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Jorja Smith Cements Her Star Status With Mesmerizing Brooklyn Steel Performance

Jorja Smith
Jessica Xie

Jorja Smith performs at Brooklyn Steel on May 12, 2018 in Brooklyn, New York.

A lot has changed for Jorja Smith in just one year.    

In 2017, Smith delivered her first-ever live U.S. performance at SOBs in New York City. Following her American debut, the once under-the-radar U.K. songstress became one to watch thanks to her 2016 offering Project 11 and a few high-profile co-signs from the likes of Drake and Kendrick Lamar.   

Just as her star has risen over the past year, her fan base has grown exponentially as evidenced by the 947,000-plus Instagram followers that watch her every move -- or even the large chunk of those followers that filed into Brooklyn Steel’s 1800-capacity venue in Williamsburg on Saturday (May 12). 

With her debut album Lost & Found in tow, 2018 is shaping up to be a major year for Smith and her performance at Brooklyn Steel proved exactly why.

The headliner wasn’t the only British performer of the night. Ama Lou, a 20-year-old crooner who hails from London, graced the stage, and it was immediately clear why she was such a suitable addition to this leg of Smith's tour. Lou’s sweeping vocals were powerful yet polished and melted seamlessly into her self-produced, atmospheric melodies that permeated the venue for the nearly 30-minute set she delivered before Smith took the stage.   

Lou treated the crowd to early cuts like “Not Always” and “Lost My Home” before she dove into her recently released debut EP DDD, which dropped in March, to perform “Tried Up,” “Wrong Lesson,” and “Wire.” After launching into synchronized choreography with her two male backup singers, Lou grabbed a stool and her guitar to perform her final song, “Flew The Wrong Way,” which she wrote when she was just 14 years old. 

Anticipation for Jorja’s arrival only mounted after Lou's departure. At 9:10, the stage went black and fans erupted in screams and applause until the woman of the hour waltzed onto the stage. Given her penchant for personal, emotionally-driven songs about love and life, Smith opted for the Project 11 bluesy track “Something In The Way” as her opener and bathed under the red and yellow lights as her beguiling voice immediately captured the attention of fans.

Finger snaps and body swaying commenced when Smith launched into “Where Did I Go,” an upbeat, soulful number that highlighted her honeyed vocals as she often slipped into a buttery falsetto in between her full-throated croons. “Hello, New York. Thank you so much for having me,” she humbly said through the crowd’s screams. The songbird reminded fans that her debut album is coming out on June 8 and then slowed things down with the first new song from Lost & Found, “February 3rd.” The song was first heard in season two of HBO’s hit series Insecure.

Smith’s set fit the “cozy” aesthetic that has become her trademark style. Smoke from the aromatic incense situated next to her drummer burned all throughout her performance, and tiny lamps hung from the ceiling to provide an intimate feeling. The singer herself sported nylon track pants, a red corset bodysuit and Nike Air Max sneakers that made it easier for her to move freely across the stage. 

Her heavenly warble swelled during “Tomorrow” and “Goodbye,” a somber ballad about mourning the loss of a friend. That led into a fiery cover of The Fugees’ “Ready or Not.” She promised "no more sad songs" and kept true to her word, as she saluted TLC with a chilled-down cover of "No Scrubs."

Smith's raw, inexhaustible voice is reminiscent of Corrine Bailey Rae or even fellow English singer Amy Winehouse, a similarity made clear when the 20-year-old delivered a rousing rendition of the Stormzy-assisted "Let Me Down" and "I Am" from the Kendrick Lamar-curated Black Panther soundtrack.

"Blue Lights" turned Brooklyn Steel into a karaoke party as fans belted out each line with gusto. A little after 10 p.m., Smith closed out the first half of her set with "Imperfect Circle" and ended with a "thank you" before abruptly leaving the stage. After fans repeatedly chanted her name, Jorja returned to the stage with just her keyboardist for the eye-watering ballad "Don't Watch Me Cry" before sharing the stage with Maverick Sabre for their duet "Carry Me Home."

After a night of emotionally heavy tracks, Jorja punctuated her Brooklyn Steel show with the addictive Preditah-produced "On My Mind," which gave the singer her first Brit Critic's Choice award earlier this year. She started off with a stripped-down rendition of the track that steadily grew into a raucous club-ready banger with colorful synths and rapid drums blaring from every speaker in the space.

Jorja Smith ascension from Starbucks barista to Drake collaborator and international star was quick, but her Brooklyn Steel performance proved the singer has the chops to go all the way -- and Smith doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

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