It’s as if last night never happened.
A hundred stage lights start flashing as the sound of an air raid siren heralds the beginning of my set. By the time I’ve been lowered from the rafters onto a podium, I’m half blind and half deaf. In one swift, invisible movement I detach my harness and start to sing. Standing fifteen feet off the ground, I’m dressed in way less than I’d usually choose to wear in bed, let alone in front of all these people. Thousands of mobile phones are pointed my way.
I can’t even imagine how many pictures now exist of me in this outfit. I’ve worn the same one at the start of every show this tour.
But I’ve been put back on the lead since then.
Once again I’m wearing what Khan calls my booty shorts, with the waistband of my pink underwear ‘just visible enough’. The heels of Khan’s favourite ‘fuck me’ boots raise me 3 inches from the surface of the podium and no one can say my crop top isn’t cropped.
No one can say that.
By the time I hit the chorus of ‘Sugar Lips’, the podium is about the half height it was when I landed on it. When it gets down to floor level, I’ll need to dance. My body is somehow both taut and relaxed. It needs to be both things.
I try to focus on my vocals. Not that it makes much difference. What I sing into the microphone is probably too low in the mix for anyone to even hear – the recorded version of the song is pumping out simultaneously. The words make me cringe. Even more when I think about myself belting them out with such enthusiasm as a fifteen-year-old.
“I look so innocent and sweet,” I sing. “Through my dress you can see my knees.”
My stomach churns.
I hit stage level and as I step forward so do a fleet of dancers. I know how impressive this moment is. Until now, the dancers, dressed in black, and standing absolutely still, have been pretty much impossible to see, but now they appear as if by magic. Anyone who was still in their seat jumps up and starts shrieking.
The noise is never not bewildering and it takes every ounce of my energy to keep focused. Adrenaline surges through me and by the time the set finishes, I am slick with sweat. I leave the stage, followed closely – as I have been ever since going way off script yesterday – by not one but two security guards. I’m used to being shadowed but now that I’ve ‘broken everyone’s trust’ there’s not a minute of the day when someone doesn’t know exactly where I am.
I stride past Khan without speaking. Lara too. Thankfully, I know this venue well so I don’t need anyone to show me where my dressing room is. I step inside it and slam the door. This is my space. Khan won’t come in without knocking.
I will not allow it.
I will not.
All the plans I made to shed my Pop Princess image might be in tatters, and I know everyone is laughing at me for trying to take a new direction, but I also know I was trying to do something important. I haven’t lost my mind the way the papers are saying I have. I admit the videos don’t make me look good. The way they’ve caught me with one foot in the security guard’s mouth and that wild look in my eyes. I get how that makes me look mad.
But I’m not.
I’ll show them.
I don’t know how, but I’ll show them.
Not dressed like this, though.
I mean, look at me.
I need a shower.
I need to remind myself who I am underneath all the makeup.
Underneath all the bullshit.
Chapter 15 image by Oleg Magni.