Grace VanderWaal performs at 9:30 Club on Feb. 7, 2018. (Photo by Theresa C. Sanchez)
Kids say the darnedest things, especially when prompted by a pint-sized pop star.
“Make them say Ring Pops.”
That’s what Grace VanderWaal blurted out when her videographer Blythe Thomas asked what she wanted the audience to chant in order to hype them up for the sold out show at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC on a recent night. “I don’t know when the last time was that I had Ring Pops.”
She later explained that she didn’t hear her fans through her earpiece at first, but that quickly changed. “I’m just chilling and guess what I hear? Guess what your girl hears!? I hear, ‘Ring Pop, Ring Pop!’ Sorry, random story, but that was great. Good job!” That two-word prologue — combined with strings of patio party lights above the stage and other multicolored illumination — set the mood for the night’s intimate, 90-minute performance on Feb. 7.
Fan participation — singing along and video recording — was not just a suggestion, but a repeated request from the 14-year-old singer-songwriter. “I want to hear your lovely voices on this song, DC!” The crowd she addressed was comprised of a wide range of people, which included everyone from children and teenagers to adults (not just those chaperoning) and VIP’s like Washington Capitals forwards Tom Wilson and Brett Connolly.
The multi-instrumentalist, who shot to fame at age 12 after winning the 11th season of America’s Got Talent (AGT) in 2016, was in town promoting her debut album Just The Beginning, released Nov. 3, 2017. This show was the fifth stop on her 13-date North American tour. She sprung onstage sprinkled in glitter, wearing a sheer, embroidered, pale dress, picked up her decorated Fender ukulele (the instrument manufacturer’s newest and youngest Signature Artist by the way), stepped up to the microphone, and opened with “Moonlight.”
The bulk of Grace’s set consisted of tracks from the new aforementioned album, but she also played each of the five songs on her 2016 EP, Perfectly Imperfect. Any of the three covers she did — Leon Bridges, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Johnny Nash — could have easily passed for her own material. Her newest song is a reworked version of “I Can See Clearly Now” (1972), which she playfully referred to as “The Claritin Song,” included many of her own lyrics that she wrote with her producer Ido Zmishlany.
In terms of Grace’s overall sound and delivery, the Katy Perry and Sia comparisons are on point. Her vocal range is quite expansive and versatile; she can go from a soft whisper or a raspy growl to a straight up empowering roar. Her lyrics are thoughtful and engaging, unlike a lot of the other ubiquitous nonsense occupying the pop music sphere today. Anyone who has witnessed Grace perform on television or in person will tell you she has an unbelievable amount of poise and confidence for someone her age. She commanded the audience and the stage — whether it was standing prominently at the center or dangling her feet while sitting on the edge — better than some performers multiple times her age.
She’s most definitely an old soul and at one point brought up the issue of age. “You are all very young DC.” When a person countered with, “So are you,” she replied seriously, “No I’m not. In fact, I’m actually 140,” then laughed. Her approach to promoting her content was also on another level. She made sure to market her social media accounts on YouTube (1.1 million subscribers), YouTube Vevo (over 1.6 million subscribers), Twitter (306,000 followers), and Instagram (a whopping 2.5 million followers)!
Fortunately, most of the audience “passed the test” when asked if they were aware of her online presence. She even jokingly plugged her official merchandise on sale at the back of the main floor, stating: “I just made a vision board for a music video for that song. So buy the merch, so we can make [it]. I broke my hands signing all those CD’s. No, for real. Thank you for being supportive of my songs!”
Her precociousness is not just genuine, but endearing and surprisingly professional. AGT judge Heidi Klum reportedly “predict[ed] VanderWaal [would] change the industry.” She told Entertainment Weekly in 2016, “There’s only so few people that pop up now and then that can really make a difference, and she will make a difference in music 100 percent.”
It’s a year and a half later and Grace is doing exactly that. It’s hard to pinpoint any one particular highlight, given the entire show was just one glowing ray of nonstop energetic charisma and talent (save for the brief period she underwent a costume change). When the house lights came on at 9 pm, people were reluctant to leave. The sugar high of a brightly-colored, candy bauble pales in comparison to the energy she evoked that night. Grace is a superstar that any music lover should pay attention to.
Tonight, Feb. 16, Grace plays another sold out show at the Bluebird Theater in Boulder, Colorado. The tour wraps Feb. 23 in Seattle. An additional New York show has been in April and tickets are still available.
For more information go here.
- Insane Sometimes
- Sick of Being Told
- Gossip Girl
- City Song
- Moonlight [BKAYE Remix]
- Home [Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros Cover]
- Light the Sky
- River [Leon Bridges Cover]
- Escape My Mind
- Talk Good
- A Better Life
- I Can See Clearly Now [a.k.a. “The Claritin Song,” an altered version of Johnny Nash’s 1972 track]
- Beautiful Thing
- So Much More Than This
- I Don’t Know My Name [Encore]
Here are some pictures of Grace VanderWaal performing at 9:30 Club on Feb. 7, 2018. All photos copyright and courtesy of Theresa C. Sanchez.
Great photos, great review. Some of your photos are breathtaking. Still hard to believe she is only 14, but what is age but a number.
Amazing, raw talent.