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Sunday, March 03, 2024

Wisconsin and the greater Midwest are home to many of the country's biggest music festivals. SummerFest in Milwaukee, Electric Forest in the woods of Michigan and of course Lollapalozza in Chicago.

Lollapalooza 2019: Four-day Festival Highlights

The first-time feeling compares to no other. It is handled with care. Though it shows in just about every small detail around you, I find myself lost at the vibration hovering, cutting corners and seeping between Grant Park. 

Normani is well on her way 

This year’s Lollapalooza Music Festival is my first. Excited, I stumbled into a blue sea of artists which floods the stage. A field of glitter is accompanied by a signature skyline. Fans, including myself, are nothing but patient. Normani is at the base of the Bud Light stage, following an “I love you all, lets really make the first day something special!” She holds in her stature her power. 

The former Fifth Harmony member does indeed remind us why going solo may just have given her the upper hand. Joined by a band and a group of black backup dancers, Normani ignites the audience with a stellar opening dance number, a string of Rihanna covers — an effortless Lollapalooza debut. Though some may have expected guest appearances from artists such as 6LACK, Khalid or Sam Smith, Normani glides seamlessly on her own. She lends some of her best vocals on “Dancing With A Stranger,” where the crowd meets her eye to eye. It is clear that a superstar in the making is no stranger to her calling. 

Even without a released album, Normani fills her 45-minute set with some of her best collaborations and a medley of Fifth Harmony’s biggest hits. However, it is clear that through this transition Normani turns “Work From Home,” “Worth It” and “Bo$$” into a bonafide dance number. With astounding precision, Normani captivates a city while the whole world watches. 

H.E.R and the best parts of you 

After a 10-minute delay, H.E.R. graces the stage, performance-ready. switches guitars. Comfortable and joined by her signature background singers, H.E.R. sets a mood despite the piercing sun. As the camera nears, a reflection of the Chicago skyline can be seen through her sunglasses. The audience belts out some of her biggest hits, including “Hard Place.” “Get You” echoes throughout the T-Mobile stage; an anchor is drawn between a sea of people and a ship lead by the est Part.” 

There is no empty feeling; though frustration is drawn from “Focus,” a home appears on stage, representing a loneliness in all of us. It calms the crowd despite the unwavering doubt we may separately share. H.E.R. propels forth, without “Having Everything Revealed (H.E.R.) .”

Hozier Soars 

Standing at over 6 feet, Hozier is much taller in person. A friend and I contemplate walking over to him, but nervously we stand still. We consider Hozier’s larger-than-life persona in a string of interviews his team has scheduled right before his performance — onstage, for press and in real time, he is simply living in his element. A soaring twelve-song set takes us down with the sun. A crowd favorite, “Work Song” is accompanied with the vocals of Maggie Rogers. An awe-gawking duet engages in “Someone New,” though familiar faces are found, there is indeed “a life to art’s distractions.” As Hozier belts into the sun, we are collectively reminded  that though we arrive expecting something, we fall full-circle to both the old and the new. He proclaims, “You’ve got voices. I know you do. Don’t hide them from me, don’t hide them in the flames.” 

The Strokes re-energize the first day

As the day settles on the headlining set by The Strokes, lead frontman Julian Casablancas is full of  energy. The 75-minute set pushes through the haze of first-day exhaustion and re-energizes the packed audience. Casablancas cracks jokes about Chicago seemingly during every song break. “Last Nite” serves as  a slight encore. Though the hit was expected by the dedicated fans who wait past the 10:00 p.m. mark, excitement is still the best element of surprise as The Strokes close the first day of Lollapalooza 2019. 

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Day 2

Tierra Whack finds her best audience

Tierra Whack takes us along for the ride in her Whack World. Striking visuals draw the already charismatic star above and beyond. I can’t help but consider Whack as one of the necessary artists we crucially need for the future. Though Whack World features a string of one-minute songs, Whack performs a 45-minute set with ease. When “Cable” is sung back to Whack, she looks out in astonishment as she proclaims, “The energy here! I feel you all.” 

It is complementary to think of Whack as more than just her music. There is emotion in the way she molds and morphs between mosquitoes and bottles onstage as she twists and turns out of them. Her “Hungry Hippo” anthem draws in an audience that she confesses may just be her best audience yet. 

Janelle Monáe’s royalty, easily an early afternoon headliner 

Black women on stage. Black women in the band. Black women on their throne. Easily, Janelle Monáe delivers one of the best Lollapalooza performances of the entire festival (and it’s only the second day!) 

An hour long set seemingly leaves fans wanting more. Monáe performs many of her 2018 hits from her Grammy-nominated album Dirty Computer. She notably opens with, “Crazy, Classic, Life,” celebrating not only this star-studded moment for her but the “weirdos.” She makes a moving speech about the country’s gravest issues while also celebrating individuality and the undying need to be free, “even if we make others uncomfortable.” Immediately addressing the rights of marginalized communities, including black and brown people, the LGBTQ+ community and those with disabilities. 

Royalty is written all over the stage. With several outfit changes and a surrounding throne, musicians and dancers — all black — Monáe stuns and shows why her multifaceted performance could have easily been a headlining set. 

21 Savage is unmatched and unstoppable

A hometown hero draws an unimaginable crowd. 21 is accompanied by headliner Childish Gambino for their collaborated song “Monster.” Gambino emerges on top of a pyramid staircase, arm in a sling with a neck brace to match. 21 has an undoubtedly notable discography. Fans rap along to some of his biggest hits including “Rap Saved Me” and “Out for the Night.” With past controversy surrounding 21’s citizenship, we are thrilled the southern-made singer is back where he belongs – on stage. 

Childish Gambino praises us, to go 

Childish Gambino’s headlining set featured three of his main requests for the audience: to love ourselves, to have fun and to ditch the phones. A “Childish Gambino Experience,” also alludes to the experience we all owe ourselves, to live as he states as though, “Everything is not forever.” Though the sun sets on the Chicago skyline, Gambino encourages us to be the visionary we’re waiting for. In the spirit of the city, he asks “Do you hear me, can you hold me up?” Amid this high energy, Gambino races between the T-Mobile stage and a small platform in the crowd. This also doesn’t stop Gambino from making his way through the center aisle, touching adoring fans as he sings “Summertime Magic.” Though Gambino asked fans to put down their phones at the beginning of his set, he takes selfies and videos with fans near the railing. 

Consistently praising the crowd’s energy, Gambino is set to make this Lollapalooza headline a good Sunday come early as he says, “This is church for me.” Teasing fans on multiple occasions before hitting the stage again with renditions of “Sweatpants” and “Redbone,” fans sing every word. Upon closing his set, Gambino tells fans, “I felt you today,” and in celebration fans gleefully sing alongside Gambino. 

Day 3

Yaeji is eclectic 

Yaeji was introduced to me this day by a group of friends. I made an adamant effort to listen to new artists and experience them in full-concert-throttle. Yaeji did not disappoint. An electronic house sound files throughout the American Eagle stage, and an eager crowd is defined in dance. Her style and precise use of elements of house music and hip-hop are mellowed in a light-spirited voice, both in English and Korean. Yaeji captivates an audience looking to find the vibration in the music. Her quirky, almost reserved demeanor is freed on stage and onlooking fans quickly fall into a whirlwind of trap, house and pop. it is safe to say that Yaeji is only getting started and her performance at Lollapalooza will test the distinct and limitless genres she explores on future work. 

Lil’ Wayne, that’s the headline 

Lil’ Wayne has always delivered energy. Although performances are more than only energy, one of rap's biggest legends again reminds us why his reign has extended through the years. Performing some of his biggest hits, a packed field chants, “A Milli,” a staple-single that has garnered critical acclaim. Lil’ Wayne’s worldwide influence began early in his life, releasing a project at the age of 12, it is no surprise that this moment was well in the works. Much more than a cliche of “Written In The Stars,” Lil’ Wayne is undoubtedly a potential headliner though not this time around — the unofficial headliner drew the biggest crowd in the south field of Grant Park by far. His remix of Lil’ Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” ignites a stage already soaring with high-level energy. Though some may say this is yet another remix, Lil’ Wayne makes sets with no surprise, the Tunechi effect. 

In 28 years, J. Balvin makes history as the First Latino Headliner at Lollapalooza

There are always questions of community. In some ways, it is not when and how we can show this support, but sometimes, it is simply witnessing the power of faith and the hope for change. Now, at a pivotal and difficult time in the US, the identity of being a Latino-American comes with an endured hardship. Often some inclination of distance, but for Lollapalooza’s third night, the first ever Latino headliner J. Balvin draws upon the community we have long been building through music. A massive crowd of fans, many of Latino descent, gear quickly to the high energy from beginning to end. It is through this excitement that J. Balvin thanks Chicago and the U.S. as he states, “Thank you to the people around the world that came here tonight.” 

Reggaeton’s long-time influence has finally taken mainstream acclaim. It is because of artists like Daddy Yankee and Ivy Queen that we have performers such as Cardi B and artists like Bad Bunny and J. Balvin. Though Balvin may be the first Latino headliner, it is clear that U.S.-based music festivals will take note of including one of the largest demographic groups in our country today. J. Balvin constantly gives appraisal to his influences and even brings on stage Wisin y Yandel to perform alongside him. J. Balvin was well-aware of the platform he had and most importantly declared that though he is making history, the Latino community must mobilize together to continue rising to the top and changing the social culture of who and what is represented. 

Day 4 

Rosalia’s Con Altura

When you think of artists like Rosalia, you can’t help but consider her in the same light as the infamous Frida Kahlo. They are in no comparison the same, but instead, both remind you that art can imitate life. Her set is nothing short of vocally noteworthy. Rosalia performs in bright turquoise, alongside a set of dancers, she pours a water bottle just above her ponytail, and of course, dramatically strikes every single note. Her a capella renditions and some of her biggest chart hits grow strikingly stronger with the crowd. If we were forced, albeit nothing more than encouraged to be put onto the Rosalia wave, it is her depth that will attract you, but if asked why you consider her a vital connection between fantasy and creativity, it is would be her passion for the art of craft, that will keep you. 

Meek Mill sheds light to his biggest shadows 

Meek Mill will remind you to follow, distinctly, your need for justice. In a 45-minute set, Meek Mill becomes adamantly more honest. Though he is fresh out of a conference with rapper-turned-mogul businessman Jay-Z, Mill will remind that his claim to fame did not come easy. Although he becomes increasingly comfortable with the crowd, proclaiming, “I’ll smoke that shit right now.” He moves beyond Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode,” and Dababt’s “Suge,” that are no more than the radio hits that the predominantly white crowds will know and performs some of his most important and life-changing songs, intertwined with some of his most difficult moments.

Ariana never disappoints 

A packed field welcomes Grande to the closing night at Lollapalooza. She performs her new single “Boyfriend,” with duo Social House. Grande’s clear, star-studded ability to sing ranges above the rest marks her as one of Lollapalooza’s best acts. Grande delivers a grand-worth closing to a crowd of eager fans, and also to a crowd of tired and exhausted onlookers. 

Lollapalooza creates and carries conversations of unity and community. With a live Youtube stream and constant social media clicks, photographers and journalists alike provide stellar coverage of the four-day, 400,000 people festival. A legacy is created by Lollapalooza, and fans grow out of their shadows and reveal the real depths of art, fantasy and their own lives. 

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