Last Saturday night, New York City’s Mercury Lounge looked unassuming from the outside. Yet behind the double doors at the back of the bar was a pop wonderland, with Chinese American singer Emei at the helm.

During the first of two New York City stops on her largely sold out “Cynical” Tour, the energy and excitement in the room was palpable. Opening the show were pop acts Lulu Simon and Lilyisthatyou, both putting on vibrant sets that set the tone of the night.

From the first notes of “Backtrack,” the crowd was ready to go, singing along with a fervor normally seen in much larger crowds. But the enthusiasm is infectious — the passion Emei’s fans have for her and her music makes the show all the more fun. It was a joy to see the relationship between the two; the more excited the audience got, the more spirited Emei became. She showed a real bond with the audience, and it made for a really strong performance.

Backed up by a live band, Emei kept fans jumping and dancing through a set of high energy pop tracks like “711” and “Irresponsible,” and dramatic swelling anthems like “Better People to Leave on Read.”

She blazed through her set with all the makings of a true pop star, from the cheeky “Picky” to the more somber “Regrets” and the bouncy “That Girl.”

The fans passion seems to come from her balance of relatable songwriting and catchy hooks. The chorus of “Scatterbrain” may have the snappy, lilting “sca-a-a-tterbrain” that first captures people’s attention. But it’s the rest of the lyrics describing feelings of being lost and overwhelmed that keep it.

Hold It All Together with A Little Duct Tape

Emei’s identity is ingrained throughout her music and her performance. As a 23-year-old Chinese American, her songs often center around anxiety, growing up, fears of inadequacy, friendship, and love. Her breakout song “Late to the Party” encapsulates this, discussing feeling behind in life while everyone else is growing up. It’s clear that it resonates with fans, with the crowd matching Emei in enthusiasm to sing along to the “Twenty one / without / a Grammy or degree” chorus.

Other songs like the pop-punk influenced “End of an Era” and the burnout anthem “Ferris Bueller” garnered similar reactions from the crowd. The music stylings and lyrics about sending emails for hours or “holding on like an autumn leaf” bring up feelings of exhaustion and frustration that the largely early 20s crowd knew all too well.

Artists will always try to be relatable, but Emei brings a level of approachability to her performances that makes it all feel genuine. In between songs, she took time to goof off with the audience about being from Central Jersey, not North Jersey, or South Jersey. She tossed shirts to fans, and a drumstick, promising to sign them after the show.

At one point in the set, she paused. “I’m going… there,” pointing to the middle of the crowd. Once there, she asked everyone to sit. As a daughter of Chinese immigrants, she grew up speaking Chinese and listening to Chinese music, so she wanted to sing a Chinese song for us. She then, from the floor, sang a soft, soothing cover of Mavis Fan’s “我要我们在一起 (I Want Us to Be Together)”, mashed up with Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning.” That moment felt like the summation of the entire concert, and of Emei as an artist: a humble, yet undeniably captivating performance that combined culture and language, all while surrounded by dedicated fans.

That Girl

The ardor from Emei’s audience was, in a word, unrivaled. The crowd knew every single word to every single song- including the unreleased “Human Being,” which had only been played once before. As the show went on, it became clear that fans had traveled from all over to be in that room: New Jersey, Washington D.C., and even Virginia. 

Two fans, Maddie and Ray, drove over ten hours to be at the show. Speaking to EnVi, they walked through their quick trip to New York: “We drove up last night,” explained Maddie, “and we have to go back tomorrow morning. We came just for Emei.” When asked if it was worth it, Ray didn’t even have to think: “Of course.”

Watching Emei live, it’s easy to understand where the devotion comes from. Her music is a perfectly packed punch of relatability, wit, and catchy hooks. Her stage presence is bubbly and fun, echoing the likes of Olivia Rodrigo and Paramore as she jumps around the stage, tossing beach balls into the crowd. An Emei concert is a fun night out with plenty of singing and dancing, but it’s also a reminder, heard in the in-unison singing of lyrics like “Why do I have to be so / Cynical” from closing song “Cynical,” that no one in the room is alone in what they feel.

Pop is not a genre hurting for artists. But Emei stands out from crowds of TikTok sounds and wannabe viral lyrics with a bright, energetic yet honest take on the genre. Her stage presence and joy of performing elevates her as an artist even further, proving she can sustain beyond the TikTok sound bites. And with a majority of her first U.S. tour being sold out, and two shows announced at larger venues in the new year, it’s clear that her only direction is up. Word of advice? Try to squeeze in a show before she hits the stratosphere.

Emei’s “Cynical” Tour continues across the U.S. throughout November, and again in April with further stops in New York, Los Angeles, and Europe. Be sure to follow Emei on Twitter and Instagram for all the latest news, and even join her Discord server for more updates from the tour.

Want more Emei? Check out our coverage of her recent single “Cynical” here!