by Steven J. Horowitz
Tuesday, December 6
Better than: Remembering how much you listened to Evanescence back in the day.
Skylar Grey has hustled the last couple of years, writing hits for everyone but herself along the way. The 25-year-old helped pen 2010’s “Love the Way You Lie,” turning the enigmatic songbird into a hot hip-hop commodity; she went on to notch vocal and songwriting credits on Diddy-Dirty Money’s “Coming Home,” Lupe Fiasco’s “Words I Never Said” and Dr. Dre’s Eminem-assisted “I Need a Doctor.” Her cantaloupe coo was swoon-worthy yet elusive, reducing even the hardest of top-40 audiophiles to burbling sing-a-longers.
For Skylar, not showing face has been her biggest asset. Releasing mug-shrouding promotional pics and launching a bare-bones website only thickened the mystery surrounding her. But click-savvy surfers shredded her intended secrecy—although her vocal resemblance to the chick singing on Fort Minor’s 2006 track “Where’d You Go” made it a bit easier to do so.
In the mid-naughts Skylar Grey was Holly Brook, a singer who supplied the Linkin Park offshoot with a radio-ready hook and then found her 2006 debut Like Blood Like Honey collecting dust on her label’s shelf. Instead of boo-hooing, Brook dyed her red mane black, shipped off to the Oregon woods and began penning tracks that eventually found their way to the British music producer Alex Da Kid, who molded them into Billboard gold and platinum.
When it came time for Grey to come out from behind the curtain and get lead credits on some pop hits, she seemed ready; she had helped shepherd some bona fide hits, and the support of both Interscope Records and Alex’s KIDinaKORNER imprint. But the stilted summer single “Dance Without You” underperformed, and it was back to the lab to work magic for her 2012 debut Invinsible.
Earlier Tuesday night, Grey had opened for 30 Seconds to Mars’ Madison Square Garden blowout. When she arrived onstage at Dominion her unwashed hair cuddled her porcelain face, which was emotionless—especially when compared to her best hooks’ aching moans. Icy, anthemic drums powered the opening number “Beautiful Nightmare,” during which she gazed to the back of the venue with convincingly dead eyes. Drifting out of and into the spotlight, she tried to maintain her façade—not exactly what you’d expect from a go-getter who buzzed herself onto the radar, but instead from someone gradually coming to terms with the expectations attached to her rise.
The jaunty, Evanescence-recalling bop of new cuts like “Weirdo” and the Marilyn Manson-aided “Can’t Haunt Me (Zombie)” was sharp, and they could throw Gagas of the world for a loop next year. Throughout the brief set, Grey kept stage banter to a minimum, although at one point she did murmur “Don’t mind if I do” while stripping off her tight leather jacket.
Instead, the music talked. Her medley of hits slung for others rallied the crowd, which chimed in, while an endearing cover of Radiohead’s “Idioteque” teased at least a break from her focus. But the distance between her and the audience remained intact. As she sang her closing number “Invisible,” she at first wallowed at the back of the stage, then gradually edged closer to the spotlight. She got there, but it took some time.
Critical bias: I interviewed Skylar as Skylar earlier this summer, and may or may not have told her she should consider a career in hip-hop.
Overheard: “Wow, she sounds nothing like she looks on her website.”
Random notebook dump: Yeesh, she needs a shower. Maybe some conditioner, too.
Dance Without You
Coming Home/I Need a Doctor/Love the Way You Lie
Can’t Haunt Me (Zombie) featuring Marilyn Manson