variant” of COVID-19. When my friends and I arrived at the Rec Center — admittedly a bit late — there was already a huge crowd gathered in front of the stage and a DJ was playing music videos of the top 40 songs from the 2010s. We stood around to Nicki Minaj’s “Starships,” waiting for the show to begin.
“It feels like a really cool 13-year-old’s Bar Mitzvah,” my friend said.
I usually wouldn’t mind waiting an hour or two for a concert to begin, but the crowd was, in a word, dead. Just when the DJ put on “Gasolina” and it seemed like the energy might be picking up, they quickly changed the song. I couldn’t even get in a “dame más gasolina.” My friends and I were devastated by this turn of events.
When Kehlani finally came out around 9:30 p.m., the crowd erupted into cheers, and I stood on my toes, trying to see them on the stage. I then became privy to some pertinent information: being 5’4” (on a good day) and attending a standing-room-only concert don’t mix well.
At the music festivals I’ve been to, my height hasn’t been much of an issue because live footage of the performers was projected on massive screens. While there was a big screen set up in the Rec Center, instead of having Kehlani on it, they played strange, Microsoft-screensaver-esque videos. I was unfortunately near the back of the crowd and often resorted to watching Kehlani through the phone of someone in front of me with exceptionally good camera quality.
Still, though I couldn’t see well, I was able to enjoy Kehlani’s angelic vocals. Their live singing was incredibly smooth and light, though the microphone quality did make their words a little fuzzy. Kehlani had a great stage presence and frequently interacted with the audience. They gave a shout-out to the future doctors in the audience, reminded all Hopkins students to prioritize their mental health and, at one point, they pulled an audience member on stage for “wish i never” after noticing she knew the lyrics to every song.
Though I loved the energy the old-school, hip-hop beat of “wish i never” brought to the concert and Kehlani’s slowed-down, sultry performance of “Honey,” I was admittedly disappointed by the setlist. I had been looking forward to seeing them perform “Good Thing” and “up at night” — Kehlani’s songs with Zedd and Bieber, respectively — but they were noticeably absent from the concert. However, I still sang along to songs like “Ring” with my friends, had a nice time and felt a little sad when the show was over.
Kehlani was great, but, in my opinion, if you’re going to cram over 1,000 people into a gym for a concert, the energy of the crowd has to be engrossing enough that you forget you’re standing on a basketball court. Maybe Kehlani’s show was earth-shattering for the people near the front or the die-hard fans, but I think, for the average Spring Fair Concert attendee, it was just okay.
Kehlani has a beautiful voice, and they’re a great live performer, but their songs tend to be on the slower side. Tracks like “Gangsta,” though trap-flavored, don’t inspire the audience to do much but sway back and forth. There’s nothing wrong with that — I would love to attend one of their shows at a nicer venue. However, if Hopkins is going to continue holding the Spring Fair Concert in the Rec Center, I would vote for an artist with a more energizing discography to be the headliner next year. And, if I attend in 2024, I’ll make sure to wear platform shoes.