The room was decorated like a hipster wedding venue, most of the attendees were under the age of five with the first Harry Potter book came out, and Alcide the Werewolf was on hand to introduce Lorde (obviously). All was oddly as it should be at the VH1’s You Oughta Know in Concert Monday night in New York City.
You Oughta Know might seem like a silly name at first (and it sure wreaks havoc on a spell check), but VH1’s up-and-comer discovery program has become something of an institution since it’s launch in 2005, serving as a barometer for the brightest new things on the music scene.
The YOK anointment is a prestigious one – shedding light on artists like Adele, Bruno Mars, Amy Winehouse, Mumford & Sons, The Civil Wars and more before they reached the mainstream. And aptly named at that, because while I “knew” most of the concert’s newer featured artists before I saw them perform, there is much more to most of them than just potential. You ought to know them, because they’re good – really good.
Last night, Manhattan’s Roseland Ballroom held the first You Oughta Know concert, featuring some of the most popular artists from the 2013 roster – Haim, Lorde and JOHNNYSWIM - and a few successful alumni – Emeli Sandé, Matt Nathanson and The Lumineers (and sort of Ed Sheeran, but more on that later).
I also chatted with some of the performers and it seems that a major criteria to be a YOK artist is to be completely charming and humble. Perhaps they’re just not jaded yet, but HAIM and JOHNNYSWIM (it’s kind of like I’m screaming their names at you, isn’t it?) in particular were a roaring good time, sharing advice for other up and coming artists (“write, write, write”) and paying their respects to the YOK house that helped build them.
Most of the 2013 artists said they were VH1 watchers (HAIM cited Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” as a favorite Pop Up Video), so they knew their induction was a big deal, but had no idea how supportive VH1 would be of them. And I have to say, this was one of the more seamless multi-artist concerts I’ve been to, featuring two stages, three to four song sets and a rousing final collective number.
Considering that the You Oughta Know artists seem to feel a little like a fraternity – the past and present students of YOK University – it seems only appropriate to assign some superlatives to the graduating class and prestigious alumni of You Oughta Know in Concert 2013, premiering on VH1 November 21st at 9:00 p.m. ET.
Listen along with this Spotify playlist of each artist’s set (with a few substitutions):
Most Artistic: Emeli Sandé opened the show, laying open the spirit and soul you hear on her tracks, from the lungs of a truly tiny lady with a genuinely large stage presence. Best performance: “Next to Me,” of course, it’s impossible not to love that song.
Most Likely to Show Up in Every Club Picture: Poor Matt Nathanson got stuck with singing covers in between some of the larger set changes, and people were not particularly attentive. But his own set, second in the lineup, was a fun surprise. He’s quite funny and engaging on stage, with a particularly impressive array of hip-swinging dance moves. He could also be spotted on the sidelines snapping pictures during Lorde and HAIM’s sets.
Most Likely to Succeed: Lorde, Lorde, Lorde, you artsy little oddball. The newest “it girl” of music deserves most of the praise and all of the question marks she’s elicited since the release of her first EP at age 16.
She sounded great live, especially on slightly lesser known (as in, not “Royals”) tracks like “Bravado” and “Buzzcut Season,” but it’s the otherworldly way she interprets her music, with animalistic movements and almost krump-like dancing, that makes her stand out in a sea of earnest young singer/songwriters. It’s true: there really is something about this teenager (now a sophisticated lady of 17).
Also, sweetly, she seemed very nervous to be there, centering herself between each song (which for her, looked like being possessed) and sticking close to HAIM like big sisters in the group performance.
Best Personality: There was a tight schedule to keep to with the concert, the live stream, and the TV recording to think of, which must by why HAIM was one of the few acts to really interact with the audience. These three sisters, the kind of girls who are obviously cooler than everyone else in the room, but want to make that room of nerds have as much fun as possible (we bonded over Real Housewives of Atlanta, and they asked the crowd if they could come hang out with them in the city later). I would buy tickets to any show of theirs for oldest sister, Este’s, truly unrivaled bass face alone: they rock so hard. The highlight of their set had to be when, after a rousing performance of “Forever,” they brought out kid sister Lorde to help them cover of Sheryl Crow’s “Strong Enough,” a family road-trip favorite apparently. At that point, the stars of past and present girls aligned, and the audience got a glimpse of the future.
Cutest Couple: JOHNNYSWIM is not a duo I was really familiar with, but a great example of YOK’s ability to showcase not just new acts, but a group that has been around for years and is ready for their time in the spotlight. As lovely as they are talented, the married couple killed a cover Britney Spears’ “Dance Until The World Ends” and debuted a new song, “Diamonds.” A little Johnny, a little June, a lot all their own folk/soul; I’m a new fan.
Most Likely to Skip Class: While probably not Ed Sheeran’s fault, it soon became clear that the audience full of contest winners did not know the British crooner’s segment had been pre-recorded. Though YOK establishes loyalty in its members (The Lumineers came back, after all), Sheeran is probably at the point of “scheduling conflict” bigness. But hey, when the show airs on VH1, you’d probably never know.
Most Popular: Luckily, The Lumineers were there to soothe the sting of not getting the live performance of “Lego House” they were expecting. The excitement was palpable when one of the biggest breakout acts of 2012 (if movie trailer soundtracks are any indication) took the stage with “Stubborn Love.” The Lumineers weren’t much for chatting up the audience but their knee-slapping sound does that for them, I guess. And in the moment we didn’t know we’d all been waiting for, they told everyone to shut off the cell phones, connect with the music and all of the other acts joined them on stage for “Ho Hey.” As you might expect, it was delightful.
You Oughta Know in Concert airs November 21st at 9 p.m. ET on VH1.