Lollapalooza is casting a wider net with its lineup this year, and Thursday's schedule offered a glimpse into the future, with an array of sounds sure to satisfy most everyone's ears.
At first glance, the 2023 lineup for the Chicago fest could suggest the 32-year-old event, now all of four days long, is unsure of itself, trying to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. And sure, that is a worthy argument for Lolla and many of its mainstream festival peers. There are fewer niche fests as everyone wants to follow the trends. But as seen with day 1 of this year's Lolla it's clear, whatever experiment they're trying, it does seem to be working.
This weekend's schedule is eclectic, to be sure, but Thursday was the first taste. And it was wonderful. From the early moments of the day, with Mississippi-born crooner Pony Bradshaw on the distant Tito's Handmade Vodka stage to the bristling delight of The Beaches opening the big Bud Light stage, it was off to the races as fans were treated to such a wealth of incredible performances.
British-Canadian singer Matt Maltese kicked off the main T-Mobile stage with a rich, earnestness to his voice, easily outperforming his age at 25 and drawing a healthy crowd for so early in the day as well.
As the day wore on, Dope Lemon took over the Coinbase stage nearby and offered a vibrant, perfectly summery performance with his slick delivery, offering a mix of fan favorites as well as teasing new music, some of which is off a forthcoming album.
Spacey Jane followed later on the same stage as the fellow Aussies gave the audience a very COIN-ish energy, mixing pop and rock sounds with ease while devoted fans clustered in around the stage and numerous newbies hung out around embracing the crisp soundtrack.
Back at Tito's it was Franc Moody starting the party with an absolutely effusive set, as the U.K. outfit offered a fusion of Chromeo and Jungle with the backing of a full band, endless energy and a setlist of bangers for a crowd who seemed to be soaking it in enthusiastically, while newcomer Chri$tian Gate$, playing his first-ever festival, dominated the BMI stage with ease.
That brings us to the Bacardí stage, where another Variance favorite—Jessie Murph—was undeniably conquering one of our favorite stages, which is nestled in a shade of trees, providing refuge from the sun for the swarm of fans, many of whom clearly knew the words of her songs. Murph, who recently dropped collaborations with the likes of Diplo and Maren Morris, has quickly become a rising pop and country starlet, with her raspy vocals and burn-your-house-down lyricism. If you came to Lolla looking for future stars, Jessie truly delivered.
And if you came looking for current stars, perhaps surprising ones, Noah Kahan fit that bill to a tee. The singer-songwriter, known for his low-key delivery and no-frills performances, played the Tito's stage, with a legion of fans surrounding him in the audience, eerily reminiscent of another recent performer on that same stage—Billie Eilish, who played on Tito's just a few short years ago but returned Thursday night as the headliner.
🚨Newjeans & Billie Eilish, Lollapalooza Chicago! 💘 pic.twitter.com/N0EyAvllma— Billie Eilish Brasil (@BillieEilishBR) August 4, 2023
Coincidentally, over at the T-Mobile stage where Eilish would later play, South Korean girl group NewJeans, who attracted a headline-like following to see them perform. The quintet is coming off a rush of a week as their new EP just earned them their very first No. 1 album in the U.S., having topped the Billboard 200 album chart, triumphing over the Barbie soundtrack and a new Greta Van Fleet album.
The stunning performance from NewJeans was certainly proof of not only an inclination on Lollapalooza's part to broaden the musical palette but of the increasing popularity and demand of K-pop and beyond. Just hours later, fellow Korean outfit, the indie-rockers The Rose, closed out the Bacardí stage.
While it was still technically a Thursday, day 1 really hit a stride in the afternoon with its party-ready performances from Sofi Tukker, who have been crisscrossing the country (and the globe) with their Wet Tennis catalog, while Carly Rae Jepsen and Dom Dolla each brought their own, unique brands of party soundtrack to Grant Park, as Jepsen treated fans to new songs from her new record and old, familiar favorites, while Dolla pumped Perry's stage with throttling beats and a special guest appearance from Nelly Furtado, who joined the Aussie producer for their new collaboration "Eat Your Man."
As the sun began to set, Lollapalooza could have easily passed for its sister fest Austin City Limits as country singer Lainey Wilson offered a spellbinding performance over at Coinbase, with her voice echoing across Grant Park, drawing in longtime fans and converting new ones.
Diplo was up to close out Perry's stage for the night, getting the crowd revved up as he played favorite cuts as well as new music and at times even stood atop his table to pump up the audience. It was an all-around festive environment and the perfect send-off for the night.
But of course, on either ends of the park it was Karol G topping the Bud Light stage, a celebration of the incredible diversity across the day's lineup and also of the singer's own stunning rise into the stratosphere, proving the Colombian pop star is a force to be reckoned with and absolutely worthy of a top performing slot at one of the nation's largest festivals.
Meanwhile, Billie Eilish had her own crowning moment, returning to Chicago and Lolla after performing in the past, as we mentioned, but this time on the primary T-Mobile stage, where she delivered hit after hit surrounded by a sea of excited fans. It was one of the fullest crowds we've ever seen for a headliner, with little room for movement.
"I've missed you," Eilish said while addressing the audience between songs, a whopping 24-track set which included so many favorites, including "bury a friend," "Therefore I Am," "you should see me in a crown," "Your Power," "ocean eyes," "when the party's over," "all the good girls go to hell," "bad guy," "Happier Than Ever" and the highly anticipated live debut of her song "What Was I Made For?," the emotional track she wrote for the Barbie soundtrack. The singer also dedicated her song "Never Felt So Alone to the late Angus Cloud, the breakout star of Euphoria who died suddenly this week at 25. That song was one Eilish recorded with Labrinth, and it was featured during the show's second season.
Overall, the day was filled with so many full-circle moments and highlights of the diverse music selection, which was definitely a strength in a festival landscape which continues to shift and evolve. And if it's an indication of Lollapalooza's future, it seems to be a good one.