Review: Yuna at 9:30 Club

Photo credit: Steve Taylor via Sacks & Co.

Photo credit: Steve Taylor via Sacks & Co.

Within moments of walking onstage at 9:30 Club on Tuesday night, Yuna made one thing clear: she has a searing artistic vision that perfectly captures her evolution as a musician and a person. For the next hour, everyone at the venue stepped into that vision.

What we saw — four backup dancers doing powerful choreography, synchronized strobe lights, and a stage flooded in the same bold pink that Yuna wears on the cover of her new album, “Rouge,” — underscored the confidence that she possesses, as she has fully stepped into her identity as a global pop star.

She re-introduced herself to Washington, D.C. with lead single “Forevermore,” an anthemic track that finds her “reach[ing] even higher” and reflecting on the struggle and change that led her to this point. Opening with this song set the tone for a theatrical performance, as Yuna joined her backup dancers in smooth yet dynamic choreography.

The backup dancers eventually left the stage, leaving Yuna to perform solo. Through the set of R&B and disco-influenced tracks culled primarily from her most recent albums, she showcased her smooth, hypnotic voice and quiet confidence. 

Following deep cut “Lullabies,” Yuna performed her new album’s closing track, “Tiada Akhir,” a mournful piano ballad sung in Malay against rainfall in the background. These quiet moments were especially impactful, as her voice floated above the instrumentation.

After playing “Crush,” the Usher collaboration from her last album, “Chapters,” that vaulted her into the mainstream, she expressed deep gratitude that we see ourselves in her songs. It’s evidence of her artistry, but she makes it ridiculously easy. Her songs are relatable, and articulate feelings of persistence, heartbreak, and self-acceptance that are universal.

But most of all, this show was a testament to how much representation matters. It’s great that she’s developed a wide fan base. She deserves it — it’s proof of her talent. But it’s truly incredible that there are brown women and Muslim women who see themselves represented in an industry that is dominated by white artists.

She confronts this directly in her new song “Likes,” reflecting on the double standards she faces as a woman, an artist, and a Muslim. She performed the track on Tuesday, and during the chorus, which lists criticism she’s received, she was surrounded by background dancers taking on the role of critics and doubters and haters. But she stood poised and confident among them, an embodiment of self-acceptance.

In interviews, Yuna frequently speaks about the labels music critics and others place on her. In an essay she wrote for Tidal, she said:

“When I finally arrived I felt the love and support coming from Asian American artists and fans. [...] On tour, Asian American fans would fill up the space, buy my merch and really take the time to talk to me; I guess representation is important. People needed to see someone coming from a similar Asian family background make it in the music industry.”

That support was evident in the crowd at her D.C. show.

As she closed out the evening with “Pink Youth” and “Blank Marquee,” two upbeat selections from her new album, it couldn’t have been more clear that Yuna is carving out a place for herself as an icon in her own right.

The U.S. leg of Yuna’s “Rouge” Tour continues through early August. You can find information about upcoming performances on her website.