I remember purchasing my tickets to see Keshi at Frost Amphitheater several months ago, my frustration and eagerness compounded by sweaty palms and a reliably unreliable internet connection.
An avid superfan, I was determined to both see him live and to coerce my reluctant friends into accompanying me on what I already anticipated would be an incredible night.
It mattered little that my bank account was admittedly sparse or that I had no clue whether I would be able to find a way to Stanford on a random Wednesday evening months later. All that mattered was that for the first time in my life, I’d see my favorite artist elevated on a stage only a few feet from me and just within reach of my own vivacious imagination.
I’d feel his velveteen voice caress the crown of my head, would close my eyes as his soft crooning settled deep into my bones. I’d sway to and fro in a crowd of strangers united only by our shared adoration for this young man whose heart-wrenching lyrics and soothing vocals have entranced a generation. He reminds us of who we were, introduces us to who we might become.
“All my friends are drunk again,” Keshi confessed into the night air as thousands of us echoed his words from beyond the stage, “And I’m stumblin’ back to bed all by myself/ Don’t need nobody else.”
In the Bay Area, fawning over Keshi, aka Casey Luong, has become humorously predictable. In addition to artists such as NIKI, Rich Brian and Joji, Keshi has managed to deeply ingrain himself into the Bay Area’s pop culture fabric despite hailing from Houston, Texas.
For those who remain skeptical, the sold-out concert I attended in Stanford on April 5 should dispel any reservations. The crowd of more than 8,000 people marked a major success for Keshi’s “Hell & Back” 2023 tour. Beacons of his influence can be seen even beyond people’s Spotify playlists and AXS shopping carts.
The throng of young college students wearing cross earrings, black T-shirts, oversized Essentials hoodies and studs evoked a deep sense of familiarity as they inched closer to the stage. I see these same people milling around UC Berkeley’s campus and occasionally overhear Keshi’s GABRIEL blasting through their headphones.
“Take you by the hand,” Keshi sang above the crowd, his hair swept by the breeze of an achingly beautiful evening. “You’re the only one who understands.”
Admittedly, I can accept the occasional shit my friends give me for being so bewitched by this artist — he writes hauntingly painful love songs about desperation, loneliness and ardent desire despite his engagement to his best friend Mai. But while I vehemently deny any parasocial attachments, I do sometimes wish I could come up with a more profound explanation for why Keshi’s music has rooted itself so deeply within me.
At the risk of sounding coy, I think an explanation lies in that which cannot be explained. Keshi’s music — so ubiquitous and well known among the demographic I associate myself with — is a love letter to who I once was.
As someone who felt deeply deprived of the kind of obsessive, uninhibited and unconditional affection that Keshi describes in his lyrics, his music bandaged unhealed wounds — the kind of plastering that allows said bruises to fester unseen and unnoticed.
I fell in love with Keshi right at the onset of what was a remarkably unremarkable (yet excruciatingly terrible) breakup. Despite the sheer ridiculousness of the situation, it was the kind of sudden goodbye that left me reeling and searching desperately for anything and anyone that would delay the necessary bleeding out that precedes eventual healing.
“And I know that it’s selfish, but/ You are the only thing that’s/ Ever made sense to me,” Keshi whispered into the enraptured audience. “I don’t wanna do this/ I don’t know how to do this without you.”
But with time, I came to appreciate that it is OK to be not OK (at least for a bit).
And I think Keshi’s discography unexpectedly taught me that, too.
Listening to his recollections of falling deeply but choosing to move on anyway taught me that love doesn’t have to mean suffering, that waiting for things to get better actually means letting go of what was never meant to be. And hearing him pour through my earbuds until 3 a.m. reassured me that the happiness I felt in the “before” doesn’t always mean right person and wrong time.
Sometimes it simply means that you felt something — anything — and that one day you’ll feel it again.
“If you need me I’ll be here/ Right here.”