Mabel at Reading Festival 2021: pure pop perfection in a hit-packed set

August 27: the British pop star fills her 45-minute set with euphoria, acting as her own hype woman and ushering in her thrilling next era

Mabel’s ‘Let Them Know’ is one of the biggest, ballsiest pop songs of the year. The disco banger, with its house rhythms and sparkling hooks, is the ultimate feel-good anthem – a reminder, as the lyrics succinctly put it, that “you’re that bitch.” It’s the first taste of new music we’ve had from Mabel this year, and an exciting peek at what her next chapter will sound like. It’s unsurprising, then, that it sounds even better on the Reading Festival Main Stage East, screamed back by thousands of fans.

It’s one of the first live outings of Mabel’s latest single – a song that’s surely been a staple in clubs since Freedom Day – and accompanied by six, perfectly choreographed dancers, a live band and a few moments of pyro, it’s a joy.

Performing in the early evening, British pop star Mabel fills her 45-minute set with euphoria. Precious time isn’t wasted on long, laborious stories regaled to the crowd; instead, she blitzes through her impressive back catalogue of pop smashers. She opens with the electropop bounce of ‘Mad Love’, follows it up with Afroswing-inflected ‘Finders Keepers’ and then storms into the massive ‘Bad Behaviour’. It’s a powerhouse opening trio – and a reminder of the wealth of hits Mabel holds in her arsenal.

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Performing in front of a giant, shiny silver “M” and decked out in a black vinyl outfit that channels Christina Aguilera’s ‘Dirrty’ era, she puts on the kind of slick show you might expect at a stadium – as if someone’s picked up Wembley and plonked it into a field full of glitter-clad teenagers. She acts as a hype-woman for the crowd, too: before ‘Fine Line’, the slinky R&B jam she released with singer-songwriter Not3s in 2018, she encourages the crowd, shouting: “I’m going to need some help from you on this one… I want Not3s to hear you from London”

It’s a stacked set which cherry picks songs from her back catalogue (and skims over some of the filler from her 2019 debut album ‘High Expectations’), and the energy rarely dips. A brief lull occurs with dreary ‘Tick Tock’, a 2020 collaboration with dance-poppers Clean Bandit, but largely it’s chock-a-block with belters.

Credit: Andy Ford

Closing with breakup bop ‘Don’t Call Me Up’ – complete with an extended dance break – Mabel’s main stage performance was brilliantly good fun. If this is the introduction to Mabel’s next era as a popstar, we’re in for a treat.

Check back at NME all weekend for more reviews, news, interviews, photos and more from Reading & Leeds 2021

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