I almost missed Teyana Taylor. Picture this: me, a writer meant to cover her triumphant return, standing at the will call counter going through emails and phone calls that essentially had us going in circles for the better part of an hour. Three phone calls, two emails and a bright pink wristband later, I was admitted into the concert hall. For many others, I likely wouldn’t have waited it out, but I knew that it would be worth it. Wait, let me not get ahead of myself.
On October 11, Teyana Taylor performed in Toronto after leaving Jeremih’s “Later That Night” tour, which she was opening on. (The tour was set to hit Toronto in August, but the disputes and ensuing departure of Taylor from its bill led to her rebooking a solo show in the city some two months later). “Toronto I told y’all I KEEP my promises!” she posted on Instagram on September 17, less than a month before the rescheduled date.
As I stood at that will call counter waiting for my own resolution of sorts, the air around me was thick with anticipation. A seemingly never-ending stream of people—many of them young and Black—poured into the venue, buying up all the remaining tickets. As Torontonian singer and opening act Ebhoni began her set, the relatively large hall was already rammed with attendees. By the time Taylor had a mic in hand, it appeared that we’d hit capacity, confirmed by her own raucous-cheer-inducing announcement further into the night.
The fact that Teyana Taylor is a performer, first and foremost, should not be lost amidst the noise that plagues her career. Yes, she’s signed to G.O.O.D. Music, a label that has underused, under-promoted and underestimated her since she joined their roster in 2012 after being underutilized at Pharrell’s Star Trak Entertainment. Yes, West produced the entirety of K.T.S.E. or Keep That Same Energy, what would’ve been her full-length follow-up to 2014’s VII. (He also stripped the album down to an EP right before releasing it, surprising Taylor and fans both). In typical bad management fashion, yes, Taylor and her mother-turned-manager were left alone alone to explain what had transpired in the wake of her messy, unsatisfying roll-out. To add insult to injury: four months after K.T.S.E., not one music video or visual component has been released.
It’s true that she only embarked on a solo tour in promotion of the album-turned-EP because she quite literally fought for it. Pushed and persisted in her pursuit of it. The story of neglect, at best, that Black women endure at the hands of their male peers and bosses is not a new one by any stretch of the imagination. Take SZA or Tink or Res; throughout era, genre and locale, the script is the same. And the list is endless. That being said, it’s still astounding to bear witness to what a label like G.O.O.D. is willing to sacrifice by perpetually lowballing their most interesting artist. But on October 11 in Toronto, Taylor stood on her mark and did what’s come to be known for: make her presence known and felt, in spite of.
From the second she took stage with her three backup dancers, all dressed in identical outfits — dark blue fedoras, leather pants and trench coats, opening to reveal mesh shirts of the same hue with strategic glitter appliques — any and all doubt about her abilities melted away. Launching immediately into fan favourites from 2014’s VII, Taylor was unstoppable, even as her mic screeched with feedback or dancers doubled as set assistants, moving stands and wires across the floor. Alternating from nostalgic choreography to the shoot dance and the Milly rock to wining up her waist and administering a life-threatening lap dance, one thing was certain: at the very least, she was ready ready.
Slick with references to Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope era, she and her dancers—her “Petunia’s Angels”—put on a hell of a show, her influences clear as day. “[W]ait til ah bitch get a GOOD GOOD budget Ima really be doing the most most!” she proclaimed on Instagram, making light of the glaringly modest investment put into her tour. She teased, of course, splicing K.T.S.E.’s “Hurry” into her hip-swaying “Put Your Love On Me,” threading her two projects into one. Taylor also sang a quick cover of Jackson’s “I Get So Lonely,” expertly hitting the same counts as Damita herself. (The 27 year old artist is of Afro-Trinidadian descent and is a documented Janet Jackson superfan.) Even her adlibs kept that same energy, her riffs on “Issues/Hold On” a prime example: “you tell me you love me, well tell me again / shiiiit, I need the reassurance every now and then [...] gave it up to somebody who didn’t deserve my body / yo, fuck that nigga!” But more than energy, what Taylor had was a special connection with those who’d come out to see her. She knowingly shared language and reference, personality and cackles perfectly in tune with what they desired from and of her.
But it was a different moment that revealed Taylor’s less-rehearsed side. Prior to her take on Marvin Sapp’s “Never Would’ve Made It,” an ode to her daughter Junie, she burst into tears. “Y'all showed out and it was so last minute,” she said after apologizing once more for a mistake that wasn’t her own to roaring applause and whoops from the audience. The crowd overwhelmed anything she could say. And it was when she stood there, all showmanship aside, and took in her sights that she had to retreat to the back of the stage and take an emotional minute. After regaining control, she sang her heartwarming version of the song, the second verse a beautiful addition. (“One mistake and it could’ve went wrong / I had you on the bathroom floor,” she recounts of her daughter’s surprise birth one month before she was due.)
But as the song progressed, it grew to embody a life of its own: "People didn't believe in / they didn't believe in me until they needed me,” she sang, her voice gaining a renewed, steadied conviction. But it was in the final lines that Taylor synthesized her own path thus far and prophesied what is to come, the spirit of church gospel flexing through her body. She wasn’t tired or weak or willing to let go just yet. “Trust that I'm gon’ make it without you!” she belted, promising a special promise. “I got peace of mind / you can't get peace of mine." And, well, let the congregation say amen.
Amani is on Twitter.