Concert Review | Yaeji at the 2021 Pitchfork Music Festival

Matt Cruz, Media Librarian

The emergence of asiatic artists in the musical underground has created a massive shift in the attention to the global popscene. Now more than ever, international and minority artists are being cast into the limelight, bringing new textures and ways of thinking into the music scene at large.

In the freshman class of breakthrough artists, is Kathy Yaeji Lee — known colloquially as Yaeji. Her experimentation with DJing during her stay at Carnegie Mellon slowly encouraged her to produce music, with her hard work eventually cementing herself as one of the freshest voices of ambient house and alternative R&B. For the first time since the release of her breakout mixtape, WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던, Yaeji has finally performed her latest material live, and Impact was there to document the first performance of a brazen and unwavering voice in music. 

The set began as the moon peeked through the branches and leaves of Chicago’s Union Park. The stage was pitch black, until the flicker of green lights lit up the stage. A thin laptop was carried to the stage by a woman in a black bucket hat: Yaeji was ready to take the stage.

Provided by: At Pluto LTD (Pitchfork Music Fest)

With the screen reflecting off her glasses, she jockeyed her instrumentals herself, acting as both performer and DJ. Dressed in a black bucket hat and black tunic, she could hardly contain her excitement on stage. 

The bass pierced the air, violently extinguishing everything but the music. In true club fashion, the pulsating rhythm was the focus of her set.

Starting the set with “MY IMAGINATION 상상,” the ethereal drone oozed off the stage and spilled over into the crowd. Yaeji began to weave in and out of the sides and towards the audience. Despite the deadpan delivery of her music, Yaeji herself was beaming with happiness, adorning a thumbtacked smile through every second. 

As she sang, she seemed to almost taunt the audience, slowly moving back and forth, romancing the crowd with a variety of gestures and movements. In that second, it seemed almost as if Yaeji was dancing to the crowd that had made her performance possible. 

As she performed “WHEN I GROW UP,” Yaeji made it clear that she had complete control over the crowd. Her breathless vocals are a trademark of her music. The angular, yet effortless rhythm of the Korean language allows for an extremely unique percussive inclusion in her music. Its contrast between the rippling synthesizers, slamming snares and punchy kicks is a match made in heaven.

Provided by: At Pluto LTD (Pitchfork Music Fest)

Yaeji’s simple, yet infectiously brilliant music is only aided by the night sky. The instrumental’s ambience creates atmosphere with its nocturnal, intimate yet esoteric sound. Despite the image of a sole controller at the helm of the stage, Yaeji was not alone during her set. 

During the performance of “MONEY CANT BUY (ft. Nappy Nina),” Yaeji stopped her verse to let Nina take the stage herself. Nina exploded like a bottle rocket onto the track, grooving and rapping as a woman made for the stage. Her verse, though brisk, was energetically performed. Yaeji took a backseat as Nina showed the crowd what an unstoppable force looks like, before hugging Yaeji as she left the stage. 

That was not the only time she took a backseat though, as Yaeji made her performance just as much about her dancers as she did herself. Two cotton-clad dancers entered the stage and began to position themselves behind, beside, and alongside Yaeji. Dressed in full white, the intention was to bring harmony, contrast, and balance to her performance. Throughout her set, they were an omnipresent force, ricocheting off of Yaeji’s vocals in a dynamic and fluid pantomime.

Provided by:At Pluto LTD (Pitchfork Music Fest)

As Yaeji would groove and dance on stage, they would react, creating an elegant display of movement as Yaeji would stand still. The energy would fluctuate between songs. “Drink I’m Sippin On” had her performers beside her, guiding the energy with their choreography. Yaeji would exchange presence with them like it was a commodity, weaving in and out of animation as they gave eachother the stage. During “IN THE MIRROR 거울,” Yaeji sat as her dancers moved behind her. Laid out to the crowd, the dancer moved behind her, acting as an extended silhouette to both her and her music. Slowly, they broke away and were carried off by her music. Spinning and extending themselves in a delicate ballet. 

Right before she left the stage, she thanked her fans and evaporated into the night like the rippling echoes of her music. Yaeji’s concert ended without losing energy or emotion. She performed with her entire person, at times transcending into the crowd before her, reminding you with every smile, groove and verse that this is just the beginning.