Lollapalooza is about to explode across eight stages in Chicago's Grant Park. Here is our annual guide to the essential acts — bands justifying their headliner status, emerging acts having their moment and the huge DJs who will be drawing some of the weekend's hugest crowds.
The Athens, Alabama foursome's Lolla performance comes hot on the boot heels of their latest album, Sound & Color. Since their 2012 debut, their rhythms have gotten a bit funkier and their guitar playing more wide-ranging; but the band is still anchored by vocalist Brittany Howard's ability to wail, belt and croon within a single turn of phrase. Alabama Shakes can kick out the blues jams and slow down with a ballad, too — as evidenced by the burning single "Gimme All Your Love," which they played during their Saturday Night Live appearance in March. They'll likely sneak in a few surprises too, perhaps even covering Otis Redding and/or AC/DC.
Long after the last Swedish House Mafia show in 2013, Alesso is keeping the embers of their sound burning bright — he was mentored by SHM's Ingrosso and is now a marquee name in his own right. Rather than wade into the muck of trendier, grimier electronic sounds, the 24-year-old Swede aims relentlessly for the rafters with euphoric synths and anthemic choruses. His recent debut, Forever, was a Number One Dance/Electronic debut and he's a staple of the summer festival circuit in 2015, hitting the Electric Daisy Carnival and Coachella (where he brought out Tove Lo, also on this year's Lolla). His lovely, escapist, vocal-heavy tracks will serve as the perfect cap to an Instagram-worthy summer day with friends.
Nashville's Bully found a way to make grunge sound fresh again with Feels Like, a debut filled to the brim with snark, angst and the lightest touch of sweetness. They've gotten a major cosign from producer Steve Albini — whom lead singer Alicia Bognanno interned for — and are preparing for a tour later this year with California's Best Coast.
After two albums and three Top 10 hits (either solo or with collaborators), Charli XCX has solidified herself as one of pop's most rebellious and independent minds. Her combination of punk rock attitude with dance-pop sensibility makes for a live show as raucous as her smash singles — her own "Boom Clap," "I Love It" with Icona Pop or the chart-topping "Fancy" with Iggy Azalea. Her Saturday afternoon set at Lollapalooza is a brief break in the middle of a co-headlining tour with Jack Antonoff's Bleachers.
The British quartet has spent the past couple months jet-setting all over Europe, hitting fests in Poland, France, Portugal and Germany. Expect their crisply complex yet cozily approachable art-pop to be honed to a T as they hit Lolla in support of their second full-length, this year's Born Under Saturn. Django Django aren't a band that hit you over the head with their power and intensity; rather they'll draw you in gradually with thick synths and complex harmonies.
Just a year ago, avant-R&B vocalist FKA Twigs played a decidedly more humble setting in the Chicago festival circuit: an early daytime slot on a Pitchfork Festival side stage. Back then, though, her crowd-moving powers were already evident — under cool blue lights, she stayed incandescent as she drove an audience to bump and grind in broad daylight. These days, she's constantly threatened by bona fide celebrity but still manages to keep her original, cross-disciplinary spirit alive. This should be one of the fest's more visual performances: She just finished a residency at the Manchester International Festival in which she created a new dance piece each day and her stunning clips are up for three MTV Video Music Awards.
Florence and the Machine's latest, How Big How Blue How Beautiful, is a heavy listen, filled with songs that turn turmoil into soulful, soaring anthems. Footage from the many fests the band has hit this summer display high-pop drama at its most captivating: frontwoman Florence Welch clad in a dazzling white suit, tambourine in hand, bounding across the stage and into the crowd. She broke her foot at this year's Coachella, but bounced back in time for Bonnaroo.
Even though he's just 31 years old, L.A.-based Flying Lotus is, by now, practically an elder statesman across the nexuses of underground hip-hop, experimental electronic music and even contemporary jazz. While he's long been name-checked by anyone with an ear for the avant-garde — Thom Yorke's DJed his parties! — 2015 seemed like the closest he's had to a mainstream media year. Besides performing at a string of monolith festivals (including Glastonbury, Coachella and Bonnaroo), he debuted on national TV via Why? With Hannibal Buress and contributed to Kendrick Lamar's lauded To Pimp a Butterfly.
In 2014, EDM's resident comedian dropped his debut album, Money Sucks, Friends Rule, on friend and collaborator Diplo's label Mad Decent. With features from a unique roster of acts — Panic! At the Disco's Brendon Urie, DJ Snake and Stylo G, to name a few — Francis showed that he's not only a moombahton legend but an artist with incredible dexterity. The Snake-assisted "Get Low" was in the hit Furious 7, and his upcoming EP may benefit from the momentum. This Mixtape Is Fire, due shortly after Lolla, features appearances by Skrillex and Calvin Harris. His Friday evening set at Perry's could devolve into the best kind of chaos.
Progressive house superstar Kaskade will shut down Perry's late Friday evening, culling from more than a decade of grandiose, dizzying, award-winning songs. With experience headlining some of the biggest dance music festivals (Ultra, Electric Daisy Carnival), the Chicago-born DJ and producer should have no trouble handling a homecoming show on a packed weekend. Plus, two years after releasing his last LP, Atmosphere, Kaskade is beginning to roll out new music, like the ethereal "Never Sleep Alone."
Late last year, after leaving Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music, Kid Cudi retreated into fourth album Satellite: The Journey to Mother Moon, where his huge fan base (1.2 million Twitter followers!) finds him most at home: isolated in vast vistas of synths and electronics. Based on what the producer-rapper has said as of late, though, he may soon pick up where he left off with acoustic Satellite closer "Troubled Boy." Earlier this year, he told fans that follow-up Speedin' Bullet to Heaven features "all guitar and bass played by myself." Lollapalooza may be one of the first opportunities to see Kid Cudi's shift in approach — a transition, possibly, from space traveler to a troubadour staying right here on earth.
This Midas-fingered, 23-year-old Norwegian DJ has big, bold ideas and somehow doesn't mangle them. Who else could remix Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" and reinvigorate it for the Snapchat set? Kygo's "tropical-house" sound is tailormade for summer vibes, including his almost-guaranteed set-closer: another remix, this time of a-ha's "Take On Me," one of the songs that recently launched Apple Music.
From Coachella to Bonnaroo, the 73-year-old Macca has become the festival king. Now, he's heading to Chicago for more than two hours of songs from his lengthy, legendary career. As a live performer, McCartney has mastered the balance between his older, best-known releases and his newer output, mixing Beatles and Wings songs with the singles off his most recent LP, 2013's New. However, with the high-profile contributions he's made to Chicago native Kanye West's newest material, let's hope he'll leave some room for the soft rock-tinged trap tracks they've created together.
Even though Metallica hasn't released a full album of new music since 2008's Death Magnetic, the band has remained busy — recently they've started their own indie label, released a 3-D concert film, headlined Glastonbury and hosted a "Metallica By Request" tour where fans curated each night's set list. Their two-hour Sunday set at Lolla comes just months after the band made it official that they were working on new music, which means their performance could potentially be filled with a few of the nearly 20 new songs say they have written.
Seattle duo Odesza arrived at a perfect time. In electronic music circles, all the bass-grinding murk started to become exhausting and rock music was getting old-timey and Mumford-ized. Odesza found a sweet spot, creating thoroughly chilled-out dance music that managed to boast an indie-ish vibe while still riding big-room-ready rhythms. The combination of nostalgia and unassuming vibes has proven to be a hit — the pair continue to sell out cavernous venues like New York's Terminal 5 and they recently played both Coachella and Bonnaroo.
The breakthrough country artist of 2014 was the one who, fittingly, took the road less traveled. Kentucky native Sturgill Simpson independently released his acclaimed Metamodern Sounds in Country Music last year, notable for its lysergic rhythms, heady lyrics and interplanetary themes. The feat landed him not only critical acclaim and a record deal with Atlantic, but he's hitting Lollapalooza as part of his current Living the Dream tour. Country fans and otherwise won't be disappointed: Simpson's set promises to be a rollicking good time, full of lickety-split riffs and head-bobbing pulses.
Tame Impala have been touted for penning punchy, psychedelic pop songs since 2009. After several years following lineup changes, solo projects and producing friends' records on the side, the band just released quite the comeback album, the critically acclaimed U.K. Top Five debut Currents. It's not the one you'd expect: the psych rockers are resurrecting a kind of darkened, languid disco. Though the new songs are appropriately synth-heavy, Tame Impala isn't skimping on the heady, improvisation-filled sets fans love, as evidenced by their recent Conan appearance.
Beneath the electro-pop sheen of Sweden's Tove Lo are some of contemporary pop's most intense and subversive lyrics. Her debut album, Queen of the Clouds, contained singles "Habits (Stay High)" and "Talking Body," with both keeping cozy on the charts. Since the release, she's been spreading the Top 40 love, writing hits for Hilary Duff ("Sparks") and Ellie Goulding ("Love Me Like You Do"). She was one of the absolute hugest side-stage draws at this year's Bonnaroo and will embark on her first headlining tour across North America this October.
Four years ago, the Weeknd was Drake's best kept secret. At that time, the elusive R&B singer's biggest foray into the world of "pop" was maybe covering "Dirty Diana." Now he nearly headlines Coachella, joins Taylor Swift on stage and bears a resemblance to Michael Jackson in "Can't Feel My Face," his single produced by Max Martin and currently the Number Two song in the country. The Weeknd's latest hits, along with Fifty Shades of Grey's "Earned It" and "The Hills," have been his biggest in both sound and success. This week, he became the first artist to occupy all top three spots on Billboard's Hot R&B chart.
In just two years, Young Thug has become one of hip-hop's most popular and controversial voices. He occasionally raps of violent stick-ups and molly-fueled threesomes, though what polarizes hip-hop fans is how he does this — gleefully, with a high-pitched voice that slurs, whoops and yelps through his tall tales. His flow is one of today's most influential, his fashion is one of music's most intriguing, and his upcoming debut album HiTunes is one of the year's most anticipated.