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Photograph: Taylor Regulski/C3 Presents

Lollapalooza 2023: The full recap

A little rain couldn't dampen the celebration at Chicago's annual music spectacle

Jessi Roti
Written by
Jessi Roti

Lollapalooza is a marathon, not a sprint. Walking through the gates at Grant Park on Thursday, August 3—the first of four days that swallowed downtown Chicago—it was something I wanted to shout via megaphone to the throngs of young, hyped and bedazzled attendees already running full-speed toward headlining stages, sponsored activations (of which, there seemed to be more than ever before), merch tents, and beer and cocktail gardens. 

It comes with the territory. Something, I think, seasoned festival-goers (those who remember what it was like to go to an event before the days of social media) and founder Perry Farrell have seemed to finally accept. Now in its thirties, Lollapalooza is no longer the celebration of alternative music and culture it once was. Some argue it shed that skin long ago—more than half of the time, there’s too much going on and so many people waiting in line for other things, it’s barely about the music at all. But this year was the first I never heard Farrell even attempt to hold onto such sentiments in interviews. Instead, it’s fully embraced globality; curating a lineup that speaks to its last 10 years as an international festival as well as changing tastes and TikTok trends informed by those who are incredibly (literally) plugged in. I mean truly, I’ve never met so many influencers (real ones).

For better and worse, the new digital age’s influence on music and the entertainment industry at-large has permanently altered things. And I have a list of questions about how this year’s lineup came to be (the number of relative unknowns–regardless of song virality—versus renowned headliners with undoubtedly generous guarantees make me wish I had 1,000 words to present questions on budgets alone), but that’s not what this recap is for.

This recap is to hopefully make you feel like you were there (or relieved you weren’t), and ultimately highlight some beauty in the chaos that is Lollapalooza—because it’s still there. Even when you’re trying to get around what feels like the largest group of rolling teens nearing full meltdown at the Perry’s stage. 

From a weekend dominated by the power of female performers to unforgettable moments in the rain turned into a double rainbow, and special guests like Nelly Furtado popping up with Dom Dolla, here are some of the best from Lollapalooza 2023.

RECOMMENDED: Check out photos of Lollapalooza 2023

Billie Eilish on stage
Photograph: Pooneh Ghana/C3 Presents

Women won

Opening night featured Billie Eilish and Karol G, the festival’s first-ever Latina headliner, shutting down the main stages and setting a tone for a weekend that would feature many, many immensely-talented women. 

But it started earlier that day with a full-throttle 45-minute set from Canadian quartet The Beaches on the Bud Light stage at 1:15pm., whose brand of pop rock has gotten more rough-and-ready, and a bit cheekier, since I saw them at Riot Fest in 2019. I mean that in a good way, obviously. Their single “Blame Brett” from upcoming sophomore LP Blame My Ex garnered a massive reaction from the crowd, apparently largely made up of people who are also no longer dating musicians.  

After first appearing on the BMI stage in 2021, Joy Oladokun put on one of the most emotionally-stirring sets of the weekend, complete with vulnerable jokes and her own “Irrepressible Thoughts of Death” Barbie meme. Blending elements of folk and roots rock into her brand of power pop on the main stage this year, her music and voice are comforting while lyrically exploring some of life’s more challenging topics—like honey and hot water coating a sore throat. Culminating in the anthemic “We’re All Gonna Die,” Oladokun’s spirit captured new fans while solidifying her bond with existing ones. 

In fact, Thursday’s entire Bud Light stage lineup was female-fronted—something I don’t think has ever happened, but it was Colombian singer and reggaeton artist Karol G who made history. Her electrifying performance (and infectious smile) was a celebration for and of her musical success as much as it was her audience, which was also one of the most intergenerational crowds I’ve seen at the festival in some time. Performing songs including “S91,” her U.S. breakthrough hit “Tusa,” “TQG” and signature “La Bichota,” she held the north end of Grant Park in her hands.

While Karol’s world was full of vibrancy and wonder, Billie Eilish kept it slightly dystopian (reminding fans there’s no music on a dead planet) and dark like an old school Hot Topic at the mall—right down to the debut of her black hair with blood red roots. Returning to Lollapalooza five years after her first appearance at the festival, she exploded onto the stage with “Bury a Friend” before rolling through selections including “idontwannabeyouanymore” and “bellyache” from 2017’s Don’t Smile at Me as well as the live debut of her contribution to the Barbie soundtrack, the subtly devastating “What Was I Made For?” But it was a ferocious performance of “Happier Than Ever” that cemented my fandom. Fireworks, indeed. 

Sudan Archives delivered one of the weekend’s best performances on Friday afternoon. The project of LA-by-way-of-Ohio violinist Brittney Denise Parks (who has Chicago roots, as she briefly mentioned) was art, fashion and a damn good time as she sauntered and contorted her seemingly towering form about the T-Mobile stage while never missing a note. Masterfully blending classic Celtic folk sounds with electronica, hip hop and Afrofuturist R&B, the set was an incredible example of classical instruments being used as transformative vessels for more experimental music. With genre rigidity a thing of the past, artists like Sudan Archives are reigniting interest and imagination. At one point, she just launched straight into a traditional Irish jig for a few minutes. And really, why not? 

Beabadoobee, Tems and Jessie Reyez rounded out the early evening. If you had a decent viewing spot for Beabadoobee, congratulations. The Filipino-Brit, singer-songwriter’s tender indie rock echoing the likes of Mazzy Star was hungrily received by a Lollapalooza audience that is maybe also in its Soft Girl Era. Tems, who has been having an incredible run post-pandemic, brought Lagos to Grant Park. Predominantly playing tracks from 2020’s For Broken Ears and 2021’s If Orange Was a Place EP, her smooth, powerful vocals danced in the breeze that finally managed to cool things down (impending rain unbeknownst at the time), with “Damages,” “Crazy Tings” and “Mr. Rebel” being standouts. Reyez delivered each line with such conviction, you really felt like her life depended on it. When she tugged at her chest, you worry one day she’s going to tear beyond her skin and expose her heart–literally. Honestly, she had me from the second she implored folks to chant “F–k my ex!” But her songs of heartbreak and resilience clearly resonate, and translate to thousands hanging on each word.

Rina Sawayama managed to not only deliver full vocals and choreography during her hour-long set, but four costume changes while wet from the rain (including latex and leather, which is very difficult to get on—wet or dry). Blending pop, R&B and metal, Sawayama’s set carried the raw intensity of a headliner’s billing from beginning to end. While she held you frozen in her gaze, her crew managed to seamlessly transform what’s usually a pretty stark stage platform into a wrestling ring, dressing room and glittering rodeo. If you blinked, you missed something. But it never felt like too much. If anything, she left you wanting more.  

By the time Lana Del Rey brought her Garden of Eden to life on the Bud Light stage to close the festival Sunday night, it was clear that female artists won the weekend. Not that it was a competition, just a wonderful realization. For Del Rey, the performance was a capsule of how she became the glamorous icon of Internet Americana. Opening with an abbreviated “A&W” into “Young and Beautiful,” her melancholy croon silenced her devout followers–Mother was speaking. Not that anyone stayed quiet for too long. With so many lyrics and turns of phrase that have since taken on lives of their own, fans happily sang at the top of their lungs. Living for the regality, the drama, the swing—everyone was more deeply in love with the legend by the end.

Kendrick Lamar
Photograph: Nathan Zucker/C3 Presents

Kendrick Lamar headlined Friday. That’s it. You saw The 1975?

At a music festival, there are artists that give you the set they think you want. And then there are those that give you the set they want—that is so far beyond what you thought you wanted—you’re left stunned. That was what the multi-hyphenate, multi-acclaimed rapper brought, along with his Big Steppers dancers delivering intense, precision choreography. 

Apart from them, there were no frills because he’s never needed any. Though he didn’t take the stage until 9 pm, he fit over 20 songs into an hour. Lamar’s career-spanning set—rounded out with songs like fan favorites “m.A.A.d city” and “Backseat Freestyle” from his landmark major label debut good kid, m.A.A.d city—boomed across the field, at times drowning out his own vocals, but underscoring his music as an archive of the Black American experience. If folks couldn’t hear perfectly, no one seemed to mind. These were clearly well-known sermons. 

Tomorrow x Together
Photograph: Roger Ho/C3 Presents

Rain didn’t stop anyone Saturday or Sunday

If you can help it, do not miss The Linda Lindas. The young, Los Angeles-based punk band continues maturing into one of the genre’s most exciting acts. Taking a break from their arena tour opening for Paramore to play the Tito’s stage, they took their hour-long, rain-soaked set in stride. Original songs including “Magic” and “Monica” remain inexhaustible in their vigor, and new tracks like the just-released “Resolution/Revolution” and “Too Many Things” signal a more refined, craftier Linda Lindas approach to composition. But their covers of Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” (Kathleen Hanna herself is a fan) and The Go–Go’s “Tonite” were also proof that, at the end of the day, girls just want to rock. 

Thee Sacred Souls brought their warm, smooth, San Diego soul to a chilly and dreary afternoon in Grant Park on Saturday, making me forget briefly that I was standing in the rain and mud. A marriage of traditional rhythm and blues as explored through Chicano and Black influences, the trio came backed by keys and horns, as well as two incredible backing singers. Frontman Josh Lane and singer Astyn Turr delivering a live version of the beautiful “Happy and Well” from 2022’s self-titled debut was all I thought I needed, until Lane (bravely, in my opinion) jumped into the field during “Running Away.” Security lost him to the audience, which quickly enveloped but still could not keep up with him as he made his way backstage after a brief sprint with some fans. 

If there was ever a fanbase to be undeterred by the elements, it’s K-pop fans. The genre had a presence all weekend long with popular act NewJeans performing to a massive audience Thursday evening. But with the promise of Tomorrow X Together bringing their high-gloss production to the main stage for a 90-minute headlining set Saturday—after just playing the festival (and United States) for the first time in 2022–fans were all focused in their shared mission. They camped out, waiting (not always patiently) through captivating performances from Sylvan Esso and Maggie Rogers until 8:30 pm. By the time the group did hit the stage, there were tears. Singing every word, in both English and Korean, keeping in step with each dance move (as best as you could among tens of thousands of others), it was stimulation overload. But the fans stood in awe. Mission completed.

Lollapalooza’s final day greeted us with mud, sure, but also quite possibly the best psychedelic rock set of the weekend belonging to … Lil Yachty. Known for his “bubblegum trap” after appearing on DRAM’s “Broccoli” in 2016, and helping usher in a new era of artists turning away from conventional metrics of rap, Yachty’s repertoire has only kept expanding. A turn darker and more instrumentally experimental, starting with 2018’s Lil Boat 2 and continuing through 2021’s Michigan Boat Boy, he has now leaned into psychedelia. When he and his band started playing songs from 2023’s Let’s Start Here, much of the crowd began to filter out—but it was absolutely killer. 

Joey Bada$$ followed Yachty on the Tito’s Handmade Vodka stage Sunday in the park’s Petrillo Music Shell with more high-energy hip hop. With a set that called back to the 10-year anniversaries of his debut solo mixtape 1999 and follow-up Summer Knights, the 28 year-old also surprised with Chance the Rapper. It’s Chicago, someone was going to.

Photograph: Nathan Zucker/C3 Presents

Local talent shined all weekend long

The John Walt Foundation TIP Fest Pop-Up was one of the most joyous displays in Grant Park over the long festival weekend. TIP Fest, or Teens in the Park Festival, started in 2015 as part of the Chicago Park District’s Night Out in the Parks series and is one of the city’s largest platforms for young artists to showcase their talents, connect to resources (including monetary prizes) and find a supportive community. It has since worked in collaboration with JWF, which facilitates the fests and auditions across the city. 

At Lolla on Friday afternoon, 2022 winners Enama, Sam the Sentient and Out Past Midnight performed in front of Buckingham Fountain, as well as Z Saj, The Happiness Club (who held down Kidzapalooza all weekend) and DJ Cash Era. Stopping people in their tracks as they passed by, the collection was a reminder that some of the best things a music festival has to offer are often just stumbled upon. 

Hitting the BMI stage at 6:50 pm on Thursday, Chatham rapper Kid Kenn gave his audience exactly what they needed in order to have a good time: Raunchy, baddie bops and photo-ready props including massive signs and fans. Surrounded by dancers, he made his first Lollapalooza experience (as both a performer and attendee) memorable. With an effortless flow and superstar attitude to boot, Kenn made it look too easy while barely breaking a sweat in a knit two-piece in 90-degree heat.

Dehd very quickly reminded everyone why they’re one of the best acts to come out of Chicago in recent years (and one of the few I’d personally risk falling in the mud for that early in the afternoon). It just takes one song to turn you onto their hypnotic, earworm-y post punk. For me, it was arriving right in time for “Flying”—the finale of their stellar 2020 album Flower of Devotion. The trio kept ripping through its 60-minute set, keeping the kids in the pit sweaty and smiling as the rain continued to fall on Sunday. 

Sunday’s Chicago Made showcase returned—bright and early at 11:45 am—with Afrobeat artist Nola Adé and pop singer Rebecca Brunner to continue highlighting the next generation of homegrown talent. This year celebrated the 50th Anniversary of hip hop, as well, with a special part of the program featuring A Rod 24 (the 2022 Chicago Made A&R Auditions Winner), Amari Blaze with Mello Buckzz, Moni da G and Kash Mirr, and local legends Crucial Conflict performing hits like “Ghetto Queen,” “Hay” and “Scummy.” Blaze also brought out rap pioneer Shawnna as a surprise special guest during her set. Crucial Conflict and Shawnna had both also recently performed at Hyde Park Summer Fest. 

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