I want to talk about the women of Lollapalooza. It's not that the men were sub-par by any stretch of a deluded imagination. Radiohead had the crowd on the edge for every note of “Karma Police” (not to mention that they did EDM better than anyone I saw at Perry's); Red Hot Chili Peppers delivered on their consistent sound of funk-rock with an energy that moved them from the old-time, nostalgic category into something feeling more timeless; and during LCD Soundsystem I made the jump from a casual listener on the bus ride to Chicago to a more-than-likely-life-long fan. Nonetheless, looking back on the weekend, none of those artists spring to mind first, or second. Grant Park was ruled by women for the festival’s 25th anniversary.
Lana Del Rey, Melanie Martinez and Halsey, three reigning queens of the indie-instagram pop variety, lent legitimacy to the archetype. Del Rey, headlining Thursday night opposite of J. Cole, has perfectly aligned her show’s energy with that of the ephemeral, dream-like Americana that her sound emulates. The two backup dancers flanking her underscored Lana’s sultry, sedate performance style: unrushed movements dripping with I-do-what-I-want-and-you’re-just-here-to-watch attitude.
The show’s shortcomings stemmed from the set list (and ridiculously young crowd). Dominated with tracks from her first LP Born To Die, the show felt somewhat behind the artist — failing to give adequate recognition to her newer (definitely stronger) works, the psychedelic rock of Ultraviolence (god bless Dan Auerbach) and the euphoric jazz of Honeymoon. Both of which offer more interesting perspectives, and by cutting “West Coast” and “Freak,” the set definitely suffered; however, it’s hard to deny the obvious popularity of BTD tracks with her core fanbase.
Del Rey’s vocals throughout the show sounded stronger than ever, even more so when she negated the original notes, opting for whatever she was feeling. The show ended on a high note with a deep cut from BTD, “Off To The Races,” during which Lana traded the studio version’s high notes for a seductive growl. Furthermore, the steady guitar riff that overpowered other instruments blessed the track with an aura of finale.
2016 marked Halsey’s second time playing in Grant Park — last year on the festival’s smallest stage and this year on its largest. She emerged wearing robust, reflective sunglasses which mesmerizingly mirrored the crowd whenever the camera crew went in for a tight shot. Opening with the ever-heightening power of “Gasoline,” the show’s energy was palpable in the young crowd. She moved directly into the first two tracks from her debut Badlands, both of which have the easiest choruses to catch on to and beats to get into. The stage set up, a conglomeration of screens and platforms all connected by metal poles, through which Halsey maneuvered, at one point atop the “Castle” as a background of futuristic, turquoise soldiers march steadily.
She nonchalantly said she had a couple more songs to play before telling the crowd, “I’m fucking with you” only about halfway through her set. During “Is There Somewhere,” a delicate track from her EP Room 93, Halsey came down to the crowd, leaning out over the front row from the barrier. A relatively quiet song for her style, but nevertheless beautiful. Taking a moment before launching into “New Americana,” Halsey took a second to remind everyone in an earshot to be proud of their race, gender, sexuality. Seconds before segueing into, “cigarettes and tiny liquor bottles,” she waled to the crowd, “You either love this song or you hate it, but either way you’re gonna sing it.” The connection between Halsey and the crowd was inarguable, but certainly not the show's only achievement.
As Halsey moved to the big leagues at the Samsung stage, Melanie Martinez began laying down her Lolla roots at Bud Light early on Thursday. The “Voice” alum dropped her debut album Cry Baby last spring: a concept album that uses childhood themes to break down some very adult concepts (infidelity, drugs and plastic surgery are only a few). Martinez brought Cry Baby to life with a stage set up complete with blocks and a crib, not to mention her look — half-blue-half-blonde hair, gap-toothed grin, young face and “Alice In Wonderland”-esque outfit — added a final layer of sincerity to her performance.
Martinez started the show with three staple track: “Cry Baby,” “Dollhouse” and “Sippy Cup.” Respectively, her debut title track, first EP single and the track which merges her EP and her LP, she staked her claim in Grant Park immediately, but the show really took off with “Tag, You’re It” (easily the catchiest song on Cry Baby). But it was Martinez’s performance “Mad Hatter” that stole the show. Cry Baby’s trip-hop-pop closer displayed the performer’s strength. Her eccentricities — the hair, crazy eyes in the camera, the simultaneous perception of innocence and lackthereof, and theatrical delivery offer fans a show as dynamic as the album behind it.
Grimes doesn’t fit in any pre-determined boxes. Well, maybe except the one labeled "badass." Sandwiched between Jane’s Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers on Saturday night, one-woman band aka Grimes put on a display of skills that rival the biggest names in music. Grimes is the engineer behind the entirety of her latest LP Art Angels, and she controls nearly as much during her live shows, save for two backup dancers and a guitarist/backup vocalist.
Masterfully balancing her roles of producer and singer, the 28-year-old was constantly moving between the edge of the stage to sing alongside the crowd and her elevated producer’s platform from which she showed up every DJ I’ve ever seen. That is when she wasn’t writhing on the stage floor for “Scream,” doing just that. Sadly, her set was cut short to accommodate RHCP, but she (as Jesus would have wanted) closed her set with her two favorite songs, “World Princess Part II” and “Kill v. Maim,” both of which could’ve brought down the house had we not been outside. The former has a beat that sounds slightly reminiscent of a Mario Party track, but that’s an easy comparison to forget while it forces you to dance and “Kill v. Maim” is a powerhouse. The beats are relentless without becoming overworked, and Grimes’s ability to switch from a school-girl squeal to a raw screech on “You gave up being good when you declared a state of war” is nothing short of otherworldly.
The last lady of Lollapalooza was simultaneously one of the best-known and least-known acts of the weekend: soon to be electropop staple MØ. Best known for her feature on Major Lazor’s “Lean On,” MØ braved the shitty weather to put on a dynamic and undeniably infectious set amid more than a few technical glitches.
MØ is a rare breed of electro pop performer — one who can maintain the organicness of a live voice and the edge of an electronic sound. That skill was never clearer than during “Lean On.” But never mind the obvious (and disproportionate) audience preference for “Lean On” compared to her solo work. MØ’s strongest moments were none other than her own. Singles off her upcoming sophomore LP, “Kamikaze” and “Final Song” carry enough catch and originality inspire excitement among the dripping wet crowd. As much as I can’t stand Diplo as a human, his producing chops on “Kamikaze” are what demands the dancing that dancing that came with the track. MØ delivers “I’m never gonna get enough” and the twirling echoes of “Final Song” 's pre-chorus with a shit-eating grin, giving off the impression she might just be having the most fun out of all of us. Nonetheless, I can personally dispute that notion.
Following a quick stop at Ellie Goulding during the final songs of LCD Soundsystem, walking out post-“Love Me Like You Do” felt euphoric (mainly due to LCD, thoough). And looking back on the weekend, my only thoughts are getting to hopefully see these women again next summer. Hopefully with longer set lists, more material and and the same or an improved level of performance because when music feels this good, you need more of it. If you don’t know what that feels like, ask any Frank Ocean fan.