Of all the 20-something LGBTI pop stars smashing it in 2018, Olly Alexander is by far the most fearlessly queer.
Since winning the BBC’s Sound of 2015 poll, he and his band Years & Years – also comprised of bassist Mikey Goldsworthy and keyboardist Emre Türkmen – have evolved into something evermore relevant than even their biggest early champions might’ve anticipated.
Their political clout was boldly illustrated last night, as the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan introduced them (via video) to the city’s biggest stage: the O2 Arena.
While the show wasn’t a sell out, it was still a triumph of sorts. Indeed, the modest but effective Bladerunner-inspired staging – meant to reflect the sadly very much fictional queer dystopia-utopia created in recent concept album Palo Santo – might’ve been better suited to a more intimate venue.
But it was still the perfect showcase for a sparkling collection of addictive, accessible but intellectually stimulating pop songs. They more than fill the venue’s expanse. To think, furthermore, they’ve been accrued over just two albums. (Namely, 2015’s million-selling debut Communion and this year’s critically-acclaimed follow up.)
Then there’s the openly gay Olly, and his effortless charisma.
Opening strongly with the lustful, throbbing Sanctify, he gyrates against backing dancers, later moving with giddy abandon to super hits Shine and Desire.
A mid-show dip sees the band’s backing singers perform underwhelming mini-covers of Ariana’s No Tears Left To Cry and Madonna’s Like a Prayer; Olly swiftly returns for Worship, his sensuous, spiralling form projected to the audience via shadow theatre.
Afterwards, I looked online to see if he ever trained as a dancer. At a glance, it seems has hasn’t. This surprised me.
He moves with such confidence, fluidity and sexuality, I was transfixed. His movement was framed by astute, daring costume choices: sheer tops that cling to his torso; a ridiculous sequinned jumpsuit, like a magpie wearing its sparkly yield.
If Olly’s vocals are imperfect during the belters – the soaring King, the majestic Meteorite – it hardly matters; he sounds raw and thrilling rather than out of tune. And this show was about inclusivity and acceptance. I may have been reviewing, but I checked my judgement at the door.
That said, Olly does has a uniquely beautiful and emotive voice, especially in certain contexts. I personally loved the innocence channeled on saccharine slow number Eyes Shut (which he performs solo with a keyboard), and the cheeky flippancy on sugary If You’re Over Me, which, compared to much of the darker fare, could be a boyband number.
Add in an abundance of pyrotechnics, plus vibrant supporting turns from rising Norwegian star Astrid S and an energetic outing by dance troupe Kiki House of Tea, and the end result is a pop-pick-and-mix, as shallow or as deep as you care to take it.