Billie Eilish Gets Bullish, Karol G Makes History, and More of the Best Things We Saw on Lollapalooza 2023’s First Day

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karol-g-lolla - Credit: Sacha Lecca for Rolling Stone
karol-g-lolla - Credit: Sacha Lecca for Rolling Stone

Lollapalooza 2023‘s opening day kicked off on Thursday in Chicago’s Grant Park, and it was a scorcher, thanks to artists bringing the heat and the sweltering humidity. The festival inked a 10-year contract with the city last year, and it came with the expansion in capacity, up from 100,000 people to 115,000.

The increase in numbers was apparent during Billie Eilish’s headlining appearance. “There isn’t any place where there aren’t people,” she said, surveying the sea of heads during her show. The festival also marked the first time a Latina was booked as a headliner, with Karol G performing opposite Eilish.

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The first day featured Carly Rae Jepsen, Joy Oladokun, NewJeans, and more. Here’s a roundup of the best sets we caught from Lolla 2023 Day One.

Karol G Makes History
As the first Latina headliner at Lollapalooza, Karol G had high expectations to live up to. Instead of trying to outdo herself or prove a point, though, the reggaeton star opted to do what she does best: ride a consistent barrage of hits, keep herself and the crowd dancing, and let the vibe speak for itself. With the crux of her 20-song set list centering around February’s Mañana Será Bonito, Karol basked in an enormous sun encircling the stage while cartoonish, 10-foot-tall flowers grinned all around her. Following Spanish-only banter, she offered up her first English sentence to the crowd three songs in: “I’m trying with my English, though I have to say that this is so amazing!” (The crowd agreed.) With international crossovers at festivals comes the realization that not every artist needs to modify who they are or what they’re about to go over well. A plethora of fireworks throughout the evening, culminating in one last, sparkling hurrah, punctuated a triumphant set. —N.C.

Billie Eilish Takes the Crown
When Billie Eilish played Lolla in 2018, she was a buzzing star at a smaller stage, giving away free paper crowns to her dedicated but smaller fanbase. This time around it felt like everyone at Grant Park was there to see her in a more metaphorical crown. Even Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson showed up to introduce her set. Sporting a Michael Jordan Bulls jersey, Eilish was part workout instructor (having the crowd jump side to side, and “shake your head around” before “You Should See Me in My Crown,” and later for “Oxycontin,” she got everyone to get “very, very low to the ground” before jumping), yogi (“deep breath in … and out” she said before the hymn-like “When the Party’s Over”), and climate advocate, noting that her set was solar powered and that we all need to be good to the planet before “Everything I Wanted.”

It was also cathartic. During a riveting acoustic section, she and her brother-collaborator Finneas performed side by side for goosebump-inducing versions of “I Love You,” “Your Power,” and “TV.” She delivered a poignant tribute to the late Angus Cloud with her Euphoria song “Never Felt So Alone,” and Barbie track “What Was I Made For?” conjured tears from many in the audience. She closed with “Happier Than Ever,” a fitting ending to the way she left her audience feeling after an incredible set. —A.L.

Pony Bradshaw Proves It’s Never Too Late in Life, or Early in the Day, for Country Music
Early birds would be forgiven for assuming Pony Bradshaw has been spilling his soul for decades. But after pursuing careers in the Air Force and sports journalism, the 42-year-old didn’t realize country music was his calling until several years ago. Bradshaw’s music falls between Hank Williams and Jason Isbell on record. Live, however, he turned his melodies into subdued hooks. His personality shone brightest on North Georgia Rounder songs “Foxfire Wine” and the title track, where he finger-picked acoustic guitar over upright bass and sang tales of perseverance: a native’s life on edge in the rural wilderness, a boy taking pride in being untamable. His feet were locked in place onstage — the animated moves of his father, a former Elvis Presley impersonator, clearly not genetic — but Bradshaw’s heart moved freely though song. —N.C.

Clinton Kane Is in on the Sad
Clinton Kane told his audience he would be singing certain kinds of songs: “Some of them will be sad songs,” he said. “And others will also be fucking sad.” He delivered on that promise, with a set filled with vulnerable lyrics that ranged from being about the first time a girlfriend cheated on him at age 15 (“Cheated On”) to addressing the strained relationship he has said he had with his biological mother (“Chicken Tendies”). Buoyed by falsettos and earnestness, his heart-on-sleeve numbers were perfectly palatable fest fare. He also debuted the percussive-punctuated “Bittersweet,” which he said would be out in a month. —A.L.

It’s Best to Be Yourself, Especially if You’re Joy Oladokun 
“I didn’t take time to get stoned before the set, but right now is when the edible should hit,” said Joy Oladokun, laughing, ahead of her “Rocket Man” cover. The rising musician is establishing her place within Tennessee’s folk scene, but don’t let that undervalue how easily she can rock; this is the same woman who opened arenas on John Mayer’s recent solo tour. Backed by a full band, Oladokun turned songs like “We’re All Gonna Die” and “Keeping the Light On” into a radiant reclamation of self as a queer woman, Black artist, and shy individual. By her set’s end, Oladokun sounded assured of the person she’s become: “This doesn’t have to be my identity; I can just play guitar and then call my mom and take the bus!” —N.C.

Sofi Tukker Turn Lollapalooza Into Their Personal Playground
Sofi Tukker are serious about fun. The Florida dance-pop duo built a literal playground on which to perform, sporting a giant swing set, merry-go-round, trampoline, and even monkey bars with synth pads installed on each rung. Leading by example, Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern got the crowd — which they fondly dubbed their “freak fam” — moving to “Drinkee” and “Jacaré” with neon-clad dancers running in circles. The band’s high-octane set was ridiculous and indulgent in a carefree, childlike way. As if to remind us to indulge in that mindset, Sofi Tukker put their own spin on camp classics old (Aqua’s “Barbie Girl”) and new (The White Lotus Season Two theme song) and watched as their massive crowd let loose, dance party style. —N.C.

NewJeans Ride a Wave of Firsts
NewJeans marked several firsts at Lollapalooza: It was the first U.S. performance of their career, they were the first K-pop girl group to play the Chicago festival, their EP Get Up made its first entry on the Billboard 200 — and to boot it debuted at Number One. The teen K-pop sensations — quintet Minji, Hanni, Danielle, Haerin, and Hyein —  were more than ready for the spotlight, with the addition of a dance crew who expounded on their perfected choreo during “Super Shy” and a performance that brought their “bunnies” fans in droves to groove along. They delivered their entire latest EP, including “Cool With You,” which featured an a cappella beginning that showcased their vocal ranges, along with fan favorite “Attention,” last year’s debut single. —A.L.

Vermont Singer-Songwriter Noah Kahan Gets His Pop-Star Moment 
The crowd chanting Noah Kahan’s name before he even took the stage was just the beginning. A humble Vermont singer-songwriter who found fame through TikTok vitality, Kahan adapted surprisingly well to the pop-star treatment festivalgoers showered him with. While teenage girls screamed with excitement and morphed into a choir singing every word to his songs, Kahan and his band strummed away on an assortment of instruments: mandolin, acoustic guitar, even banjo. He carried himself like a young Marcus Mumford, hair tied back in a bun, nearly a decade after that band’s blend of uptempo Americana had the country in a chokehold. Watching the crowd transform into a sea of phones from opener “All My Love” to new single “Dial Drunk,” it was clear Kahan is more than his breakout hit “Stick Season.” —N.C.

Carly Rae Jepsen Turns Lolla into a Killer Disco
By the time the sun began setting, it was clear that it was Carly Rae Jepsen’s world, and we were the lucky ones dancing in it. Her triumphant return to Lolla following her 2018 appearance began with an intimate festival opening party at IHG’s Kimpton Gray on Wednesday and culminated on a main stage at the festival proper, where she delivered fan favorites alongside new songs from her freshly minted The Loveliest Time (which naturally followed The Loneliest Time). Whether it was about shooting your shot (“I Really Like You,” “Call Me Maybe”), being swept away (the disco-fied “Psychedelic Switch”), or dancing through the heartache (“Talking to Yourself”), romance and love is all encompassing, and Jepsen emotively unpacked the complexities by turning the field and stage into a pulsating dance floor to groove through the emotions, complete with a stage setup that looked like a deconstructed disco ball. “Is this nirvana?” she sang during “The Loneliest Time,” and then answered her own question: “Yes, I think it is.” —A.L.

Dom Dolla Yields the Spotlight to Nelly Furtado
When Dom Dolla invited Nelly Furtado onstage, passersby seemed too stunned to believe their ears. The Australian producer transitioned from spinning house tracks to ceding the floor for her classics “Maneater” and “Give It to Me,” subtly mixing beneath them. Furtado moved like she owned the stage with graceful limbs and a confident delivery, overseeing a crowd losing its collective mind that this was really happening. Even though he followed her surprise appearance with his hits “Miracle Maker” and “San Francisco,” complete with relentless fire cannons and smoke plumes to loud cheering, Dom Dolla’s set was now in cooldown mode by comparison. Well, until Furtado returned for their collaborative single “Eat Your Man.” She had everyone — Dom included — wrapped around her finger. “Nelly Furtado!” the 20-something beside me exclaimed. “Now there’s a fucking legend.” —N.C.

Key Glock Made Young Dolph Proud in Spirit
After Key Glock’s friend, mentor and cousin Young Dolph died in 2021, Glock used his sophomore studio album, this year’s Glockoma 2, to knead his grief into motivation. Live, that intent felt as purposeful as ever. The Memphis rapper waxed poetic about life’s highs and lows with the urgency of a 25-year-old caught in transition: not young enough to claim naivety, not old enough to know it all. His Southern trap resonated with a crowd eager to rap along to “Gang Shit, No Lame Shit,” “Word on the Streets,” and “Mr. Glock” alike. As he led the audience in a “long live Dolph” chant before hammering his way through the late rapper’s single “Major,” Key Glock gave a performance that could only be described as a tribute for a loved one up above. —N.C.

Launch Gallery: Lollapalooza 2023: Billie Eilish, Karol G, Newjeans and More Take Chicago

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