Jenny Hval

Jenny Hval


This is, hands down, the oddest gig I’ve been to. And I saw the first iteration of The Knife’s Shake The Habitual tour. Jenny Hval, the Norwegian art-pop-composer-sometime—metal-vocalist has brought her show to Manchester’s intimate Gullivers, and it’s full on mental. Hval has just released her best album, Apocalypse, girl, and I was all prepped for hearing her wonderful meditations (and c-bombs, she loves a c-bomb) on feminism, capitalism and everything in-between, maybe backed by some cool visuals. I was very under prepared for what was to follow.

Whilst setting up her show, Hval, in a full on Nicki Minaj pink wig, is aided by two other women in bad blonde wigs and two guys who are setting up the synths. The women set up a screen to the right of the stage and take selfies of themselves and pictures of the crowd and put them up on said screen, in what I guess is a comment on the narcissistic nature of our society…or something. Anyway, it’s pretty weird and quite uncomfortable – I’m glad I’m not close enough to the front to make it on to the screen. Set up apparently done, the big screen at the back flickers into life with images of a pie factory production line, and Hval begins with the spoken word introduction to her new album ‘Kingsize’, which has some amazing phrases like ‘what is Soft Dick Rock?’, ‘I’ve placed four big bananas in my lap’ and ‘I beckon the cupcake, the huge capitalist clit’…it’s an odd introduction to the album and the gig, but it’s one of the more straightforward moments of the evening.

What follows is a borderline 6th form a-level art standard performance art that entirely distracts from the incredible songs Hval has at her disposal and the incredible voice she occasionally lets out of her tiny, elfin frame. She goes through ‘Take Care Of Myself’ and the wonderful ‘Heaven’ (the album’s highlight), but around her the two Hval-alikes squirm and writhe, film each other and the audience, stare maniacally at us, surround Hval and gyrate around her, whilst on the screen on the right hand side pre-filmed images of the women having toilet roll dragged across their faces and eating a plastic yellow chain flicker at intervals. It’s all quite amateur and slapdash, and it entirely distracts from what is actually a brilliantly powerful performance from Hval. For the first 5 or 6 songs, the crowd don’t appear to know what to do with themselves, and there is no applauding at the end of songs which makes for an odd atmosphere; I think most people are too bemused by what’s happening in front of them.

Some of the images work well. For instance, when Hval stands in front of a film of a model smoking vicariously on the main screen, just her, the film and her voice, it’s astonishing, and hints at what could have been a fantastic gig. But things take another absurd turn when Toni Braxton’s ‘Unbreak My Heart’ comes over the PA and the karaoke lyrics come up on the big screen, the two Hval-alikes taking it in turns to badly holler the song as Hval herself sits and watches on. I think the crowd are meant to join in, but everyone just shuffles on their feet and looks a bit uncomfortable. The gig comes to an end as Hval stands alone on the stage and removes her wig, revealing her short cropped blonde hair, and it’s hear where then best moments of the gig comes. She sings ‘The Battle Is Over’, another album highlight, and it feels as if she is letting the audience know that the battle to stay interested in the performance is over and now she’s going to get down to proper business.

Next, one of the other women comes back on stage and embraces Hval, as she sings a beautiful ballad that I am unfamiliar with, images of clouds floating across the big screen, and it’s really touching, a moment of calm and beauty amongst the madness that has come before. And then the gig is done, just as she’s peaked. Twenty four hours removed from the gig, I’m still thinking about it and how bizarre it was, so it’s definitely stuck with me, but not in a good way. Some people will think it was genius, I just thought it was a mess, but then again, isn’t that what all good ‘art’ should do?

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