Rich Brian Slayed His First Performance Since 2019 At Head In The Clouds Full Day 1 Review Of ALL The Talent We Caught At 88rising's HITC
LOS ANGELES, CA- In covering this festival, I had the double duty of taking photographs and also reviewing each act that I saw perform. While it would have been easier had I been able to enlist the help of a writer for the weekend, I was quite pleased when the set times for the weekend were released. The 14 acts generally spaced out so that there wasn’t too much overlap, and I would be able to catch a nice chunk of every performance throughout the day. My bullish plans, however, got off to a rough start.
There was a young Japanese group called Atarashii Gakko! that was slated to kick off the music on the main stage, and due to some confusion at the box office, I missed, what I heard, was a highly entertaining and dynamic set by this young group.
The first performance that I was able to catch was the Filipino-Australian singer Ylona Garica. Some may recognize her from her time on Pinoy Big Brother:737 (2015) when she came out as the runner-up for that season. She parlayed that experience by releasing her debut solo single, “Dahan-Dahan Lang” in 2016.
Ylona’s affiliation with 88rising is through their Filipino-leaning partner Paradise Rising, and they have dropped a series of singles over the past year that have wracked up millions of listens and views.
She stepped onto the Double Happiness stage wearing a fierce red ensemble and she embodied that fierceness as she performed her twenty-minute set. Whether she was emotionally digging deep into her ballads like “Don’t Go Changing”, or preaching her truth on “Space”, she worked that stage to get the audience on her level… and it worked. She also performed a rousing cover of Bruno Mar’s “Locked Out Of Heaven”, which proved to me that she is fully capable of carrying a top 10 hit when she records one.
The next act I was able to catch was the brother and sister duo of Lil Cherry and GOLDBUUDA (aka Jito Mo). Originally from South Korea, these siblings killed it with their early day, main stage performance with their wild hip-hop stylings
As soon as the beat of their introduction dropped, Lil Cherry stormed the stage and got the crowd riled up with her infectious energy, bouncing down the catwalk and high stepping to the beat. That energy kept getting hotter and hotter as they rapped their way through their singles “Mukkbang!” and “G!”. The set was so “hot” that Lil Cherry had to take off the jacket she wore as she stormed the stage.
Their music is party music, full stop. The extraordinary energy continued throughout their 25-minute set, and they made sure that the audience was fully engaged throughout, even stopping in the middle of a to make sure that the crowd was as hyped as they were. Mission accomplished.
I was already familiar with Audrey Nuna before Head In The Clouds. After all, it’s not often, if ever, that a Korean American gets signed to a major label (Artista Records). Trust me when I say that I’ve been rooting for her to succeed … I think her music will… fingers crossed… get her to the finish line.
Personally, I absolutely dig her musical style. The way she tip-toes the lines of hip-hop and R&B is fresh and clever. Her music feels like she’s always in search of that unique approach or sound that makes something slap. Have you heard her single “damn Right”? That is some on some Missy Elliot meets Deb Never tip.
I loved how much fun Audrey had fun on that stage. While her down/mid tempo songs are bangers, it’s the twitchy, up-tempo jams that really gets the crowd’s attention. All Audrey had to ask was, “Who came here to dance?” or shout, “Bounce!”, her crowd happily obliged.
The first instance of true “Fan-aticism” … the first of many … that I witnessed at Head In The Clouds was when DPR Live and DPR Ian of the Dream Perfect Regime collective took the stage. Now, I’ll be honest, I didn’t know who these two young men were before I arrived at the festival grounds, but apparently the thousands of voices yelling out their names behind me as I strolled the photo pit clearly did.
After the festival, I had to do a little research to learn more about the DPR collective, and apparently, there are about 8 members who collaborate with each other on individual projects and as a group. Ian and Live appear to be the co-founders. While both Live and Ian have been steadily releasing their own music, which they also took turns performing during the set, this performance seemed to be a signal that more DPR collaborations are in the works.
Their friendship and interconnectedness were fully on display throughout their hour-long performance. They each took turns center stage, knowing when to allow the other to go off on a solo, and they each played off one another when their parts overlapped. Performance synchronism at its finest. During Live’s solo performance of “Jam & Butterly”, he was able to get EAJ, who would be performing the following day, to perform his part on the track.
The fans couldn’t get enough of Live and Ian, and as quickly as they left the stage, their fans begged for an encore. As the dusk light crept through the trees in the brookside, Live and Ian obliged their dedicated fans and delighted them with an additional 3 minutes of DPR bliss, with their fans shouting out the name of their collective to end the encore.
If you were looking for the festival baddy, you need to look no further than the South Korean-born, Maryland-raised singer REI AMI. A self-described “sassy, little bitch”, she took the stage wearing black and red chaps, flanked by four dancers. Rei Ami gave the crowd all of the confident attitude and gritty sass they needed. The fans lined up at the Double Happiness stage ate up her 30-minute set.
Rei Ami blew up when her homemade music video for her song “Snowcone” destroyed the Youtube algorithm, racking up more than 7.7 million views (as of 11/24/21). Riding that wave, she consistently dropped singles, which culminated in her first mixtape, “FOIL” which was released earlier this year.
With her bass-heavy beats setting the tempo, REI AMI and her dancers oozed sensuality all over the stage. She may be a petite woman, but don’t let looks deceive you … this one’s got the stuff, and music, to make you stop in your tracks and pay attention.
Elephante is a producer/recording artist and had actually tried to set up a time to take portraits of him during the festival, but our schedules didn’t quite match up. I was, however, able to catch his performance on the Double Happiness Stage.
Tim Wu is Elephante, and he’s basically living out my dream. Like him, I grew up with the stereotypical Asain-American “story of youth”. My parents were immigrants and I was told to study hard, attend the best college, and get a “good job”. I’m a lawyer by day. Tim’s parents are immigrants, he studied hard, attended Harvard, and found himself working for a top global consulting firm. We both had a passion for performing and creating music, but Tim was the one who was able to break free from the stereotypes and make a name for himself in music.
His music is a mix of various styles, but his underlying focus is getting people in the room to dance. His latest album, Heavy Glow, is a modern melange of house and electronic dance music, and it accomplishes his dance objective. He does this while also really giving his listeners a glimpse of his psyche as the lyrics throughout the album dig into some thoughtful personal matters.
One of the few acts of the weekend who wasn’t backed by a band or a cadre of dancers, Elephante took the stage in a bright yellow suit and t-shirt and manned his own decks, occasionally stepping away from his decks to dance across the stage while singing his songs and engaging his audience. It was a really fun performance and Elephante seems to have a charisma that really seems to draw in ears and eyes, and I found myself envying what he’s been able to achieve this early in his music career. With 88rising’s backing, I’m sure his audience will only grow over time.
A couple of years ago, I had run into Saweetie and her crew on a random street in Austin, TX during South By Southwest. I recognized her because her publicist had forwarded me some of her music that playlisted on Spotify, and I told her how much I was enjoying her then-current drops. Her handler asked if I had time for photos or an interview, but I was already running late to a pre-scheduled appointment, and I regretfully declined. That regret is now REGRET. lol. I don’t even remember the act that I had previously promised to catch. Being able to document her performance at Head In The Clouds was long overdue.
I was actually surprised to find out… because of Head In The Clouds… that Saweetie, nee Diamonté Quiava Valentin Harper, was Filipina Chinese. You better believe that there was another Chappelle’s Show “Racial Draft”, everybody would be trying to trade up for Saweetie.
Saweetie’s performance was a lot shorter than I anticipated. Although she was scheduled for 40 minutes, she got on stage a little late, and her set time didn’t get extended … at least I don’t remember it getting extended past her 6:35 end-time. She also spent a decent amount of time onstage promoting her “Icy” brand, but her fans absolutely didn’t mind it at all as she tossed out freebies into the audience.
But the shortened set-time didn’t take away from the dynamism of her performance and the hits that she lay down. From “Back To The Streets” to “Pretty and Rich” to “My Type” to “Tap In” and “Best Friend”. She only performed 7 songs, and when she had to leave the stage, the fans entreated her for one more, she gave them what they wanted and reprised “Back To The Streets” as an encore.
But another non-music moment really stood or for me. During her set, and given the recent Astroworld tragedy, she took a minute during her performance to acknowledge the audience, asking them to all take a step back so things weren’t so tight up in the front, and reminding everybody that we all had to take care of each other. I loved where her head was at.
One queen followed another as one of South Korea’s leading ladies in music, CL, took the stage.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, CL entered the music scene at the young age of 15 and rose to fame as a member of the insanely popular girl group 2NE1 in 2009… think Blackpink before Blackpink. Following 2NE1’s final studio album Crush, CL went solo and became the first female Korean solo artist to place onto the Billboard Hot 100 with her single “Lifted”. Her debut studio album, Alpha, was released in October 2021.
CL’s performance at Head In The Clouds was pretty damn dope. Even if you weren’t familiar with her music, I guarantee that you would have been drawn into the performance on her charisma alone. Everything about CL exuded a kind of regal confidence; it was like watching a badass who knows she’s a badass perform on stage letting us know that we better check ourselves and show her some damn respect.
She performed a handful of songs from her latest album (“+5 Star+”, “Lover Like Me”, “Tie A Cherry”, “Let It’ & ” Spicy”), but her fans went absolutely nuts when she performed the songs that really set her apart as a solo artist. Bangers like “Dirty Vibe”, “Lifted” and “Hello Bitches” had the crowd singing/yelling along. But the fan-craze probably hit critical mass when during the middle of her set she had DPR Ian and DPR Live join her on stage for a performance of DPR Ian’s “No Blueberries”. Seriously… if you were standing next to the wrong group of fans, you’d have probably been hard of hearing for the next 24 hours.
I LOVE LOVE LOVE when an artist I’m unfamiliar with impresses me with a killer performance. UMI did that to me when I saw her perform for the first time on the Double Happiness stage.
UMI has a vibe. As soon as she started her set with the smoothly infectious “Love Affair”, I was feeling the R&B groove she was establishing. Even when she was singing in Japanese, I couldn’t help but just smile and sway my head back forth to her smoothly rhythmic vocals. Even when she covered songs (Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and Frank Ocean’s “Self Control), she put her own reimagined spin on them to make them her own.
What I particularly loved was the passion that she seemed to put into her vocal delivery. Her buttery vocals notwithstanding, there was just an energy that she injected into each song that she sang. The way she put her body into every note emphasized the feelings that she wanted her listeners to feel with her.
As an aside, her performance of “Lullaby” had me feeling some Jill Scott-levels of emotions, and that ain’t nothing. I think I found a new R&B favorite… and UMI is her name.
I’m not much of an EDM fan, so I really didn’t know who Illenium was. I did find it a little odd when 88rising listed Illenium as a “Special Guest” a month ahead of the festival’s date, so I decided to look him up. Google images made me giggle. As it would turn out, Illenium was the only non-Asian act on the bill. I’m assuming that that’s why he was the festival’s “Special Guest” <Insert Cracking Up With Laughter Emoji Here>. Apparently, as someone on Reddit would point, Illenium has a very large Asian fanbase.
Taking a look at his repertoire, he can put together a setlist of bangers. The numbers don’t lie … he’s got an audience. His album Fallen Embers has even been nominated for the 2022 Best Dance/Electronic Music Album Grammy award.
While my preference would be to see a singer perform, I have to admit that 88rising did one hell of a job with Illenium’s stage production. The LED displays and the laser shows really made Illenium’s music pop, and the pyrotechnic bursts of flames definitely added a sense of the dramatic with every beat drop. I was kind of hoping for a surprise collaboration or a new drop with an 88rising artist, but that didn’t happen. The lack of “Special Guests” during Illenium’s set notwithstanding, it was fun music with a fantastic stage production.
Despite the pandemic, a lot of artists were able to thrive… but Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner, a Korean-American, dominated was able to dominate through it. Her band released their third studio album, Jubiliee, earlier this year, earning rave reviews that culminated in a Best Alternative Music Album Grammy nomination. On top of that, as Japanese Breakfast, she wrote the soundtrack for the video game “Sable”. Apart from Japanese Breakfast, she collaborated with Ryan Galloway of the band Crying to form Bumper and released an EP titled pop songs 2020. Apart from music, Michelle published her first book Crying In H Mart which debuted at number two on The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list, a book that has been optioned by Orion Picture and will be getting a feature film adaptation. Talk about a killer year.
It was also a killer performance and as the last act of the day on the Double Happiness stage, a huge crowd gathered to watch Japanese Breakfast perform their 40-minute set which was equally split between Julbiliee songs (“Paprika”, “Be Sweet”, “Savage Good Boy”, “Posing In Bondage” & “Slide Tackle”) and her fan favorites (“Road Head”, “Everybody Wants To Love You” and “Diving Woman”), even throwing in a song from the Sable soundtrack, “Glider”.
But the highlight of the performance for me was a song that wasn’t their own and a song that I had seen them perform before. They covered The Cranberries “Dreams” but this time around Michelle prefaced the performance by explaining why she loved the song so much. Something she didn’t do the last time I saw her perform the song in Las Vegas at Intersect Festival a few years ago.
“When I think of this song,” Michelle explained, “I think of Faye Wong In Chungking Express, and that’s being exemplary of what Asian joy is.”
That explanation reframed the whole performance for me. It reminded me of Michelle’s explanation of why Jubilee was created in the first place (to contrast the mood of the prior Japanese Breakfast albums and to have the focus be joy). It gave more meaning to every smile she gleaned on stage or every playful bang on the large cymbal that was placed near centerstage. Michelle embodied that joy and gave another reason for everybody in the crowd to be joyful.
Rich Brian headlined the first day at Head In The Clouds and he gave the festival attendees a set stuffed with bangers performed with unbridled energy. The L.E.D. screens prior to Brian stepping on stage gave us a sense of what to expect with the text closing “I’m about to go on stage. For the First Time Since 2019. So I better see you jump. And scream. And Cry.” Brian ran onto the stage wearing puffy chrome pants and a vest, and as the spotlights followed him, the reflection of the lights gave him a shine like a supersonic ball of energy.
“How are you doing tonight, man? What’s going on? I have not been on the stage since 2019, and this shit looks fucking lit,” he smiled after his first couple of songs. And lit it was.
His set included hit songs from his repertoire (“Gospel”, “History”, “Drive Safe”, “100 Degrees” and “Sow Down Turbo”), his latest single “New Tooth”, and even an unreleased track… the name of which escapes me at the moment. Leading into his first drop during the time of Covid, he dipped a bit into his mental state of mind at that time. He got personal with the audience explaining that he was “terrified” and that the only thing he could do to stay sane was to stay creative, and thus “Tokyo Drift Freestyle” was born, and with that performance, he got all 30,000 jumping to the beat in unison.
After “100 Degrees”, Rich Brian again acknowledged the crowd with, “I love you guys.” The sincerity of that statement was palpable. He loved the audience, and the audience loved him back, and swaths of the crowd would chant his name in unison between songs.
Brian commanded the main stage like a champ and held his own solo for most of his time on stage. Though he has collaborated a ton with a lot of the artists on the HITC lineup, only Guapdad 4000, who would be performing the next day on the Double Happiness stage, joined him on stage to perform “Bali”. But the biggest surprise “guests” were all of the folks who joined him on stage for “edamame”. Those guests included three fully costumed marching band horn players, and an at least half a dozen dancers dressed as … well… edamame. Trust me when I say that it’s pure comedic genius to see dancing edamame on stage. I would have loved to be in the photo pit to capture photos of that performance.
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