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From Governors Ball: Kehlani's Stage Is Sexy and Empowering

Kehlani at the 2021 Governors Ball Music Festival.
Kehlani at the 2021 Governors Ball Music Festival. By Alisa S. Regassa
By Alisa S. Regassa, Crimson Staff Writer

On the first night of Governors Ball 2021, Kehlani poured all her heart and soul into her biggest performance so far this year. As the reverberating bass rumbled, the earworm hook of her 2016 hit “Gangsta” had fans singing along to “I need a gangsta / To love me better.” The all-female band and backup dancers filed onto the stage to hype up the crowd, looking stunning and powerful in all white. The icon herself took the stage just as the beat dropped, making the crowd go wild and kicking off the night on the right note. Kehlani looked ethereal and graceful, with only her neck and arms on display. The outfit accentuated her colorful array of sleeve tattoos.

That classy sexiness carried over into every aspect of her performance, from the setlist to the stage. As the colorful LED wall display in the background digitally altered her look, transforming her into wisps of smoke that blew away with the melody, Kehlani herself flawlessly switched between dance and song. “I’m gonna fuck my knees up for y’all,” she said, dipping down low to the beat of songs like “Can You Blame Me,” and “CRZY” as the air jets blasted from the stage. After sending a round of prayers and good wishes to Cardi B, Kehlani also gave a lively performance of “Ring.”

While the energy reached an all-time high in those moments, Kehlani toned it down to her more soulful low-key signature style for the majority of her set.

“I know y’all want to jump up in a festival, but y’all know I make R&B music, right?” she said, proceeding to serenade the crowd to the lo-fi beats of “Hate the Club,” “The Way,” and “Everybody Business.” Thematic lines from these songs like “Finna get antisocial on ya” facilitated the sonic transition from upbeat to chill. The interactive stage also matched the audio, with a 1968 Pontiac Firebird rolling on the screen behind Kehlani as she sang “I buy myself fast cars” off the track “Good Thing.” She also teased her upcoming sixth project, “Blue Water Road,” a week after its single, “Altar,” was released, dedicating the song as a heartfelt message to loved ones who have passed yet continue to walk among us in spirit. The smoke machine and spark fountains set a magical mood, complementing the introspective ambiance.

As if on cue, the sunset cast a rosy hue to complement the intimate vibe. Donning sunglasses, Kehlani basked in the golden-hour glow, making sure to let her band into the limelight as well, with individual spotlights and instrumental riffs that made all of the talented musicians stand out. Kehlani also took the time to interact with her friends as often as possible, sashaying stage left to stage right. She sassed up her performance with a shake of the hips and a shoulder shrug, working the crowd — leading to many teary eyes and bleary smiles from the fans in the front lines whom she graced with a wink or smile. In her performance of “I Like Dat,” she even got the fans involved in a collective dance lesson to T-Pain’s “crank that” move. “I don’t know if y’all know that I know that y’all know that I’m super gay,” she said, and then proceeded to dedicate “Honey” to all of the queer folk in the crowd.

The crowd witnessed a magical performance by Kehlani this Friday night, who put on a stage that not only stayed true to her R&B roots but also highlighted herself as a natural performer in a league of her own.

— Staff writer Alisa S. Regassa can be reached at alisa.regassa@thecrimson.com.

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