Mimi Webb review – algorithmic polish from TikTok’s heartbreak queen

<span>Photograph: Matt Crossick/PA</span>
Photograph: Matt Crossick/PA

Mimi Webb is proof that social media really can make a career. After her heartbreak ballads blew up on TikTok during the pandemic, she has risen through the ranks to become something of a breakout star, landing on the BBC Sound of 2022 shortlist. When she makes mention of TikTok tonight, the whole room erupts: it is the reason why so many teens have fallen for her internet-era takes on love and loss.

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Webb is a self-confessed fan of Emeli Sandé and Sam Smith, and her blueprint is clear: big radio-friendly ballads peppered with Gen-Z references. Good Without, the weepy viral sensation that she saves until the show’s close, is executed flawlessly, while new song House on Fire ups the tempo with a healthy measure of spice, as she sweetly threatens arson in a fit of lovelorn revenge. It’s the kind of hyperbolic good humour that turns her fans wild: the song has only just been released but they’ve all heard the previews on TikTok and scream the words back into each other’s phones with glee.

In between these gems, though, the evening starts to plod. Webb is a slick, professional performer. Her voice, a strong and husky alto-soprano, is one of true star potential, and her mega-watt smile remains undimmed as she paces the stage like it’s a treadmill. But she sticks devoutly to a well-rehearsed formula, trading spontaneous sincerity for an arsenal of cliches. Her shouts of “Hands up!”, “How we doing?” and “Stay hydrated!” are as unimaginative as many of her songs.

On Lonely in Love, she demands for the millionth time for the crowd to “Sing with me!”, but the stadium chorus is pitched far too high, well out of the reach of her now-silent audience. It appears to shake her, a brief crack in an otherwise perfect veneer.

As an artist who speaks to the most intimate of emotions, Webb clearly has heart. But her lack of vulnerability on stage suggests that she may still be holding her audience at arm’s length – almost as if she was looking at them through a screen.

• At O2 Academy, Liverpool, 18 February, then touring.