We talk a lot about Grace’s age in terms of the maturity of her art. We kind of steer clear of any discussion of whether she can “handle” all of the work (writing, producing, performing, interviews, soon-to-be acting, etc., etc.), media and fan attention, school, puberty, and on and on. It’s not our job. She has a mother and father. And siblings. They’re all deeply involved, put Grace first, and I’m sure are always on the lookout to make sure her career isn’t more than she can “handle.”

Nope. Not my job. Still, I feel very protective and can’t help but occasionally scrutinize what is going on from that emotional perspective. So what has that got to do with Summerfest? Summerfest wasn’t Grace’s best concert performance. Still, I love it so much.

Every performance isn’t going to be the most magical or exciting. But good, beautiful, and satisfying are still a blessing. We want everyone to see Grace as we see her and can unintentionally end up being her harshest critics. Is she effervescent enough? Is she enchanting enough? Will they see? Will they understand how special she is?

Some performances are going to just be good, competent, professional performances that people who’ve never seen her before are going to find very impressive. They don’t know yet that there’s so much more than they’re seeing. Those strong, competent, well-executed vocals sound great. The artist is comfortable on the stage and confident in her performance. The songs are immediately worth listening to, and the emotional texture of her voice is beyond amazing. Meanwhile, the ardent fan is worrying if she was good enough.

Some have suggested that Grace may have had a cold during Summerfest, and that may very well be true. It’s hard not to be concerned about someone you have come to care about so much. But there are people much closer to her who are much more effective hoverers – making sure she eats right, gets plenty of rest, and emotional support. I’m more interested in the progression of her professionalism than any individual performance. Watching her turn from a talented little girl into a seasoned professional entertainer is very exciting. Being able to identify signs of growth in her technique, stagecraft, and general comfort with the audience is very satisfying.

If, at LoveLoud, Grace treated the audience like they were in her living room, at Summerfest she was clearly in theirs. She was the invited guest – confident, but gracious and aware of her role. She offered her set without demanding the audience’s attention.

Grace’s energy during her opening number seemed fine to me – not effervescent, but okay. She didn’t smile, seeming neither happy nor sad. Possibly a little bored. After all she was 20+ performances into this tour. Her voice seemed a little croakier than usual, but it was a long tour and I’ve seen clips of her screaming during Imagine Dragons’ set. Not a wise thing to do. (Dan Reynolds wears a “vocal silence” sign around his neck on days off to save his voice.) But pacing herself and protecting her instrument will come with experience. People will advise her.

She seemed fully engaged with the audience and finished strong on Moonlight. City Song sounded great and she looked beautiful. It was an opportunity to appreciate her solid technique and focus. Grace’s technique has grown considerably and is supporting her well. I myself am a remarkably mediocre singer with not much training, but I can hear when a voice is well supported and properly placed so as to avoid strain. Grace does push her chest voice into her upper register for dramatic affect but has demonstrated repeatedly that she knows how to blend the tone when she wants to. Her evolving technique does not sacrifice any of her emotional expression or artistry. There’s a great deal to be said for competence from a performer who’s on a long tour.

During Gossip Girl she finally smiled. Every smile was natural and came from within, rather than being plastered on her face from the outside. She did not try to falsely ingratiate herself with the audience. She was not “performing” being happy. It was real.

Her opening to Florets was gorgeous and the song bloomed from there. You could see her satisfaction with it. When she sat on the step for the transition to Best Friend and scooted around to make herself comfortable, she was happy with her performance. And she smiled. It wasn’t a smile to please others, but because she herself was pleased. She enjoyed the moment.

Moving into more of her performance, Burned was awesome – it’s a great song and Grace’s interpretation is dramatic. It’s a vocal that should immediately grab attention from people who haven’t heard Grace sing before. She over-sang Best Friend a bit and got stuck forcing the big note near the end. IDKMN is a song she will live with for the rest of her life (for good reason). Unpopular opinion alert: I have never like her sliding into the top note of the chorus on Clearly. I know she can hit it dead on and sliding up to it makes it sound like she’s struggling, which in turn makes the rest of the chorus suspect. There, I said it. Throw stones if you wish.

One of the things I love the most about Grace is her authenticity. Grace doesn’t really do social, ingratiating smiles – the smiles that girls are taught to bestow on the world at large regardless of their actual feelings. (Ok, occasionally she does, but they’re pretty damn plastic.) You may not be aware of this, but women are resentful of being told to smile. It’s a thing. A demand that we smile relegates us to our socially prescribed role of cheerleader and comforter. We have claimed as words of power a phrase that was originally flung as a pejorative, resting bitch face.

During the discussion of Greg Wells’ unfortunate decision to opine about Grace’s fans, someone mentioned a transgender group who are fans of Grace. I hadn’t known about them but I’m not surprised. Grace turns gender roles on their head. Even as she reaches for every flowery, sparkly, feminine thing within her grasp, the confidence with which she moves forward and interacts with the world has a masculine feel. I have the impression that nobody ever told her “you can’t do that because you’re a girl,” at least not anyone whose opinion she respects.

In an ET interview Grace described how she felt after auditioning for Stargirl. She said she felt like a little boy who’d popped his first chest hair. She felt like a “man.” It was unplanned and unself-conscious. It wasn’t a political statement. It was the perfect metaphor for how she felt, and for which there is no feminine equivalent. She used it as naturally as breathing, just as she said she felt like a “dad” when talking to girls her own age. Perhaps she’s the vanguard of a post-gender generation, unconstrained by socially prescribed roles and behaviors.

Grace burst into the world’s consciousness with a song about identity. It touched a nerve with millions and millions of people. Then she wrote songs about love, being true to yourself, depression, hope, darkness… She touched us all: singly, each in our own little groups, and in the larger fandom filled with diversity of age, gender, race, nationality, sexuality, and spirituality. When I talk about Grace’s music I talk about it as “flowing through her from the universe” because it feels like too much of a burden to put on the “personality” of Grace. She’s an avatar. I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic in saying that.

At Summerfest Grace was exactly who she was supposed to be. She was herself, and she did a great job.

Atta girl.

This article was first posted on VanderVault’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Yfl9ID8F0g&lc=Ugw7nJrvX0vR8j4yoMt4AaABAg