H.E.R. is cutting through the noise, literally. To end her captivating “Anti” performance at the 2019 VMAs on Monday night (August 26), she wailed on her guitar, shredding a solo that commanded the entire Prudential Center in downtown Newark, New Jersey (and beyond, thanks to TV). And while that was a nice bit of punctuation, everything that preceded it was just as essential.
The 22-year-old R&B singer, songwriter, and guitar hero racked up three noms this year, including for Best New Artist, PUSH Artist of the Year, and Best R&B. But when she hit the stage for “Anti,” she stood alone, delivering the song’s soft introductory bars in front of a big screen. A magazine cover line passed behind her on a screen, and from the title alone, this was all about the Real Me. Quickly, it became clear that the Real H.E.R. is one who tells bullies, haters, racists, and pesky self-doubt to fuck off.
After she’d rolled alone onstage and walked into a sea of outstretched audience arms, she eventually joined her band and a crew of backup singers bedecked in anti-bullying, anti-racism, and other T-shirts — a nod to the song’s title. She stood on a large riser, towering over all insecurity in a particularly empowering and moving moment.
By the end, H.E.R. (real name: Gabi Wilson) began making her translucent Stratocaster — the same one she made an absolutely delightful spectacle of at the Grammys in February — absolutely sing nearly as commandingly as she herself can. It was tasteful shredding, and it was a glorious counterpart to the sparking R&B track that preceded it.
“In 2019, a lot of real music is coming back,” she told MTV earlier this year. “And by real music I mean, like, real instruments are being used, and a lot of real stories. People are saying a lot of things with substance.” For H.E.R., that substance was a loud anti-bullying message, boosted by her magnetic stage presence, the message on the shirts around her, and her six-string prowess.