Surrounded in the loving embrace of fans living out the glam of a high-schoolprom she never got to experience, Donna Missal let all the emotional turbulence and self-discovery that encompasses her debut album This Time coalesce around her at her El Rey Theatre show on March 29th in Los Angeles, California. There’s a radiance to Missal—one found gleaming in that goofy-in-its-sincerity, wide grin that seems permanently stretched across her face in between songs and in her smokey-voiced serenading—that always seem to challenge the burning house-lights she finds herself under at concerts. She beams with the kind of strength found in accepting one’s vulnerabilities, the very same that she wrestles with on her songs—and audiences never fail to soak-up the endless well of intimacy that drips from the singer’s bleeding heart lyricism.
For the penultimate night of touring for her debut, a night on which Missal celebrated with flowers from her parents for selling out the El Rey, the velvet-voiced songstress was atpeak form. No one gets into the silky grooves and melancholic beats of Missal’s songs more than Missal herself—and on-stage she twirls, twists, and dreamily waves her body around all the poignant words of her melodic personal diary until she’s lost in them. For all intents and purposes, Missal unravels herself while singing each of her songs; peeling back the layers until every throaty croon and bitten-off line until she’s singing from that exact place she was when she first dreamt up the words and melodies. It’s self-evidenfrom her piercing howls in “Thrills” and the funky-ballad confessional “Girl.” And while This Time is an emotional powerhouse in its own right—Missal’s songs are electric to the sound and touch when heard live in a way that is lacking of any studio recording.
Long before any of the songs on her album had even seen the light of day, back when she was still singing for rock-bands in her hometown of New Jersey, Missal honed a raw, intimately fierce aura as performer. The kind that allowed her as an opener early-on at venues like The Troubadour in Los Angeles to palpably enamor crowds with her songs and thenfloor-them in awe over stunning covers of artists like Beyonce. Today, and very much at her sold-out El Rey debut, Missal casts the same kind of spell as a budding pop-star of such deeply-cutting affections and introspection. This Time, she explained during her show, was about reclaiming a moment or dream in your life as your own. It was about overcoming the image you’d been sold of yourself by other people and accepting yourself on your own terms—and in-between she makes an argument for women to lift-up other women, celebrating her own identity and body-image-self-acceptance while also telling her fans it’s okay to do the same and encouraging them to help each other do just that.
And that’s the striking-bolt that breaks the mold of pop-stars for Missal. She talks about wanting to be the image of a pop-star that she never saw growing up. So she talks about her body—about her belly, sweat, body hair—pieces of her that she was told to hide or physically remove to fit in. She clings, in desperation and hope, to herself in every aspect of her life—from her dreams to romance—and it’s Missal alone that keeps Missal afloat. A reverent independence that co-mingles with a empathetic desire to voice it for others benefit. Women like Annie Clark and Sky Ferreira and Sharon Van Etten—women who are intimately self-aware their flaws (both personal and the one’s society falsely props-up as such) and the tenacious will they can be used to fuel—are similar touchstones. And like them Missal wields all the gaudiness and beauty of herself onstage like a wrecking-ball through a glass-house. She’s not just an angel-voiced singer/songwriter with a supernova of a soul penning ferocious love songs and self-love ballads—she’s also a worthy rolemodelfor men and women and non-binary people looking for strength in their uncertainty and insecurity. And when that’s delivered between all the riveting passion of her songs and a live-wire of a cover of Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated”—it’s a sucker-punch of catharsis in the absolute best way possible.