In the moments before Rita Ora took the stage at S.O.B.’s in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan last night, there was a palpable buzz in the air. The packed-to-capacity club had just patiently waited through a middling set from former OFWGKTA member Casey Veggies, and people were buzzing with anticipatory glee for a few reasons. Of course, people were excited to see the artist that is being described as “the new Rihanna” make her New York City debut, but we heard more than a few people in our immediate vicinity wonder aloud whether or not her mentor, one Mr. Sean “Jay-Z” Carter, would be making an appearance at the tiny club where artists like Kanye West, John Legend and Erykah Badu caught some of their first big breaks. Well, spoiler alert, Hova did not make an appearance, but by the end of Rita Ora’s 35 minute(ish) set, no one seemed to care.
Ora bounded onto the stage just a few minutes after 10 p.m. wearing an orange knit hat, a blue jacket, a white midriff-revealing crop top and black tights. Her outfit was colorful and playful, much like Ora’s personality, with a dash of Stefani-esque sexiness thrown in (that is to say, she’s an undeniable beauty that projects a certain wholesomeness). She led off with a song that we had not heard before, but one that contained the line “It’s the kind of beat that will make your face melt.” Normally, we associate the concept of facemelting to metal riffs, but in this particular case, her description of the roaring synths was entirely appropriate. Considering this was her first showcase in NYC, we expected to see a hint of nervousness from her when she first hit the stage, but that never came to fruition. Instead, she commanded the stage like a veteran rock star, prowling from side to side, even occasionally indulging in a bit of headbanging.
“There’s a thing that inspires me,” Ora announced just after completing “Shine Your Light”, a lite reggae number that sounded very radio-ready to our ears*. “And that’s people who don’t give a f*ck and do what they want.” That statement seemed to us to amount to a declaration, and was reflected in the way her set constantly switched between musical genres. Ora doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as just a “pop” artist, and she worked the entire set last night to prove that she’s got chameleonic qualities when it comes to genre-hopping. She melted faces off the bat, got the crowd all irie with “Shine Your Light”, turned into a dancehall queen for “Hot Right Now,” then took us into an R&B zone with a cover of Jill Scott‘s “He Loves Me,” before jumping into her lady boss persona by performing the hip-hop track that Drake penned for her, “R.I.P.”
It was at that point that the crowd really exploded, not just because the song is one of the two songs that most everyone there was familiar with, but because of the confident way that Ora delivered the empowerment anthem. Much to the chagrin of the gents in the audience, she closed the night by donning a Cosby sweater in memory of the Notorious B.I.G., whose “Party And Bullsh*t” serves as the basis for Ora’s Song Of The Summer candidate, “How We Do (Party).” The New York City crowd, who obviously revere Biggie and his legacy, responded by bouncing and singing along to Ora’s ecstatic vocals.
All in all, Rita Ora proved last night to a crowd of evangelists and industry-types alike that she’s definitely not “the next Rihanna” last night — instead, she’s the first Rita Ora.
*We should also mention that, by this point, she had ditched her blue jacket and was performing solely in her very tight tank top, and nary a male in the house was complaining.