Governors Ball 2021 was … chaotically epic, to say the absolute least.
As a member of The Daily Targum's editorial board, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to both attend all three days of Gov Ball and view headliner performances up close and personal.
Yes: I saw Billie Eilish perform with my naked eyes, and it was heart-stopping.
Between an incredible line up, the good weather and the bustling energy of a city vying to wake up from its pandemic-induced sleep, the event felt like an electric catharsis of the weight and existential grief of 2020 for both the rowdy crowd and the artists.
From indie pop-rockers like Bleachers and Phoebe Bridgers, to pop stars Ellie Goulding and Billie Eilish and some of rap’s biggest names including A$AP Rocky and Megan Thee Stallion, each day featured a diverse set of artists for every kind of music-lover (minus country music).
Here’s the breakdown of each day’s performances at Gov Ball:
Friday, Sept. 24
As a first-time festival goer, I was determined to catch the biggest names of each night, regardless of the foot-cramping wait or the size of the crowd.
The first performance I attended was Kehlani’s, and it was far beyond my expectations. Honestly, I’m not an avid rhythm and blues listener (my preferences lie between pop, '70s rock 'n' roll and rap) but Kehlani delivered an engaging show that had me swaying to the rhythm, especially during her delivery of her hit single with Cardi B, “Ring.”
Between her beautiful stage presence and butter-smooth-sans-autotune vocals, Kehlani was a pleasure to watch and her crowd was marked with a chill vibe that simply wanted to enjoy the present.
Two and a half hours later, Billie Eilish took on the same Verizon stage with a vastly different vibe. While Kehlani moved like a swirling summer breeze under the golden New York sun, the 19 year-old’s performance was a punch-packing, strobe-filled stomp fest fueled by teenage angst.
Eilish began her performance with a high-energy delivery of “bury a friend” that got the audience jumping up and down and thrashing themselves against the barriers. She proceeded to sing many of her top hits, including her latest viral hit “Happier Than Ever,” as well as “bad guy” and the solemn “everything i wanted.”
Despite looking very much like a kid and youthfully bantering with the crowd about how people who don’t believe in climate change are “f***ing stupid,” Eilish delivered each song with stunning vocal control, especially given how much she moved around the stage, and a sophistication that’s rare to see in an artist her age. At times, I felt tears well up in my eyes by the sheer power of her lyrics.
If the crowd hadn’t been absolutely unbearable to stand in (the amount of head-knocking, shoving and shoulder-bumping that occurred is unquantifiable) I would’ve stood there all day long and gotten lost in her voice.
Saturday, Sept. 25
Perhaps the most chaotic day of the three, Saturday featured my two favorites that I had sworn to see before I die: Megan Thee Stallion and A$AP Rocky.
Determined to get one of the better seats in the house for my die-hard favorites, I stayed at Verizon stage for 6-plus hours and got to witness an incredible performance from Bleachers prior to Megan Thee Stallion’s set.
Frontman Jack Antonoff is everything you would want in a performer: He’s totally charismatic, intoxicatingly energetic and his passion for his craft is contagious. Antonoff knows how to get the crowd moving and between his wild, rockstar dancing across the stage while an electric guitar is slung across his body, to his equally talented and engaging bandmates, getting to see this indie-pop act so closely was one of the hidden gems of this weekend.
Post-Antonoff comes the long-awaited performance from thee H-Town hottie, and lord almighty, it was everything I had hoped it would be.
I can’t help but feel my heart skip a beat every time I think of the glory I got to witness. From her totally raunchy, dripping-in-sex twerk choreography to her bedazzled, Nike-sponsored outfit (hot girls have to get paid too!) that gave her world-famous curves the spotlight they deserved, watching Megan Thee Stallion take on the stage was a spiritual experience.
She’s truly one of the most confident, sassy "IDGAF" performers I’ve ever seen, and her ability to infect the crowd with her bulletproof attitude is unparalleled. Her setlist was a flawless mix of her old classics from her “Tina Snow'' days as well as her chart-topping hits including “Savage,” “Captain Hook” and “Hot Girl Summer.”
She even performed her well-loved verse on “WAP,” and it’s safe to say that the hot boys in the crowd were just as hyped up, if not more, as the hot girls.
I could go on endlessly about how immaculate Megan Thee Stallion’s performance was, but then I wouldn’t have enough room to discuss the beast that was A$AP Rocky.
Not only did the rapper enter via crowd surf on an inflatable truck, A$AP Rocky’s stage had the best visuals of the weekend. From the pulsing white strobe lights going off during his mosh-pit tracks like “Lorde Pretty Flacko Jodye 2 (LPFJ2)” to the high-inducing melting color scheme plastered on the jumbotron screens as he angelically sings his trippy hit “L$D,” Rocky’s stage presence was surprisingly artistic and truly unforgettable.
That being said, the rapper’s irresponsible insistence on moshing and encouraging rowdy behavior honestly subtracted from the experience. It was nearly impossible for petite women, like me, to stand still while getting aggressively pushed up against others by the weight of the many towering, heavy men in the crowd from behind.
The violence wasn’t pleasant at all, but for the moments when there was a semblance of stillness and I could see the rapper’s face, I suppose it was worthwhile for those once-in-a-lifetime memories.
Sunday, Sept. 26
The final day of the festival was such a mess, and it can pinpointed onto one point of contention: 21 Savage. The rapper delayed his set by more than an hour and the crowd was enraged, so much so that the crowd began to “boo” him.
And for a pretty lackluster performance with average visuals and mediocre rapping, the wait wasn’t worthwhile. Compared to prior acts, 21 Savage was underwhelming at best.
His lateness set off a ripple effect of delaying the sets coming afterwards: Young Thug started his show 45 minutes late and performed only five songs, and Post Malone’s set was delayed by around 15 minutes as well.
Young Thug was perhaps even more disappointing than 21 Savage. While Young Thug was nowhere to be found, his supporting DJ was incredibly skilled and had fantastic energy given his circumstances and did the best he could to keep the crowd occupied in the meantime.
Post Malone was the night’s saving grace: This class act began his set suspended in the air on a floating stage with his hit track “Wow.” and proceeded to “wow” the crowd with an enthusiasm and adrenaline rush that was desperately lacking when 21 Savage took the stage earlier.
He proceeded with his addictive hit “Better Now,” drank on stage with liquor pouring down his face and gave a heartfelt message to his fans to express his love for the awakened city and his loving fans.
Each day presented its powerful performances and weaker ones, and while each day had its star-studded moments, Saturday was easily my favorite set — The thrill of seeing your beloved artists is incomparable, and I think I can safely say that I have the flex of a lifetime (I know for a fact my major Meg-fan roommate is indeed jealous of me). Until next year Gov Ball!