Yaya Bey: Remember Your North Star review – R&B singer with a sparkling gift for tragicomedy
Running in tandem with the messy millennial women of TV – from Fleabag to Insecure to Everything I Know About Love – has been a similar strand of R&B, where artists such as SZA and Summer Walker sing proudly and amusingly about their flaws, though still with plenty of self-belief and a withering regard to men.
Continuing that style with abundant charisma is Washington DC singer Yaya Bey, though she uses much more than R&B to express it. Meet Me in Brooklyn is sweet-natured and naive reggae, segueing straight into Pour Up, a deep and erotic afro-house track. Rolling Stoner goes from Billie Holiday jazz songcraft to beatless trap atmospherics in less than two minutes, while the psychedelic soul and stoner wisdom of Erykah Badu is a touchstone throughout.
With natural, felicitous melodies, Bey combines meandering tales with stoic realisations, conjuring a life that isn’t going badly but also is very much a work in progress. The funny skits and genre-hopping create a breezy feel, but there’s a sense that Bey is deflecting with humour because when the existential moments come, they hit hard. “You’re born alone and you’ll die the same,” she sings, and her mother, she now understands, was “a heavy thing / too broken to be a daughter / too wild to be a lover”.
The best song – one of the best of the year by anyone, in fact – is Keisha, with its big singalong chorus: “And the pussy so, so good / and you still don’t love me”. The mix of pride, bafflement and genuine hurt packed into these lines, with her disappointed and girlish intonation, is hilarious and moving. It’s also a microcosm of Bey’s broad talent: standup, storyteller, singer-songwriter.