Caroline Smith brings reinvented self to Madison

Image By: Amileah Sutliff

There’s no doubt that Caroline Smith has gone through a metamorphosis. There’s also no doubt that she’s never stopped being Caroline Smith.

The first time I saw her was in 2010, the beginning of my freshman year of high school. I walked two miles to the UW-Eau Claire campus venue The Cabin and stood anxiously among a small crowd of college kids that seemed incredibly old at the time. I remember Caroline emitting the same youthful nervousness I felt. Then, she and her band stood onstage under the name Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps, and she was far more of an indie-folk darling than the soul-influenced pop goddess that she is today. However, after all these years and a dramatic reinvention, she never lost the charm that made her so endearing to me that day.

When an artist makes an extreme aesthetic and artistic shift, it can be easy to lose a shared identity that the audience and artist once had. So many artists successfully reinvent themselves, but there’s an inherent risk in doing so. But Smith’s shift in identity echos one of the hardest changes a lot of people, especially those that identify as female, have to confront: the move from young insecurity to unapologetic self-acceptance.

In 2010, the starry-eyed girl in front me sang abashedly about a distant crush in her song Closing the Doors: “You came to one of my shows. I saw your face in the candlelight glow, and my fingers forgot where to push in the knots of the wood.” So many folks, including my fourteen-year-old self, can relate to the bumbly awkwardness of a young love. Flash forward to Wednesday night at High Noon Saloon: Smith was anything but bumbly or awkward, and she most certainly did not forget to push in the knots of her wood guitar, especially over some crush. She was far too busy empowering women, slaying vocal riffs and exuding confidence to get gushy. After reinventing herself in 2013, dropping “the Goodnight Sleeps” from her name and emerging with the immensely successful album Half About Being a Woman, Caroline Smith and her well-oiled machine of a band are a force on her Giving Myself Away tour.

Sensual soul-pop artist out of Milwaukee, Lex Allen, established the night’s tone when he arrived on stage in an open-front, tight-lace cardigan, showcasing the Xs of black tape over his nipples. The whole room went steamy as he comfortably climbed into a falsetto in his song Cream and Sugar (feat. Q the Sun and WebsterX).

Thanks to Allen’s sweet-as-honey voice, the crowd was warm and comfortable enough to receive Caroline and her band, dripping in playful confidence. We needed that comfort later when she led the crowd in an exuberant call-and-response over a funk beat and bassline, alternating between various brash phrases, including “F*ck you, Trump” and “Suck my d*ck.”

I am a firm believer that anyone who has ever felt used, inferior or lacked confidence should pop on “Half about being a Woman” and let Caroline convince them that they’re worth everything. Smith and her best friend/backup singer with pipes straight out of heaven, Mina Moore, belted out endless phrases of empowerment: “What kind of man could have all this without giving a damn?,” “I am a child of moving on,” and, from the track Baby Goodbye on her upcoming album, “This is some bullsh*t! You’re just another man who’s weak in his power, and I’m supposed to understand.”

If you’re not familiar with her career or pre-Caroline Smith days, the lyrical change itself is an illustrative lesson in the power of finding value in yourself and demanding others see it too. But, the drastic change in performance and presence that evolved throughout a period of over six years was so vast and tangible to me on Wednesday, as I looked back on my first live encounter with Caroline Smith. After writing for and working with artists like Lizzo, Demi Lovato and Rihanna, signing onto a new management company and writing a new full-length album, I have a feeling Caroline’s going to soon spread her fun and pop-y brand of empowerment to a much wider audience. And if Wednesday’s performance was any indicator...buckle up.

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