The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

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The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Riovaz and Kanii: Young and Emo

Associate Arts Editor Toby Chan covers Riovaz and Kanii’s performance at the Subterranean.
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Toby Chan
Riovaz performing “waiting alonE.”

When I got off the El at Wicker Park, a line of teens dressed in all black had already snaked around the block. Who were they waiting to see? On September 26, indie artist Riovaz and rapper Kanii, creator of the hit song “I Know” which took TikTok by storm, performed at the Subterranean in Chicago as part of Riorave II: Disturb the Norm. The two artists are only 18, but their music has found a large and loyal following from their online virality.

As I joined the eager crowd, I struck up a conversation with a few fellow concert-goers—JJ, Nick, and Kimi. They described Riovaz’s music as a blend of emo, grunge, and electronic music. “It’s the kind of music that gets you bopping,” Nick said, “and it’s definitely edgy.”

The venue for the night, the Subterranean, was perfect with its dark decor (and, of course, its name). Checkerboard floored, with a chandelier and a sculpture of two human figures hanging above the stage, it’s an intimate venue with a gothic character. The first floor standing area offers a space for fans to mosh, while the second-floor mezzanine gives fans a look at the action from above.

Even before the concert began, heads crammed together on the first floor. The crowd went silent as Kanii descended to the stage from a spiral staircase, wearing a beanie and a black T-shirt sporting the words “Your Spirit Animal is a Parasite.” Red strobe lights came on, and Kanii launched into his single “Go.” Kanii grabbed his mic and paced back and forth on the stage to the rhythm of his beats. The lights shifted from red to violet as Kanii sank into his more melancholy tunes. Kanii performed tracks like “Five” about a “shawty who could pull up half past five [in the morning]” and my personal favorite, “attachment (she wanna love).”

Kanii concluded the first part of his set with his hit song “I Know” about a girl who just “can’t pick up the phone,” which prompted the crowd to surge towards the stage. The lyrics of “I Know” don’t go far beyond the refrain of “I fucked up, oh girl, I know,” but there’s no denying the song’s catchiness. At the end of “I Know,” Kanii ascended the spiral staircase once more. The crowd did not seem to want to let him go, but this would not be the last they saw of Kanii that night.

Following a brief intermission, Riovaz made his appearance onstage, and the crowd reached a fever pitch. A hiccup with the mic did not stop Riovaz or the crowd’s enthusiasm. Riovaz continued into his most recent EP Disturb the Norm with “Until It’s Real.” “In this life of mine, don’t you tell me how to feel,” Kanii declared to his fans, who sang along with him. Like Kanii, Riovaz was a magnetic presence. At times, he got so close to the edge of the stage that it seemed the crowd could swallow him whole.

Riovaz continued with tracks from Disturb the Norm like “Tantrum (Pace Yourself)” and “Can’t Keep Myself Intact.” As Riovaz was performing, Kanii came down incognito from the second floor dressing room to sneak a peek at Riovaz’s performance. I asked Kanii if he ever gets nervous on stage. He said a little bit. It’s hard to imagine that the two artists are only 18.

As Disturb the Norm reached its conclusion, Kanii leapt back onstage to join Riovaz for fan favorites like “Heart Racing” and “waiting alonE.” The audience sang along with fervor during their rendition of “Prom Night.” “And she held my hand, and I kept dreaming, and she’s with another man, and I am lost” the crowd’s singing seemed to crescendo into something primal.

Before and during the show, I had the opportunity to chat with some of the fans, including Sam and Miguel, who had been introduced to Riovaz and Kanii through TikTok and Spotify recommendations. Their favorite track was “Heart Racing.” Another fan, Angel, who found a unique connection with Kanii’s music, tells me that he always plays it before he goes to work at an Amazon warehouse. “There’s a lot of energy, it stays in your head,” he says.

The night was defined by high energy music and a vivacious crowd. Kanii and Riovaz’s music is edgy and full of teen angst, but that’s precisely what makes it resonate so strongly with their younger audience. Kanii and Riovaz’s music doesn’t feature the most extensive lyricism, but they capitalize on their vibes. In the age of TikTok and Spotify, it’s clear that Kanii and Riovaz have found an eager audience.

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