I know it’s crazy hard to believe, but yes: It’s completely and totally possible for a scrawny white kid with a cowlick from across the pond to listen to, love, and make music that rips from the more treasured refrains of American soul, blues, and r&b without offending its very existence.
For some reason, the fact that that voice was coming out of that kid last night on Saturday Night Live seemed to garner the most attention, and with that George Ezra went from providing the soundtrack to people killing time to conversation topic and hitmonger in one fell swoop.
Fresh off a tour supporting the like-minded harbinger of blue-eyed blues, Hozier, the 21-year-old Ezra is readying for his own headlining trek, and his SNL showing was a strong preview for those who still haven’t heard “Budapest” or any of the other tracks off his 2014 debut, Wanted on Voyage. This is the beginning of Ezra’s major American push, in that plenty of people responded with a “Huh?” when they heard who’d be the musical guest joining host Dwayne Johnson for the mid-season return of SNL. James Blake, James Bay, Ezra — all these English dudes repurpose the tropes of American r&b, country, blues, and soul in their own respective ways, but Ezra’s vein may be the most radio-friendly and pop-centric take to snare Middle America and capitalize on the warmth of a rollicking chord progression since his former tourmate stormed Top 40 with “Take Me to Church.” Whether or not he’s everyone’s cup of PG Tips isn’t really the point — he’s a fine, approachable, and enjoyable performer, though not a revolutionary one (and a bit dead-eyed), to be sure — but he did well on SNL, and as we know that stage at Studio 8H can be a launchpad or a fatal trip-up for a singer-songwriter on the rise.
Ezra’s big single, “Budapest,” is a tune that regales the object of his affection with all the ritzy items he’d discard to prove his love for them. (A house in Budapest, treasure chests, grand pianos and such — Ezra’s got a vivid imagination, as you’d be hard-pressed to find a 21-year-old with that kind of old-world romantic whimsy and wealth outside of Prince Harry’s social circle.) That velvet voice unfurled and wrapped us in a warm embrace, and the uplifting chorus of the tune was downright lovely, rife with shades of the Marc Cohn and Bryan Adams and Mellencamp tapes kicking around Mom’s glove compartment for sunny drives. There’s something weirdly “Walking in Memphis” about this crowning moment in “Budapest,” though the songs don’t sound anything like each other: It’s more that they both employ that untouchable euphoria found when a band brings forth a majestic major chord, and it’s met by an able guy who’s warmed up to a falter-free chorus who then arrives at the perfect note. Ezra does that here.
“Blame It on Me” was much of the same, with Ezra resting squarely in the strongest point of his vocal register and bringing a powerful belt to a straightforward, upbeat tune. There’s a bit of a Scott Stappian heaviness to Ezra’s tone, but the genius here lies in his ability to know his voice well enough so that it doesn’t drag down the light, lilting, and frequently gorgeous arrangements behind him.
As for the internet? They couldn’t pick their jaws up off the floor based on the fact that these songs were being sung by a kid who looks like Ezra, pretty much. Twitter wasn’t super vocal about Ezra’s performance in the hours following SNL, but the lad was cheeky enough for the lack of commentary, as were those who did tune in.
First of all, TMI YOU RIDICULOUS HUMAN.
Got my lucky thong on xo
— George E Z R A (@george_ezra) March 29, 2015
Aaaaand some more.
— George E Z R A (@george_ezra) March 29, 2015
Those unfamiliar with Ezra were a bit bewildered at first:
I musta dropped out of contemporary pop because I had never even heard of George Ezra until he popped up on #SNL tonight.
— Paul Myers (@pulmyears) March 29, 2015
— Rebecca Feferman (@RebFef) March 29, 2015
But is he gonna run around and desert you is the real point to make here.
George Ezra is the Rick Astley of 2015. #SNL
— Steve Manos (@stevemanospdx) March 29, 2015
Just saw George Ezra on #SNL. I feel like he’s the guy that the kid who just quit One Direction hopes he’ll become. He won’t.
— Chris D’Amico (@ChrisDamico01) March 29, 2015
…I mean, not wrong.
George Ezra started singing on #SNL and I thought for a moment I was watching an Allstate commercial.
— Chris McBee (@mcbee11) March 29, 2015
And, finally, the “HE SOUNDS LIKE THAT?!?!” tidal wave.
That is not what I thought George Ezra looked like. #SNL
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) March 29, 2015
I’m still surprised at the voice coming out of George Ezra’s mouth #SNL
— Sam Wilbur (@samwilbur) March 29, 2015
And the award for “There’s no way that guy’s voice goes with that guy’s face” goes to George Ezra. #SNL
— Chris Robinson (@ChrisRobinsonNJ) March 29, 2015
— Terry Kelly (@TerryKelly21) March 29, 2015
Still not over George Ezra’s voice and face #SNL
— Melissa Vizcarra (@MelisaurRex) March 29, 2015
— Eric the Grayt (@Wonder_Gray) March 29, 2015
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