Mighty Hoopla has managed to carve out a real niche for itself since its inaugural 2017 edition. The feel of the place hits somewhere between a daylight version of Glastonbury’s NYC Downlow, the world’s messiest hen party and the unofficial annual summit for every queer person living within the M25 (and indeed beyond).
Founded by the team behind the much-loved club night Sink The Pink, Mighty Hoopla isn’t an LGBTQ+ festival per se, but celebrating queer culture forms a huge part of its ethos. While women and queer artists remain woefully underrepresented on the majority of festival bills, that’s not the case here: instead, the line-up is packed with throwback noughties fare, newer dance-adjacent pop music and a number of pop culture deep cuts. In other words, it’s a winning formula.
FLO and Nadine Coyle both seem well-versed in Hoopla’s unique charms already. The former cover Jamelia’s ‘Superstar’ (and welcome the singer on-stage for a brief cameo), while Coyle skips most of her lesser-known solo catalogue to give the masses what they really want. After launching straight into Girls Aloud’s debut single ‘Sound Of The Underground’, her set is a whistlestop tour through the girl group’s highlights: a troupe of Sink The Pink queens join Coyle for ‘Biology’, while 2017’s ‘Go To Work’ is the only solo outing.
Over at the Candy Crush Arena (yes, really), Jamelia is one of the day’s busiest sets. Shortly before playing ‘Thank You’, she expresses her gratitude to a crowd that has effectively revived her career with their affection for her noughties output. Though Samantha Mumba mostly hits the brief later on with heaps of monochrome choreo and all of the hits from 2000’s ‘Gotta Tell You’, there’s perhaps one too many new ones in the mix to keep the momentum up.
Bolstered by a full live band, Natasha Bedingfield – or should that be Shreddingfield – pairs amped-up, occasionally scream-laden renditions of ‘These Days’ and ‘Unwritten‘ with a cover of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’. There must be something in the air, because Kelis also blasts Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ later on in the middle of a mid-set megamix that can only be described as a stroke of deeply chaotic genius. Shortly after this, she covers Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, mashes up ‘Milkshake’ with Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Gravel Pit’ and gives Calvin Harris link-up ‘Bounce’ the euphoric outing it deserves.
After a quick jaunt into the land of UK Garage courtesy of Artful Dodger, Saturday headline duties fall to Kelly Rowland, who has clearly done her homework. By the time she launches into a nine-song-long Destiny’s Child medley, Brockwell Park is eating out of the palm of her hand. She also crams in an impressive number of solo cuts – ’Stole’, ‘Dilemma’, ‘Motivation’, ‘Like This’, ‘Work’, ‘Motivation’, ‘Commander’ – by nimbly cutting between shortened and reworked live versions. The energy doesn’t let up until the final fireworks for closer ‘When Love Takes Over’ have fizzled out.
A second day of pop gold heats up in euphoric fashion with this year’s Eurovision victor Loreen, before Liberty X (well, three of them) contend with the blazing sun in their matching black lace jumpsuits. “It’s like that witch in The Wizard of Oz,” quips Michelle Heaton before sinking theatrically to the floor: “I’m melting!” Opening with ‘Just A Little’ and some camp choreography to match – each of them jauntily wielding canes – the short-but-sweet set swoops through all of their noughties hits, including the garage-flavoured throwback ‘Thinking It Over’. Over at the Pleasure Palace, meanwhile, Michelle McManus neatly encapsulates the spirit of Hoopla in a single set. The winner of Pop Idol 2003 is greeted with a rapturous frenzy, packing out the entire tent for a whole fleet of covers before her debut single ‘All This Time’ brings the whole place down. She’s soon followed by fellow talent contest alumni Diana Vickers, Chico and Seann Miley Moore in rapid succession.
Elsewhere, Jake Shears performs a blend of solo tracks, Scissor Sisters favourites and George Michael covers in a silky marathon running kit (he’s number 69, of course), before Vengaboys jet everybody in Brockwell Park straight off to Ibiza on Venga Airways, with a detour through the very best of Eurotrash (from Las Ketchup to Don Omar) along the way: it’s easily the busiest set of the day.
Over on the main stage, Róisín Murphy takes a commendable approach to popstar costume changes by whacking on a series of increasingly ridiculous hats that seem to grow larger as time goes on, while sneaking in the original version of Moloko’s ‘Sing It Back’ among the likes of ‘Incapable’, ‘Overpowered’ and ‘Something More’. Her new DJ Koze collaborations ‘CooCool’ and ‘The Universe’ come into their own in the Sunday haze; the only regret is that she leaves Hoopla hanging when it comes to ‘Murphy’s Law’. Instead, she teases its spoken-word intro before ending with the darkly percussive ‘Ramalama (Bang Bang)’. As the sun sets, Sophie Ellis-Bextor generously sneaks just one single from her new album ‘HANA’ into her set while otherwise sticking to the crowd-pleasing territory of her greatest hits, from ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’ to ‘Get Over You’. For good measure, she also chucks in a cover of ‘Like A Prayer’ complete with golden bursts of pyro.
Closing out the weekend is a task best left to Years & Years. Olly Alexander feels like the perfect headliner choice as an artist who so clearly studies at the altar of so many of Hoopla’s most beloved artists; bringing the same sense of theatre and flamboyance into his own shows. Tonight, he levels up to headliner status with ease – while the pure pop of Years & Years’ back catalogue would be enough on its own, his special guests up the ante further. After whetting the crowd’s whistle with a surprise return from Shears for a red-drenched rendition of Scissor Sisters’ ‘Filthy/Gorgeous’, he only then goes and invites two of Girls Aloud (Nicola Roberts and Kimberley Walsh) for their classics ‘The Promise’ and ‘Call The Shots’. And who in their right mind can say fairer than that?