It may have been pent-up stress from earlier in the day, it may have been the sheer power of nostalgia, it may simply have been the Red Stripe. To be perfectly honest it was probably all three. But when Natasha Bedingfield sauntered onto the stage at the Islington Assembly Hall last night to the sound of her iconic number one These Words, my eyes were – to by great surprise – fucking brimming with tears. BRIMMING! I wasn’t expecting it, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
It’s a strange experience, watching one of your teen heroes for the first time when you’re literally double the age you were when you fell in love with them. In 2004, when the Unwritten album came out, I was 15; reasonably sure there was some sort of gaydom brewing, but determined to stay besotted with the girl I sat next to in Biology. It was truly one of my Big Albums growing up: I was a sucker for the gospel choir finale of the title track, I was obsessed with the lyrics of Wild Horses without consciously linking them to my then-TBC sexuality, and I had a full music video mapped out in my head for all-time-great deep cut Silent Movie (in a display of groundbreaking creativity, it was itself… a silent movie).
Natasha continued to deliver: her second album N.B. followed in 2007 and accompanied many an 18-year-old road trip to Norfolk (I even loyally purchased its US equivalent Pocketful of Sunshine when I spent the summer in Michigan the next year), and Strip Me landed in 2010 (the UK in 2011) to see me through some relatively dark patches in my third year of uni (Can’t Fall Down? A wallow-a-long classic!!).
Now she’s back, and last night was the first time I’d ever seen her perform. She’s got a new album out this week – Roll With Me – and she shared a fair chunk of it during the 70-minute set. Brave, given that fans can’t sing along with songs that are unfamiliar, but it certainly paid off: the vast majority sounds ace. Kick It is a bona-fide bop that perfectly bridges 00s Natasha and 10s Natasha, while lead single Roller Skate actually sounds better live than it does on record.
But she absolutely delivered on the old stuff too. These Words, Unwritten, Single, Love Like This (LOVE LIKE THIS! Remember Love Like This?! What a jam), I Bruise Easily, Pocketful of Sunshine and Wild Horses were all aired; while she gamely hummed a few lines of I Wanna Have Your Babies and even added all-time classic Soulmate as an impromptu closer amid in-the-room demand.
The reason, I think, that I found it so surprisingly overwhelming was that many of my favourite artists who were at their most powerful in the 90s or 00s have either continued to make and release music on a slightly smaller scale (Avril Lavigne, Nelly Furtado, some of the Spice Girls, Hilary Duff), or kept themselves famous in other areas altogether (Ashlee Simpson, Louise, the rest of the Spice Girls, Hilary Duff again). Natasha is somewhat different in that she did, to UK audiences at least, sod off completely – and her absence from the public eye made it easier to forget just how much she meant to me in the first place. In those first moments of These Words, not to be too dramatic or slip into “hyperbowl”, but it was like I was suddenly being confronted with my 15-year-old self: I thought about how nervously unsure he was about where his life was going; how afraid he was that he wouldn’t find the love that would go on to materialise in spades; how unprepared he was for the anxiety-laden lows and complications of adulthood. All of it. And again, the Red Stripe almost definitely exacerbated all this, but the point is it was deep, and it’s really stayed with me since.
Isn’t it fucking great how music – pop music for me – can do that? Take you right back to particular moments, emotions, general ~phases of your history; sometimes by sheer stealth? I think Natasha will have that effect on a lot of people. These were the songs of MSN statuses, of CD Walkmans (Walkmen?), of being the profile tune on your MySpace page.
Now she’s back, and who knows: maybe in another 15 years I’ll hear some of this new stuff again and be similarly taken aback by memories of it soundtracking flop tweets, millennial 30-year-old anxiety, and feeling like there’s just too much fucking TV to get through. Who’s to say. The rest is still, and I cannot stress this enough, unwritten.
Roll With Me by Natasha Bedingfield is out on August 30.