I love H.E.R.

I thought that since the 2019 Grammys aired last night, I’d do a post this morning on one of the performances I enjoyed the most.  H.E.R. She brilliantly used some great performance elements in this one five-minute performance, along with some stellar singing and playing.

Here’s a quick list of performance elements:

  • Create a balance of flash and conversational singing.
  • Use dynamics in building the flow of your song (in this case) or show.
  • Break down section and audience participation
  • Step forward when soloing to meet your audience
  • Brand your image
  • Pause … you can take time.


If you noticed, she built dynamics into this performance by starting small musically and added people on the stage as the song went along.  At about two minutes into the performance, she brought on violin players and a group of singers.  It added a visual impact on the stage, and it brought energy and excitement to the performance.  She used the vocalist on “oohs” and brought in the harmony using the words at the chorus, which created some real emotion and lifted the song again at that moment. She layered this performance beautifully.  Then she broke it down musically and added more vocal flash right before the guitar solo, where she stepped forward to create even more excitement.  And she played at first over just choir background vocals and then brought the band back in.  Next when she developed the dynamics by using audience participation. She skillfully used the background singers to sing with the audience, so they knew what to do, and the transition was seamless.  The lines were simple, easy to sing and very melodic.  Of course, it helped that she had an audience full of singers! Then at the end of the song, after she sang some nice formidable vocal runs, she paused and waited.  She created the perfect dramatic moment where the audience was waiting in anticipation for H.E.R.  Another interesting moment was that she chose not to over-run the last line of the song. She could have, but she let the emotion do the work.  She had already shown a lot of impressive vocal runs and at the last moment of the song, did not over-do it.  It was perfect restraint as an artist to let the performance speak. And the lighting cue at the end, the spotlight only H.E.R. and stage dark, brought the performance right back around to where it started.  Just H.E.R.  Beautiful performance.

Closer look:

  • Create a balance of flash and conversational singing.

It’s very easy to over-sing especially when you’re nervous.  What do I mean by over sing?  It could be anything from singing too loud to too many vocal runs, to the use of too much growling or affected sounds, or the use of too much and too over-blown belting.  In this case, she just sang and let the words and the emotion of the words and song do the work where it needed to.  She chose her moments to use flash carefully.  And singers, notice runs and vocal agility are most natural when sung on vowels.  Go back and listen to where she runs.  It’s easy to over-sing, and don’t get me wrong, well-executed runs are impressive, but if they’re overdone, they lose their magic.  You have to change up your vocal performance, so you don’t rely on too much of any one technique or vocal trick. I mean, ice cream is great, but too much and even that loses its charm.  H.E.R. belting was controlled and not too wide, and her diction and enunciation were right on the money.  Vocally great live performance.

  • Use dynamics in building the flow of your song (in this case) or show.

Pacing is an art, and all of the elements that she used in this one song should also be employed in building your show from top to bottom.  You may not use every element in every song, but there should be a breakdown section, there should be some audience participation, some moments should be quieter and some louder, staging and blocking like the placement of the background performers around her in a semi-circle helps place focus on the artist.  A show, or in this case a song, is like a rollercoaster; it needs ups and downs and maybe a few turns you’re not expecting.

  • Break-down section and audience participation.

A break-down section is a great way to change the sonic experience for your audience. Remember, your show or your song is like taking your audience on a ride.  What do you want them to experience?  If you suddenly start talking very, very quietly what happens? People lean in to hear what you’re saying.  Same idea with the break-down.  A sudden change in sound and they will be more focused on what you’re doing or saying. It can effectively be used to teach the audience whatever you want them to sing or yell.  In this case, H.E.R. background singers acted as cheerleaders and led the crowd in the response.  It was simple, clean and very effective.

  • Step forward when soloing to meet your audience.

Always, Always, Always…. Step forward for solos or select parts of your song. It’s another way to change the visual landscape of the stage and hold your audience’s interest.  Let’s face it, the average attention span these days, well, is there any attention span these days? You have to keep things vocally, musically, sonically, and visually interesting or you will lose your audience. Plus solo sections are usually exciting and uplifting, and you want to take that opportunity to build the excitement in your song or set when you have the chance.

  • Brand your image.

Long hair, sunglasses, hoop earrings, tennis shoes and a pants suit of some sort.  You don’t need to have a title under the photo to know exactly who this performer is. It is a statement of who she is, it is easily recognizable, and it is consistent.  It’s H.E.R. packaging and H.E.R. brand, which actually starts with H.E.R. name. The acronym stands for “having everything revealed,” which in combination with her image communicates something about who she is as a person and as an artist.  Everything you do as an artist communicates something.  Please craft this carefully and consciously.  It will stay with you for the rest of your career. Once you build an image or public perception, it is complicated to successfully shake or re-invent.

  • Pause … you can take time.

Nerves are the worst! They really force us to race through events, situations, and moments without really taking it in and experiencing what you’re feeling.  What results is that you’re not really present in that moment, and what that does, is it robs those moments and experiences from your audience as well.  If you’re not allowing yourself to take time to breathe and let your emotional connection to the song rise up, how will your audience be able to feel that from you? You are the cruise director, you are the one pointing out all of the cool stuff for your audience to see, hear and experience.  But if you don’t, how will they? The next time you’re on stage, take an ending a little slower, us a pause before finishing, throw one word out in a vocal phrase and just ….. let it hang, or just stand still up there and spend a moment really taking in what it is you’re doing.   I find when I take that time, I am always grateful for the opportunity to add happiness and beauty to the world.  I promise it will change your experience and the experience of your audience.