This year, V Festival fully embraced what it had wanted to be for years: an all-out pop festival. The twin festival sites once played host to headliners like Morrissey, Radiohead and Oasis, but for the last half decade, the focus of the festival has slowly shifted from trying to appease indie and guitar fans, instead opting to go for its first pair of pop titans for headliners with Justin Bieber and Rihanna. They weren’t the only ones flying the pop flag either with Sia, Little Mix, Bastille and more all on show to make the festival’s 21st edition one of its most extravagant. Here’s what went down at the Chelmsford site.
Following a typically furious and packed Saturday afternoon set from Stormzy, Jess Glynne had a tough task to win over this year’s Essex crowd with her set on the V Media stage. For the most part she almost succeeded, with her piano-led rendition of ‘My Love’ a surprisingly intimate moment, as was closer ‘Hold My Hand’, which demonstrated her soaring and undeniably impressive vocal ability. However the rest of the set, laden with album filler, ended up with Glynne still trying to find her niche in Britain’s crowded pop music scene.
A group that really did not need to find their niche was Bastille, whose ‘mind-melting’ blend of pop, funk and the odd ‘80s hit have served them well so far. Cuts from new album ‘Wild World’ such as ‘Fake It’ and ‘Good Grief’ were clear highlights, as the latter fully embraced the freaky bass and massive choruses that have got them where they are now. It’s been well documented that frontman Dan Smith has been prone to anxiety attacks on stage, but their set was one of the weekend’s most assured performances. Dan continues to develop into an engaging and charming frontman, especially on closer ‘Pompeii’ during which he conducted the loyal crowd effortlessly. With a huge tour beckoning later this year, Bastille seem unfazed at the prospect and once again proved that they’re ready to take the next step into arena stardom.
The predicted rain finally began to drizzle down across Hylands Park moments before Sia’s main stage slot, forcing a member of her crew to announce that the show might not go ahead as planned – but that Sia will sing “extra hard” instead. But the rain abated and Sia was able to submit her full “visual experience”, which comprised of her taking a step back into the corner of the stage with an array of dancers matching the pre-recorded performances on the big screens in front of her. It’s a performance that relies heavily on acceptance from an audience that this in fact is closer to an art performance than a straight up gig, but luckily it’s all the more enchanting for it. ‘Alive’, from this year’s ‘This Is Acting’, opened the show with frightening intensity, with even the album’s lighter hits ‘Cheap Thrills’ and ‘Reapers’ having a dark streak running through them. The set was also a fine opportunity for her to showcase her influence on contemporary pop, as ‘Diamonds’ (which she wrote for Rihanna) and David Guetta’s ‘Titanium’ prove crowd favourites. It wasn’t the festival’s most interactive performance – she said nothing apart from a “thank you” at the end – but Sia confidently and smartly translated her show to a festival stage.
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Justin Bieber’s headline set followed and was as predictably controversial as you’d expect. He admitted he was hungover, engaged in some questionable onstage banter and was even accused of ‘miming’ by fans – something that camp Bieber have since denied. Nonetheless it was quite the spectacle, with Bieber relying heavily on the material from latest album ‘Purpose’ as the crowd were treated to all of his biggest hits. You can read the full report from his headline slot here.
As the site’s collective hangover began to ease, day two kicked off with more pop promise from veterans of the game like Katy B, whose new album ‘Honey’ provided some of the most celebrated dance-pop of the year, through to patient newcomers like Fleur East, finally having her moment in the sun two years on from her The X Factor stint.
The real masterclass arrived from Years & Years later in the afternoon on the V Media stage as they carried on growing into one of the most exciting and important pop groups of recent times. Clad in a red top and matching skirt, frontman Olly Alexander led the group through tracks from their wildly successful debut ‘Communion’, with deep cuts ‘Ties’ and ‘Gold’ demonstrating their flair for blending thundering house beats with a punchy pop chorus. The intimate ‘Eyes Shut’ gave Alexander a chance to catch his breath, but also led to one of the set’s sweetest and most tender moments. A mashup of Katy Perry’s ‘Dark Horse’ and Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ followed but it was last year’s ‘King’ that had the dancers, the band and almost every member of the crowd joyously singing in unison. The London group have already improved so much in their short but successful career, but on this showing it’s safe to assume that if they play their cards right, they could turn into festival headliners.
Chart darlings Little Mix followed in a celebratory mood, as they toasted their five-year anniversary to the day after meeting on The X Factor in 2011. In that half decade that’s followed, they’ve established themselves as the Spice Girls for a younger generation, packing their sets with hits aplenty and unquestionable girl power. There’s the odd cringe moment (“Are you ready to partaaayyyyy V Festival?”), but it doesn’t detract away the fact that Perry, Jade, Jesse and Leigh-Anne are arguably the most exciting girl-group the UK’s had since Girls Aloud. By bookending their set with early tune ‘Salute’ and closing it with feel-good banger ‘Black Magic’, it shows just how far the group have already come and how much further they can go.
Nottingham folk/indie troubadour Jake Bugg offered respite for those seeking shelter from the pop storm on the MTV stage Sunday evening. A modest crowd arrived for the set, with fans lapping up the pounding Primal Scream-esque funk of ‘Gimme The Love’ in addition to debut album material (‘Two Fingers’), undeniably Bugg at his best. New album ‘On My One’ might not have showcased his gritty side so much, but it’s brought a few welcome bangers along to the party.
The weekend’s festivities came to a close with a spellbinding set from Rihanna, who dipped into her ever-expanding bag of hits during her 80-minute set. ‘Love The Way You Lie’ and snippets of ‘Run This Town’ and Kanye West collaboration ‘All Of The Lights’ proved early highlights, but it was tracks from new album ‘Anti’ that showed Rihanna at her most intriguing. The hypnotic beat of ‘Consideration’ gave her time to work the crowd, with the album’s mega-hit ‘Work’ translating into an explicit and exciting festival winner – despite no appearance from Drake.
‘Diamonds’ and Tame Impala cover ‘Same Ol’ Mistakes’ were two of the second half’s most exhilarating moment but in stark contrast to the previous night’s headliner, there were still sublime singles missing, such as ‘Only Girl (In The World)’ and ‘What’s My Name?’. As Rihanna passes the festival headlining test with flying colours once again, you have to think that perhaps Emily and Michael Eavis could be on the end of the line come Glastonbury 2017.