On a gloomy, grey day in the middle of Atlanta winter, hundreds of local kids stood shivering in line around the block, waiting to enter a remote warehouse that had been transformed, for one night only, into a music venue. They were dressed to the nines despite the weather, in glamorous makeup, heels and sneakers, crop tops and jerseys and all manners of streetwear. Though Atlanta might be the bedrock of modern hip-hop, and boasts plenty of local stars who live and reside in the Southern music mecca, a one-off appearance from Harlem star Teyana Taylor had the air of an event, just one of the many carefully-booked nights of Red Bull Music Festival’s Atlanta iteration.
In fact, Teyana’s was the last show of the festival’s month-long programming that specifically emphasized other Black, female stars like Dreamville’s old world soul singer Ari Lennox, local bubblegum-rap upstart Yung Baby Tate, and the inclusion-focused promoter Ohso’s infamous Bounce Dat party featuring artists like Detroit’s own Molly Brazy and Chicago rapper Queen Key. Red Bull programming tends to toe the line between promoting young stars and enlisting the talent of upper-tier performers, and in many ways, Teyana’s House Of Petunia event was the natural culmination of the festival.
In the music industry, the prevalence of men is taken as fact. As one of the only women on Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label, Teyana has already made a name for herself by sticking to her own mode of unshakeable, modern R&B, and for her insistence on putting women — particularly women of color — first. Taylor is more than just an R&B star: As an incredibly gifted singer and dancer, a choreographer for the likes of Beyonce (and herself), a frequent model, director, actress, and reality TV star — where she often showcases her additional identities as mother and wife — Teyana has helped reimagine the role of female entertainer in the music industry, and insisted on bringing her whole crew with her on the way up. One of the most striking elements of House Of Petunia is the all-female production crew, The Aunties, a creative collective of women that Teyana works with on the majority of her projects, who ideated, orchestrated, and executed the two-hour spectacular.
Full of expert choreography, satisfying costume changes, a meticulously constructed set, and intimate gestures like a tribute to Nipsey Hussle, or a moment where Taylor sits and sings to her two-year-old daughter, Iman (aka “Junie”), House Of Petunia is a show that’s elastic enough to let Teyana pivot between superstar and mom. “Actually, my favorite moment of the whole show is my baby falling asleep on me,” Taylor admitted in her dressing room, during a group interview just an hour or so after she left the stage. “Just bringing her out and looking at her, it’s crazy because my voice was going so I’ve been super nervous, drinking tea. The moment she sat in my lap, all my worries and concerns were gone. It gave me a sense of empowerment, and for that one verse, my voice was perfect — it felt like everything was perfect and went right. For a little bit, I kind of forgot I was even in the room.”
From this tender mother-daughter moment, all the way through the most sexually-charged, aggressive moments of the show, feminine energy is always the driving force fueling House Of Petunia. There may be male dancers on stage, but they’re always secondary characters to the powerful women who drive the narrative and female gaze of Teyana’s showcase. And it’s also not a stretch to say that an all-female production team is revolutionary in the male-dominated music industry, something that dance captain Coco Gilbert, credits for the success of House Of Petunia and Taylor’s other projects. As a producer, dancer, choreographer, and long-time member of The Aunties, Gilbert explains that when women are working together as a unit, it’s just a different way of doing things.
“Working in production with men, a lot of men tend to always say, ‘no, I don’t think that’s possible,’ or ‘we don’t have enough time to do that,’” Gilbert noted. “Or they say ‘why do you want to do that?’ Instead of asking those questions, it should be reversed. You should say, ‘how can we do that’ or ‘okay, what do we need to get that done.’ We are going to try every solution, everything possible. And I think that’s just, besides us being creative, it’s just the womanly nature in us. The Aunties, it’s a sisterhood. It’s a place where we want to support our artists or whatever we are developing or creating — you have to nurture it. It takes a village and I’m grateful — and Teyana’s grateful — to just be able to do something at this level.”
Even though Teyana has been in the spotlight since she was a teenager, handling an infamous appearance on MTV’s Sweet Sixteen, and cutting deals with the likes of Pharrell and Kanye West to pursue her career at a young age, like plenty of women in the major label system, she’s struggled to get the financial support necessary to execute a show on the level of Petunia. Enter Red Bull, and an executive at the company who saw Teyana perform during Red Bull’s 2018 G.O.O.D. Music showcase in Chicago and immediately offered her the opportunity to headline her own show.
“We went from not even being able to get a budget approved, to half a million-dollar budgets to do videos,” Taylor laughed. “We make a dollar out of fifteen cents and that’s what matters; we’re women and we’re making it happen. It feels amazing because The Aunties, we’re like a sisterhood. I love it when we walk on set and nobody knows what role we play. We earned our spot — they know now when we walkthrough. I think that sh*t is dope, to see the shock value on everybody’s faces when these women walkthrough and get the job done.”
Given a healthy budget, complete creative freedom, and the ability to work with her team, Teyana and The Aunties created a show that has already drawn numerous comparisons to Janet Jackson, but that stands on its own as an expression of her values, hopes, and dreams, fully representing who she is as an artist, all the way up to that moment with her daughter. Debuting initially in her native New York, the Atlanta performance still felt like a distinct event, one that makes a strong case for corporate patronage done right. Time and time again, Red Bull has proven that they aren’t a brand who will drop in and simply use artists for their own needs when it serves them, but have committed themselves to helping build community, and creating an integral structure to support artists within the music industry.
“To see this show grow from point A to B from that moment in Chicago hearing about this opportunity to where it is now is phenomenal to me,” Gilbert said. “The finale of her show, we literally made up that dance in her house. So to see it on stage how it is now, it gives me chills, you know what I’m saying? It’s like dreams really do come true. You really can have whatever it is that you want.”
Leaving the warehouse that night, Gilbert’s words stuck with me. The other thought that lingered in my mind was of Teyana’s daughter — Junie will grow up believing that, too.
Uproxx was hosted for this story by Red Bull Music. However, Red Bull Music did not approve or review this piece. You can learn more about the Uproxx Press Trip policy here.