On a vodka company-backed stage too small to contain Rosalía Vila Tobella, the singer faced an uphill battle. She was performing for a passionate contingent of fans swarming the front gate and a foreign, pale, English-speaking back half that knew of her, but clearly little else. Later in the night, Grande was flanked by the bright pink advertising of a cellular provider on Lolla’s most prominent stage, looking upon her loyal subjects and the pop world she conquered this year with a sense of boredom. She was focused on herself, and the show business family — her dancers and band and the nostalgic clips that played interlude on gigantic screen — that protected and insulated her from multiple tragedies.
The similarities between the two were readily apparent. Both are gifted singers, unafraid to launch into grandiose acapella performances at a moment’s notice. They each micrdosed hip-hop culture: Rosalía namechecked Kanye West’s inspiration on her music, while the bounce of Ari’s Soulja Boi flow on “7 Rings” and willingness to let Nicki Minaj verses play out for fans helped carry the ballad-heavy show. Similarly, both stars were buoyed by their excellent choreography and eye-catching dancers.
But the true distinction between Rosalía and Grande was a new artist using spontaneity (or at least the illusion of it) to demonstrate her extreme skill, while the latter stuck to precision — it was perfection, but nothing you wouldn’t see at any of her (many) stadium or festival shows.
Even for the crowd largely unaware of her music (or waiting for Meek Mill to show up at her stage), Rosalía’s set was a winning one. Decked in a mint green outfit, Rosalía seemed hellbent on working the crowd. She went acapella for stretches, doused herself with a water bottle while whipping her hair back and forth, and hit every mark with her dance team. By the time she got to songs like the Justin Timberlake-interpolating “BAGDAD – Cap.7: Liturgia” or “Con Altura” people merely passing by the stage would stop to take it all in. It was the rare Lollapalooza crowd that grew as the set went on instead of dwindling.
Only a couple hours later, Ariana arrived, set to look out over her domain. In a field of trampled, browned grass, women and men impersonated their idol’s various eras, from hairstyles to aesthetic wardrobes. They yelled for Grande as she arrived on the platform looking like a gothic fairy godmother set against a fiery, crimson moon. The screams and nostalgic ecstasy for EDM-tinged songs from Grande’s early career ( “Into You” and “Break Free”) were so loud and intense it was genuinely frightening. Unfortunately, there was a sense that Grande was merely checking off another milestone in a year full of them. “Damn I really got to headline the two biggest festivals of the year,” Grande tweeted. “How tf did this happen. I feel so grateful & I thank u from the bottom of my heart.” It’s a nice sentiment, but she’s had the most successful year of a pop star in recent memory; Lollapalooza was the end of a long victory lap, rather than a necessary opportunity to capture the hearts of a new crowd.
But then again, Grande spent an entire year facing her heartbreak and trauma. On Lollapalooza’s closing night, her flock was merely happy to be in her presence. They were enjoying the current queen of pop’s reign, as a promising successor performed in the wings.