By Blake Drinen
Minutes before BØRNS, the indie darling behind the 2015 smash hit “Electric Love,” took center stage at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom Sunday night, I found out about the sexual misconduct allegations surrounding the twenty-six-year-old singer. In just a matter of days, multiple young women came forward with accounts of alleged abusive behavior he subjected them to, even labeling him a “manipulator” and “user.” The victims’ testimonies, which can be found circulating all over Twitter, proved disturbing to say the very least. Their speaking out has already yielded visible results, even going so far as prompting the upcoming All Things Go Fall Classic music festival in Washington D.C. to drop BØRNS’s scheduled performance from the lineup entirely. Now, with all that information unceremoniously bestowed upon me just mere moments before the show began, my stomach felt all-too-uneasy in terms of how my viewing experience would soon play out. In the midst of such controversy, how would Garrett Clark Borns present himself in front of the nearly sold-out crowd eagerly standing before him?
BØRNS’s opening act, Twin Shadow, definitely helped relieve some of the tension knotting up inside with their empathic blend of upbeat pop and electronic rock. Frontman George Lewis Jr’s charisma proved irresistible, as even within the group’s rather short half-hour set, they still made quite the impression. Their live rendition of the HAIM featured “Saturdays” proved a definite highlight of the night, cementing the group within the crowd’s collective memory as more than just a faceless opener.
After a half-hour of set-up between the two, the crowd about to erupt with feverish excitement, BØRNS strutted out ever so confidently for “Past Lives,” a tidal wave of voices singing their hearts out right alongside him. With utter ease he launched right into a hearty selection of tracks from his sophomore record, Blue Madonna, ranging from the brazenly- charged “We Don’t Care” to the melancholic wistfulness of “Bye-bye Darling.” Each transition felt organic, and the crowd remained entirely present throughout the set, holding onto every word and bursting into an outburst of applause after every song. To my surprise, “God Save Our Young Blood,” the lead single from Blue Madonna, was left off the setlist for reasons I still do not entirely understand. A moodily atmospheric track that also happens to boast a feature from Lana Del Rey, its inclusion definitely would have added to the already well-established atmosphere of his performance.
A few hits from BØRNS’s 2015 debut record, Dopamine, helped round out the night, with renditions of “American Money” and the title-track “Dopamine” itself both radiating with confidence and poise. However, nothing could prepare me for the encore, which boasted a lovely cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” that involved Garrett himself running alongside the
barricade of the stage, joyously smiling and dolling out high-fives (including one to me, I might add). That very energy felt most appropriate when, for his grand finale, BØRNS performed the song that started it all: the wildly infectious “Electric Love.” Without a moment’s notice, every single smiling face in the audience shamelessly belted out the lyrics in perfect unison, all of us lost in that joyous moment of community and celebration.
I still find myself troubled by the accusations that currently surround BØRNS and remain intently curious about how the story will continue to unfold. The uncertainty of his moral character proves frightening, but what I will say is that while Garrett Clark Borns stood on that stage, he owned it. Simply put, his presence remains utterly electric.