Once a year, downtown Chicago shuts down completely as hordes of tank-top-wearing teens stream into Grant Park for Lollapalooza. This year’s four-day festival had plenty to entertain those crowds, from the biggest names in R&B-shaded pop in The Weeknd and Bruno Mars, to Travis Scott raging on his own album release night, to a host of smaller acts putting on a show for what was in many cases the biggest crowd of their career to date. These are the best things Rolling Stone saw at the festival this year.
Best Redemption: Travis Scott
Last time he was at Lollapalooza, Travis Scott got himself arrested for inciting the crowd. This time, he was headlining. On release night for his latest album Astroworld, he performed a career-spanning set (though barely any new music) with the riotous energy he’s known for bringing to the stage, though it was tempered by a little more control than his last go-around. You wouldn’t expect a Travis Scott show to be the kind of place for a marriage proposal — the vibe is more earth-shattering mosh pits — but that’s exactly what happened when a man exclaimed “A lot of you thought I wasn’t going to do it!” as Scott pulled him on stage. It’s a new phase for Scott, a little more mature, and a lot more impressive. B.K.
Best Showman: Bruno Mars
To no one’s surprise, Bruno Mars‘ performance on Friday drew the largest crowd of the festival. He’s a natural and gifted showman, backed by dancers and grooving musicians, whose collective charm is tailor-made to entertain a massive crowd. Fireworks popped off throughout the performance (some sparks were flying among couples in the audience, too). Mars kept fans entertained with his feel-good, never-ending series of hits: “Finesse,” “That’s What I Like,” “24K Magic” and more. To cap off the set, he turned up the romantic vibes with “Just the Way You Are” before closing with a rousing round of “Uptown Funk.” A.L.
Best Place to Bliss Out: Carly Rae Jepsen
“Call Me Maybe” was the bonafide hit that drew many in the audience to Carly Rae Jepsen‘s show on Saturday, but her knack for unabashed crushed-out lyrics wrapped in Eighties-kissed melodies goes well beyond that song. “Boy Problems,” the first-blush lust of “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance” and the yearning romantic hope of “Run Away With Me” perfectly captured the crowd’s hearts. Those should’ve-been-hits and more made Jepsen’s performance one of the most blissful sets at this year’s fest. Adding to the sense of destiny fulfilled: A fan gifted Carly Rae with an inflatable sword, for meme-related reasons. A.L.
Best Crowd Disses: Tyler, The Creator
“You’re so stupid,” Tyler told a fan who had just thrown his shoe on stage. He asked the attendee why he did it, musing about whether he would just be walking around in socks for the rest of the day. “I hate when rappers tell you to have a mosh pit, it’s corny,” he later admonished the full crowd. “But there’s, like, 30 separate mosh pits, and there could be one big one if you just looked back.” Dutifully, everyone in attendance formed two massive mosh pits on either side of the barrier bisecting the crowd. Tyler’s set was an exercise in growing up; he never incited the levels of reckless abandon that Travis Scott (or 2012 Tyler) did, but it’s not because he couldn’t. Instead, he opted to give advice on how to party, and temper the furious songs of his youth with cuts from Flower Boy, his more laid-back and improvisational latest album. For anyone that’s been following Tyler since his Bastard days, it’s a surprise to hear his set end with a heartfelt singalong, but that’s what happened as soon as “See You Again” rang out as the set closer. B.K.
Best Blown-Out Amps: Dream Wife
Not one, but two amps went down during British-Icelandic trio Dream Wife’s opening set on Friday, but the group didn’t need any extra auditory boost to showcase their power. “Gender’s a construct. Make your own rules,” lead singer Rakel Mjöll said to introduce the punky pop of “Somebody.” “I am not my body, I am somebody” was the group’s rallying cry, addressing consent as well as self-acceptance. The set was punctuated by the trio’s aerobic spins, back-bends and kicks, adding to Dream Wife’s solid showing at their first North American festival slot. A.L.
Best #MeToo Moment: Jessie Reyez
“The #MeToo movement is not fucking new!” Jessie Reyez chanted repeatedly towards the end of her Sunday set. To drive the point home, she scaled the stage’s scaffolding to make sure she was heard loud and clear, eliciting loud cheers from the crowd. The riveting moment came while she performed “Gatekeeper,” a song about a harrowing experience she says she had with a producer. (Reyez has opened up about her allegations against Detail in a candid interview with Rolling Stone.) She also advocated for mental health, confessing that she wrote “Figures” as a way to battle depression and viewed it as a lesson, encouraging fans that they, too, can get through hard times. “If it weren’t for this song, I probably wouldn’t be at Lollapalooza,” she said. A.L.
Best Returning Act: Jack White
Lollapalooza 2018’s lineup consisted of several returning acts, but Jack White was surprised by the festival’s renewed invitation, telling the audience that he “broke everything in the dressing room” before he hit the stage back in 2012. After that rock & roll moment, his story ended on a cute note: White recalled that while he was heading onstage from that newly trashed dressing room, his daughter stopped him to hand him the same guitar pick he was currently about to use. He then dedicated White Stripes classic “We’re Going to Be Friends” to his daughter Scarlett and son Henry. The rest of White’s festival-closing Sunday night set touched on his solo work, the Raconteurs (“Steady, As She Goes”), the Dead Weather (“I Cut Like a Buffalo”) and plenty more Stripes favorites, including “Fell in Love With A Girl.” It all led up to a chant-along “Seven Nation Army.” A.L.
Most Irresistible Smile: Khalid
If there were an award for most buoyant personality from the weekend, it would have to go to Khalid. He was all smiles while two-stepping alongside his dancers for smooth jams like “Location” and “Young Dumb & Broke,” which were as contagious as the grin on his face. After making an appearance at Billie Eilish’s earlier set on Thursday, Khalid invited his own special guest onstage when Fifth Harmony’s Normani came out for “Love Lies.” As the sun set on Chicago’s skyline, he performed his final song, the excellent Nineties R&B vibed “OTW,” ending with a perfect, breezy summer song to usher in nightfall. A.L.
Most Unexpected Political Statement: Lil Pump
Lil Pump’s music is thrillingly substanceless. He raps phrases like “Gucci gang” tens upon tens of times during a song; it’s not exactly protest music. So when a sign emerged at the back of his afternoon set reading “Fuck Trump, Go Lil Pump,” it seemed incongruous. The rapper showed up 15 minutes late to his 45-minute set, but no one seemed to mind. The sound was then cut in the middle of the set because, according to Pump, flanked by eight Chicago police officers on stage, too many people were fainting in the extremely high-energy crowd. The most unexpected aspect of the set, though, were the multiple “Fuck Trump” chants that broke out, led by Pump himself. The music may be apolitical, but that sign at the back of the show was in the front row by the time Pump’s set was over. B.K.
Best Free Swag: Billie Eilish
Teenage phenom Billie Eilish looked every bit her age in her bright neon outfit coupled with her boundless energy, but her songwriting and delivery suggested she’s an old soul. The crowd for her Thursday set was just as exuberant as the artist onstage, and Eilish rewarded their enthusiasm with free paper crowns to go along with her song “You Should See Me in a Crown.” Add to this her expressive dancing that matched the emotion behind tunes like “idontwannabeyouanymore,” her love-weary breakout single “Ocean Eyes,” and “Lovely” – which she performed as a surprise duet with Khalid – and it was an impressive display of her rising star power. A.L.
Best Body-Positivity Twerk Lessons: Lizzo
Lizzo won’t tolerate “No Scrubs,” and she doesn’t think anyone else should, either. She covered the TLC tune and drove that point home during her fierce set on Friday with her own songs (“Fitness,” “‘Scuse Me” and “Good as Hell”) which she delivered as a superhero for body-positivity. Her cape was a giant orange bow fastened to her backside. She, her Big Grrrls dancers and DJ Sophia Eris also gave some serious twerk lessons and served up playful sass alongside Lizzo’s liberatingly rapped and soulfully sung lyrics. A.L.
Best Album Announcement: Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend were one of the best young bands in America for five years. Then they went silent: In the five years since 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City, they’ve released no new music. But that didn’t matter during their headlining set on Saturday night — though down one of their founding members, the band sounded as tight as ever, running through nearly their entire catalog. What’s more, the music has aged incredibly well. For a late-2000s band to sound as good as the day they arrived in 2018 is no small feat, and it’s a testament to the New York group’s staying power. It’s also why, when frontman Ezra Koenig announced that their next album is finished and currently being mastered, the crowd erupted in excitement. B.K.
Best Place to Get Your Brood On: The Weeknd
Turning brooding themes that often centered on depraved relationships into anthemic festival fare, the Weeknd made an emotional impact on his rapt audience on Saturday. Abel Tesfaye animatedly worked the stage, jumping about and breaking out dance moves while delivering the hits – “The Hills,” “Earned It” and “Can’t Feel My Face” – alongside newer tune “Call Out My Name.” He also reached back to his 2011 R&B noir mixtape debut House of Balloons to drop the title track, a reminder of his quick rise. A.L.