As youth and pop-centric festival line ups go, this year’s V Festival looked good on paper – and for the most part, delivered the goods.
With the Saturday/Sunday schedules switching between two locations – Weston Park in Staffordshire and Hylands Park in Chelmsford – attendees get value for money that’s hard to find elsewhere.
We hit the Chelmsford site over the weekend to catch some of the planet pop’s biggest and best (sadly arriving too late on the Sunday to catch one of the few throwback acts, All Saints); here’s our rundown of the action…
Sorry? We don’t think so. After last year’s decent comeback record Purpose, expectations were high for Biebs’s headline set on Saturday night. But the ‘What Do You Mean?’ singer flopped hard, looking completely disinterested throughout, as per.
He bragged about being hungover, mimed, mistook Chelmsford for London, and obscured his inert dance moves with a hoodie five sizes too big for him. And there we were hoping he’d perform nude.
In a relatively short space of time, flame-haired Jess has scored eight top ten one singles in the UK, with five of them hitting number one. As such, the star – whose sole album, I Cry When I Laugh, was inspired by an ex-girlfriend – has more than enough perfect pop hits to fill a set. It’s a rare privilege for an artist of her infancy, and one she leans on a little (not to Rita Ora’s extent, mind you).
Betraying her soaring vocals and relaxed swag between songs was a slight performative stiffness, and the crowd’s attention waned during lesser-known tracks.
There was also an over-reliance on the audience to do the heavy lifting on key lines of certain songs, too – a trick best avoided by even veteran artists. And there’s no need for it it, because Jess’s powerful voice is undeniable.
If Jess Glynne was stiff, Sia was positively statuesque – but as fans around me in the crowd insisted, ‘that’s her thing’.
With her face hidden by her trademark wig and all physical performance centered around her troupe of tireless dancers, the Australian star forwent all movement (and audience interaction) to focus on pushing her powerhouse vocals to the absolute limit.
The results were startling. She nailed recent hits like ‘Cheap Thrills’ and ‘Chandelier’, offered a fascinating take on ‘Diamonds’, the song she gave to Rihanna, and made at least the one welcome detour into her pre-Guetta back catalogue with the exquisitely sad ‘Breathe Me’.
Sia’s a true star, but the obscure stagecraft and presentation (which, for me, is getting a little stale) was lost on some of the audience.
In stark contrast to Sia’s immobility were the inexhaustible Little Mix, whose facial expressions alone are a work out – especially Jesy’s, bless her.
Celebrating five years since their formation on the UK X Factor, the girls have quietly risen to the upper echelons of the British pop scene, exalted by last year’s playful lead single ‘Black Magic’, and the recent touching ballad ‘Secret Love Song’, which they’ve sweetly dedicated to their LGBTI fans.
After visiting much of Australia, Asia and Europe on this year’s Get Weird tour, Little Mix’s V set was something of a homecoming for one of the hardest working bands in pop. International success suits them: they rock elaborate dance routines and risqué costumes with incredible confidence, and their perfect harmonies more than filled Hylands Park (which, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting).
Meanwhile, the warm and affectionate banter between them proves they’re as down to earth as ever. The best is yet to come for these four, and we can’t think of anyone more deserving.
Years and Years
Matching Little Mix in sheer enthusiasm was Years and Years’ Olly Alexander. Almost to a fault, in fact – during a highly energetic set, his voice became noticeably fatigued, and he occasionally balked at the upper registers.
The set sometimes felt like an endurance test, given almost all the songs on the band’s excellent debut Communion, from ‘King’ to ‘Desire’, are vocally demanding. A highlight was the downtempo confessional Eyes Shut, on which he demonstrated gorgeous vocal control.
That said, it’s on the more urgent tracks that Olly’s compelling showmanship really comes to the fore. It’s so elating to see a star like him revel in his own queerness and non-heterosexuality.
Pairing a tiny T-shirt with a curious skirt-shorts hybrid, he was grinding all over the stage with more gusto than Rihanna would a few hours later, and even the straight men were enthralled.
After 11 years in the business, Rihanna has been featured on a staggering 71 – yes, 71 – singles. Which sadly means that at any gig of hers, you’re almost guaranteed to be disappointed with the absence of one or more of your favourite tracks (Will I ever hear ‘SOS’ or ‘Shut Up and Drive’ live in this lifetime!?). That was absurdly true of last night – but the crowds were richer for the experience.
Changing direction into more challenging, experimental territory on her recent eighth studio album Anti was a critically-acclaimed move the superstar is evidently proud of. She peppered much of last night’s headlining slot with complex, sedate album tracks, at the expense of countless iconic bangers.
But such is her fandom that most of the crowd knew all the words anyway. She rewarded the patient with powerful forays into the likes of ‘Umbrella’ and ‘Diamonds’, during which her star power went stratospheric.
It could’ve been pretty different. Friends told me the ‘Work’ singer appeared bored on tour at Wembley earlier this year, and appearing on stage half an hour late after keeping fans waiting in the rain, I was pessimistic.
Things got off to a tricky start when, due to a dodgy connection on the big screens, fans mistook her to be miming on emotive opener Stay (she wasn’t).
But all was forgiven when she removed the damn sunglasses and engaged with the audience. In 11 years I’ve never seen her so warm and chatty, and her lengthily thank you to her crew, glam squad – even the caterers – seemed touchingly heartfelt.
The meditative, dreamlike Blue Neighborhood was one of our favorite albums of last year, and we were beyond excited to this super cute, openly gay 21-year-old perform it – but we weren’t expecting the world.
Indeed, for Troye’s debut UK festival performance the stage was sparse, the set short, and the crowd, possibly, smaller than expected.
But if this rising star was deterred, he didn’t show it. And truly, there was so much to love about about this understated but assertive set.
What’s truly fascinating about the immensely pretty Troye, both live and on record, is the rub between the themes of youth and innocence running through his songwriting, and the rich, enticingly deep tones of his voice, that could almost belong to an older guy.
What’s more, like Olly Alexander, Troye has a proudly queer performance style that’s more than a little sexy, and perhaps, political.
As such, there were more than a few (utterly obscene) declarations of love from the gays in the audience, and the teenage girls were equally transfixed.
OK so, he’s not as confident as Olly, or for that matter Rihanna or Little Mix, and he doesn’t have the vocal prowess of Sia or Jess Glynne. But still, if you ask us, V Festival belonged to Troye Sivan – one of the world’s brightest and most promising LGBTI pop stars.
For more information about V Festival, visit vfestival.com.