Bunnies have taken over the south end of Grant Park. As the minutes before NewJeans’ debut US live performance tick away, crowds of fans wearing white and pink rabbit ears, fluffy bunny hats and other accessories resembling the furry creatures move towards the T-Mobile Stage. It’s the K-pop girl group’s debut US live performance – becoming the first female K-pop act to perform at Lollapalooza in the process – and warrens of fans (known as Bunnies) and the curious unconverted are ready to see if they live up to the high levels of hype that surround them.
The short answer? They more than do. Although the five members are obviously and understandably nervous for their Lollapalooza debut today (August 3), they manage to rewire those jitters into breezy, bright performances. One of the most refreshing things about NewJeans is how relaxed and laidback they make their songs and aesthetic feel, even when it’s just as stylised as any other artist’s output, and they imbue that sense of low-key, casual energy into their set today.
If NewJeans’ Lolla performance is a first proper introduction to the group Stateside, then they structure it in a way that feels like the most fun catch-up session on their story so far. Every song they’ve released yet (save for their Coca-Cola collaborations) makes it into the setlist, performed in almost the exact order they were released, taking the festival from their incredibly promising beginning to their latest pop peaks.
In the first half of the set, their early material is given new levels of oomph thanks to a live band. ‘Hype Boy’ is received with a deafening roar of excitement that’s matched in the giddy chants the members yell at the end of each verse line. ‘Cookie’, meanwhile, is given a rock makeover that feels like the physical embodiment of the bunny skull and crossbones necklaces the members wear around their necks – sparkly and sweet, but with a little extra punch.
The ‘250 Remix’ of ‘Hurt’ brings a twinkling soft moment to the first minutes of the set that highlights the perfect pacing on display here – spikes of fervent excitement followed by beautiful breathers. The cycle restarts after, with NewJeans’ boundless enthusiasm sweeping you up and away. For the final songs of the band segment, the group turn ‘Ditto’ and ‘OMG’ from club hits into festival anthems, the live instruments twisting their pulsating beats into brilliant new configurations.
As ‘OMG’ comes to an end, the five members line up behind each other and take turns in stepping into the proverbial spotlight, blowing kisses or making their own gestures to the crowd as they do. Then, they skip off stage as a video montage previewing what’s still to come takes over the screens until, moments later, the group return, handheld mics swapped for headsets. Now, it seems, they’re ready to step into Serious Pop Star mode.
The songs from their latest EP ‘Get Up’, released last month, deserve nothing less and they perform them impeccably today. But, even as they’re nailing their performances, NewJeans still find ways to inject their secret ingredient into things – the infectious spirit of youth. It’s something that can be felt throughout the set and takes it from perfectly executed to soaring up to dizzying heights. Dancers join the group for ‘Super Shy’, helping make the choreography look bigger and bolder than it would with just the five on stage, but somehow also making it feel like you’ve stumbled across a (very, very talented) impromptu dance sesh.
That feeling continues a song later on ‘ETA’, dancers off stage once again. As NewJeans bounce into formation in the track’s opening notes, Hyein and Haerin share a high five as Danielle booms: “Lolla, let me hear you scream!” The humongous crowd in front of them instantly obliges, as they do moments later when the girls lead them in an a cappella return to ‘OMG’’s chorus, the singalong so loud, Minji instinctively puts her hands to her mouth in shock.
It’s not a one-off instance of the audience shouting back every word – that bellow is a constant throughout and only grows louder as NewJeans continue to bewitch Chicago. Even during interlude song ‘Get Up’, the enthusiasm is at fever pitch, those present making the most of every second of the set.
By the time the group announces that we’ve come to the end, any shakier, nervous moments from earlier seem a lifetime away. Instead, they look completely settled on stage and as if they’ve been commanding audiences this big for years. A charismatic version of ‘ASAP’ brings things to a close with yet more flawless live vocals, wrapping up NewJeans’ first US performance in stunning style. As festival debuts go, this more than justifies the frenzy around them and suggests that, once they’ve got more experience under their belts, they’ll be unstoppable.
‘Cool With You’