Live Review – Self Esteem at Hammersmith Apollo 

Words: Hollie Sackett | Photography: Lucy Browne

After a triumphant 21-date, sold-out UK tour, Self Esteem’s I Tour This All The Time came to an end at Hammersmith’s Eventin Apollo having offered everything from a tattoo bus to an appearance from the one and only Mr Blobby. 

It’s been a whirlwind few years for Self Esteem, whose real name is Rebecca Lucy Taylor after the 2021 release of her second alt-pop record Prioritise Pleasure garnered overwhelming praise from critics and fans alike. As her second album released as Self-Esteem, her album has launched Taylor into a whole new level of stardom – even gaining a Mercury Music Prize nomination and welcoming 2023 on Jools Hollands Hootenanny. Exploring issues such as feminism, the patriarchy and most importantly self-love, this deeply personal record has resonated with many, making I Tour This All The Time a highly anticipated string of shows.

It’s a Saturday night. The beers are flowing and there is a huge sense of excitement among the Apollo as the room fills with people of all genders and ages. A simple set of white steps sit centre stage alongside a drum kit, keyboard and three microphone stands as fans wait in anticipation for the show as pre-show dance tracks fill the auditorium. Show time approaches and everyone is at a fever pitch. Before the lights even go down, the opening beats play and the crowd is in the moment. 

Cheers from everyone as the lights fade and the band makes their way on stage in matching slouchy grey suits. The three backing vocalists – who also double as the dancers – establish the energy of the night:  feminine, expressive and confident. They open the show dancing to the title track ‘Prioritise Pleasure’ and as Self Esteem makes her way on stage the crowd go crazy. Her stage presence is unlike any other artist, with the entire crowd totally transfixed and singing along to every word. The empowering track set the show’s tone. This is a place to be yourself and release any inhibitions. 

After the first few songs, Taylor leaves the stage as the band and dancers take off their David Byrne-esque suits to reveal a red all-in-one. Suddenly, there is a dramatic change to the set as red lighting floods the stage and Taylor appears again at the top of the stairs matching with the band in a corset and cowboy hat singing a new unreleased track called ‘Mother’. The climax of this section comes during her explosive performance of ‘How Can I Help You’ which finds her playing the drums whilst her dancers perform at the front. This devilishly energetic section concludes with the dancers performing the song away. It has to be said, the choreography and chemistry between Self Esteem and her dancers come so naturally and heighten the atmosphere. 

One of the stand-out moments of the night was Taylor’s solo performance of ‘John Elton’. Following a third costume change into a suit, she returned to the stage with just a white Stratocaster. The auditorium fell silent as everyone listened with chills as she sang about the despair of someone you once loved moving on and it was almost as if the emptiness of the music reflected the emptiness she felt. This performance proves her power as a performer, the spell she cast with just her voice and a guitar was magic. 

Taylor continues with ‘The 345’ prompting an emotional response throughout the audience. This part of the show displays much more vulnerability allowing for a deeper connection with the audience. With the lyrics “I just wanna let you know there’s a point in you / And I know you find it harder than your peers do / But you got it like that /If you need it like that”  It was only when you started to see everyone with their arms in the air that you notice a lack of phones throughout the show. That’s not to say that there was nothing worth recording – not at all. But every moment is worth living in real-time. It was obvious that not only does Taylor mean a lot to her fans but that her fans mean the world to her. “With you lot, I’m not lonely anymore. So thank you” she says.

During the performance of ‘I Do This All The Time’, it was hard not to get emotional from the real sense of unity among the audience. The song was performed with so much passion with every line resonating with those who sang along. Pockets of the audience were moved by different lines in the song. With the most notable emphasis on the line “Don’t be embarrassed that all you’ve had is fun / Prioritise pleasure”. The thing that makes Self Esteem’s music so moving for a lot of people is the catharsis and level of understanding deep within her lyrics. They make you feel less alone. This performance is evidence of just that. As she leaves the stage again, there is a thunderous cheer from the crowd for her to come back on stage.

Taylor returns for the encore to well-deserved applause that must have gone on for at least two minutes. In the final moments, she performs ‘I’m Fine’ which receives one of the biggest responses from the audience as the entire room howls and barks along to the song in response to the lyric “We will bark like dogs and people always laugh”. Like many of her songs, this really meant a lot to her fans, it was a release of emotions like no other. She performs ‘The Best’ and ends with ‘Still Reigning’, the whole time embracing her dancers. Taking it all in as they leave the stage, each with a beaming smile on their face, in a conga line to the crowd cheering and hollering. Over the speakers, Shirley Basey’s ‘This Is My Life’ plays and even as people were leaving the venue the party continues all the way out the door.

Self Esteem is one of the most liberating performers and an underdog in British music – which has been proven on a tour that has meant so much to a lot of people. The energy she created during the show was addictive and with her songs of feminism and fighting the patriarchy, it would be near enough impossible not to feel empowered as a woman after watching her grace the stage. It’s only up from here for this Sheffield lass –  in her own words – “We’re only getting started. Ta-ra!”

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