When it comes to music, I’m not an easy person to please. I love music, but I’m not a good fan. I have strong opinions about everything. Either it’s too polished or too sloppy; you’re either a sellout or a wannabe who can’t make a hit. I’m skeptical of it all.
I’m also extremely disloyal. Aside from a few acts who I grew up on and believe did no wrong (Nirvana) I have gripes with almost every artist, even my favorites (looking at you, Frank Ocean). While Good Fans rush to defend their favorite artists, I am even more critical of the ones who I believe in. I’ve learned to bite my tongue so I don’t come off as a complete hater, but I’m judging every move, always.
With Jai Paul, I don’t even know what to think. Between the chaotic story of his mysterious album leak, the long gaps of silence, the connections to Drake and Childish Gambino, the lack of information, the unfinished but still brilliant music, nothing makes sense. He’s an extraordinarily talented artist with a singular vision and a refusal to play by any traditional industry rules. It’s frustrating at times, but I respect it.
Jai Paul is an extraordinarily talented artist with a singular vision and a refusal to play by any traditional industry rules. It’s frustrating at times, but I respect it.
After he reappeared at Coachella for his first performance (over 10 years after his debut single), Jai Paul announced a handful of headlining shows, including two nights in NYC. I figured that Coachella was probably an uncomfortable start for an artist who doesn’t perform, like, ever. I thought he’d be more in the zone for the solo shows. The first one seemed risky too, so if I had any shot to see Jai Paul in his element, it would be the second night in NYC. So—and here comes a sentence I never thought I’d be able to say—I went to see Jai Paul perform at Brooklyn Steel in NYC last night.
An hour or so before the scheduled start time, the line for merch snaked across the entire venue, and the room slowly filled to capacity. The show was set to begin at 9:00, but Jai Paul came out right on time at 9:30.
As far as the show itself, it was fantastic. The band sounded tight, Jai’s voice was perfect, and musically, it was exactly what I’d wanted. The setlist was identical to night one, but I wouldn’t change a thing. That final run of “Do You Love Her Now, “Jasmine,” “BTSTU,” and “Str8 Outta Mumbai” was immaculate.
As soon as the crowd cheered and Jai walked off stage, part of me was certain that I just witnessed exactly what I’ve wanted from Jai Paul for so long. But part of me was still craving something more. These are his first shows, over a decade after he introduced us to songs that we now consider era-defining classics. Songs we grew up listening to, from an artist who has given us so little of himself. I was looking for signs that this moment means as much to him as it does to us. Does it not? Is this show any more exciting for him than a typical Wednesday night? Does he even get excited? What’s next? Where do we go from here?
During the show, I expected him to break character and—even if only for a moment—acknowledge the gravity of this situation. He didn’t do that. He ripped through that stacked setlist, and he sounded amazing.
During the show, I expected him to break character and—even if only for a moment—acknowledge the gravity of this situation. He didn’t do that. He ripped through that stacked setlist, and he sounded amazing. But outside of delivering great live versions of the songs we all love, there was nothing. No between-song banter, no pause for addressing the audience, no hints about the future. A few times he lifted prayer hands above his head and murmured a quick “thank you,” but aside from that he mostly stood still, occasionally brushing his long, dyed blonde hair off his sunglasses and timidly swaying or bopping. He did his job, said a final thank you, and exited the stage as if it was any other show from any other artist who had performed hundreds more times than Jai Paul has. No encore. Lights on, crowd herded towards the doors.
I hopped in an Uber home, shared the obligatory Instagram stories to prove my attendance, and heard from friends who were jealous.
This morning I started the day off by listening back to those songs, some of which I first heard over a decade ago when I was still finding my footing and Pigeons & Planes was a floundering music blog start-up peddling MP3s. I looked at the five or so Jai Paul pictures from those early days, read more about the whole demo leak debacle. I was back in the same mindset that I’ve always been in as a Jai Paul fan, searching for clues.
I don’t know if an artist like Jai Paul can ever exist again, at least not in the same way, or not any time soon. Can you hold the attention of the internet with a few demos in the era of deep fakes and 15-second snippets? Can you rely on the media and a couple of choice co-signs to boost an artist to such a level of notoriety, even without a social presence or any character development? Can you go years without releasing music or showing face and not lose relevance? At least we know they’ll never be able to make an AI Jai Paul. Not enough references, not enough hope. Nobody will believe it.
As fans, we still have more questions than answers. But it was a great show, and maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be with an artist like Jai Paul.
Jai Paul is an enigma, a hero, and we don’t get a lot of those in the modern music industry, so you’ve got to respect his unwillingness to bend. At this stage, it all adds to his legacy and the lore even more, and we are entitled to nothing. Who knows how he’s feeling about these shows. Who knows what he’s planning next, or if he’s enjoying himself up there, if he’s intentionally perpetuating the mystery or if he’s just simply shy. As fans, we still have more questions than answers. But it was a great show, and maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be with an artist like Jai Paul. Maybe that’s why we adore him, and maybe we should just appreciate what he decides to give us. Maybe searching for answers and expecting nothing is part of the fun.
I know I’m thankful, begrudgingly appreciative of the way Jai Paul has moved, leaving even the most skeptical of music fans unable to doubt this legend for a second. He’s too good, too real, and he’s obviously not doing it for anyone except himself.
One thing is clear: I’m still a fan. Even if I’m not the “good” kind, I’m still listening, still wanting more. And at the end of the day, that’s what matters.