Refusing the Rules of the Game, Grace VanderWaal Steals the Show

Refusing the Rules of the Game, VanderWaal Steals the Show: How a 13-year old’s authentic sound reminds us to be ourselves

Tucked in between artists still struggling to find their voices, Grace VanderWaal let her light shine brightly at the Palace Theatre Tuesday night hosted by local radio station FLY 92. Skipping on the stage wearing a feline headband, worn jeans, a modest knit top and raspberry socks tucked in loafers, 13-year-old VanderWaal charmed the audience immediately with her authentic smile and honest voice.

Strumming her ukulele and stretching her ethereal voice with “Moonlight” and “Florets,” VanderWaal smiled, jumped, danced, and even sang with her hands at times betraying some nervousness normal for 8th graders. This New York State kid from Suffern’s talent is far beyond normal though; she writes her own songs, and her performances offer a fresh and vulnerable persona rarely seen in pop music these days.

She was incredibly earnest when she asked the audience to sing along to “I Don’t Know My Name,” perhaps her most widely recognizable hit from TV show America’s Got Talent. She added that it makes her happy to hear people sing her words, and the audience eagerly obliged.

Songs like “So Much More Than This” and “Scars To Your Beautiful” speak with authority about being young and not wanting to fit in, and accepting imperfections with pure joy rather than compromise. Who better to peddle hope to teenagers that a thirteen-year-old who titled her first short release “Perfectly Imperfect?” VanderWaal offers hope from a place of reality: she isn’t just writing about being awkward and inexperienced, but from living and embracing being awkward and fresh on the scene. In fact, she’s holding on tightly to who she really is, and is reminding us that we should, too. Her promise was that by being oneself, one can actually be happy.

VanderWaal covered “Home,” and the intensity of her plucky, hopeful spirit couldn’t be contained. Accompanied by a keyboard, guitar, and drummer, VanderWaals’s contagious smile and energy helped to forgive some pitches she reached for a just slightly fell flat. Because of her joyfulness, the message of authentic courage, and marching dance style across the stage, it was easy to forgive the few notes that didn’t quite meet their mark. She hopped like a small finch across the stage, singing her lyrics and owning the Palace.

By the end of the short set, she had inspired singing, dancing, and even crowd participation with cell phone lights. VanderWaal certainly doesn’t play by the rules, as she wrote in her song. She left us with goosebumps and this startling realization: we were in the presence of a real musician, an authentic teenager, and a genuine hope monger for her generation.

Keep your eyes and ears open for Grace VanderWaal. Her joy won’t, and shouldn’t, be contained. If you get the chance, go catch some of it. You will leave uplifted and be believing not just in music, but even a bit in your imperfect self again, courtesy of VanderWaal’s youthful wisdom.