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Your Governors Ball music review, from Kid Cudi to Clairo

Kid Cudi proved his presence and his talent at the Governors Ball music festival as one of the weekend's best performances. – Photo by Courtesy of Greg Noire

Even if you somehow like sore feet, overpriced festival food and the hot June sun beating down on your back all day, it’s indisputable that music festivals are truly about one thing at their core: the actual music played at them.

This year’s Governors Ball had a fair mix of headliners I knew and loved, knew and wasn’t a fan of or had never even heard of at all. I listened to artists from all three categories this past weekend — coming out with some new favorites on my Spotify playlists, old ones cemented and my mind changed on some artists I’d previously discounted. 

Day One

I opened the weekend with a band I was previously a fan of. BETWEEN FRIENDS is a brother-sister duo in the electro-pop scene. Even though they were early in Governors Ball’s lineup, they never seemed like they were playing an early day set, something some other artists struggled with in terms of trying to excite less-than-enthusiastic noon crowds.

Both the crowd listening and BETWEEN FRIENDS’ energy on stage were hyped up to the max whether they were debuting new music or singing hits from their first EP, like my personal favorite, "affection." 

But even with the songs no one could possibly know that well, like those off their new EP "cutie," which dropped the night before they played, BETWEEN FRIENDS was able to grab the audience. 

They also sound incredible live, almost improved off their tracks with the energy they bring. If I had anything to say about it, they'd be going places even quicker than they already are. 

After that, I enjoyed a set from Samia, who is as endearing as she is electric on stage. She chats with the crowd and dances in between verses of her songs, confides in us she came to Governors Ball all the time as a teenager (it was the first time she ever smoked weed) and even debuts a new song off of her upcoming album, which she performs just as fluidly and masterfully as her bigger hits.

While branded as a solo artist, Samia also sings the praises of those behind her by introducing each member of her band by name — and accepting a hat thrown up on stage by a fan by having her bassist wear it. 

I heard the next artist Black Pumas from a little bit of a distance, so I can't speak much for how well they commanded the crowd. But from my perch, one thing proved to be true: They were some of the best live vocalists at the festival. 

I wasn't even planning on seeing their set at first, but I stopped and listened as soon as the first note of their song hit my ears.

On a more neutral note, Jack Harlow is far from the best or the worst performance I saw at Governors Ball, but he is one of the most interesting — maybe it's because I'm not the hugest fan of his music or am PR minded, but I found Harlow's ability to work the crowd much more interesting than his actual performance (which, to be clear, was perfectly fine)

Harlow manages to maintain an almost amateurish air about him in how he speaks to the crowd, in a way that's somehow both incredibly endearing/charming and woefully unexciting to non-super fans all at once. He talks to the crowd like he's talking to a friend, even when he's speaking loudly and obviously working it for cheers or lyric sing-alongs.

At one point, Harlow looks out to the crowd and says his goal that day was to make eye contact with everyone in this crowd — so to please, stare at him “hard as sh*t” so he knows to look. 

As a terminally on TikTok girl who's much more interested in indie sad girl anthems than white boy rap, I was most excited for Harlow's incredibly viral “First Class” (which he either didn't play or I, unfortunately, missed due to rushing to Kid Cudi's overlapping set — "I Wanna See Some A**" was just as fun, though).

Kid Cudi, who I dashed to due to that slight overlap with Harlow, makes up in stage presence what Harlow lacks. 

As the day's headliner, he is truly the headliner, capital T, with all the charisma and talent one can fit in the parking lot of CitiField. Only tangentially a fan (his collab with Phoebe Bridgers, anyone? His iconic Twitter account?) I now find myself itching to go for his deep cuts.

Cudi sounds eerily similar to how he does on his tracks when you listen on YouTube or Spotify, and he practically oozes presence in how he talks to the crowd, working it without seeming unpracticed or ingenuine. 

"Not too bad New York,” he cries after a particularly spirited performance to a particularly spirited crowd.

Not too bad indeed.

Day Two

With sore feet and sunburn where I neglected to reapply, my first set of day two was indie rock band DEHD, a trio about to head off across the U.K. on a headline tour. 

And anyone that sees them is in for a treat: DEHD was, like other bands, in the uncomfortable position of planning one of the first sets of the day, which they offset with remarks about having just come back from brunch and the small crowd being loud enough to make up for the thousands of people who aren't yet at the festival.

Singer Emily Kempf was the triumph of the trio — a feat difficult to accomplish when she’s stacked against the charismatic Jason Balla singing with her and Eric McGrady adept and focused on drums, but she does it anyway. 

Kempf has a low growl and rockstar stage presence many Generation Z would liken to post-Disney Miley Cyrus, and the way she moves on stage makes her look as if she's had a career just as long. Though I'd never heard DEHD (pronounced "dead") before Governors Ball, they're certainly on my radar now. 

Last-minute addition Tom Odell also had a great show and dove into playing some of his biggest hits rather than just his most recent, singing "Heal" and "Can't Pretend" before concluding the set with "Another Love." 

Odell also covered Lana Del Rey's "Video Games", which lent itself to his voice incredibly well — Odell and also side-stepped my pronoun-change pet peeve by singing about himself wearing sundresses and perfume to impress his boyfriend. 

He also hilariously apologized for the slower nature of his music, calling it miserable and lamenting that we’d taken time out of a joyful day to appreciate the misery of his music.

I'll be honest: I only saw Shaquille O'Neal later that day as DJ DIESEL for one thing and that's the novelty of being able to say ”haha, remember that one time you literally saw basketball icon O'Neal be a DJ at Governors Ball?”

But the O’Neal crowd was one of, if not the, most hyped crowd I saw all weekend, at least up to that point. He called people up on stage with him, said multiple times how much he loved New York, flashed heart-shaped hand motions at the crowd and reminded everyone in his well-encouraged mosh pit to be cautious of the ladies in there.

Filled with artists and fans alike (a group wearing artist wristbands was right in front of me, and I was nowhere near the barricade), I danced with randoms and put my hands in the air and hollered excitedly with a whole crowd that jumped and danced. That's the power of Shaq, y'all! 

(Also: who else can get away with a set so loud it shakes the Port-a-Potties in the media area?)

Other highlights include Denzel Curry, who never halted or waned in talent or energy in his hour-long set at the Bacardi stage, and Joji, who if he hasn't shirked his former internet presence already, he certainly has now. We also witnessed a great performance from ASHNIKKO, who hits every single one of her TikTok hit songs' beats with ease.

New Jersey's own Halsey proves, like Cudi, that headliner is a state of mind and not just a position. Her performance is excellent (she's come a long way since her mall video!), and her interactions with the crowd are hilarious as she puts sides of the stage against one another in enthusiasm and makes fun of the VIP section. 

She's half pop-star, half-rockstar and all Halsey in an incredible performance that includes Tumblr girlie "Badlands" hits and her newer songs with the most cutting lines like “I'm so glad I never ever had a baby with you/'Cause you can't love nothing unless there's something in it for you”  — suck it, G-Eazy.

Like Samia, Halsey talks about how she attended Governors Ball years ago the day after she signed her record deal, and was intimidated by the stages, hoping one day she could be on them. Four years later, she performed. Four years after that, she's headlining the festival. And after hearing her excellent cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”, it's a journey super-fans and Halsey newbies alike are glad she's been on. 

Day Three

My day three opened with an unpolished but exciting performance from New Jersey native Jax, who a few moments into covering Wheatus' “Teenage Dirtbag” announced that she had DMed them on Instagram and gotten Brendan B. Brown, the band's lead vocalist, guitarist and founder to come on stage and sing the song with her — it’s a performance that would excite anyone who's ever heard the lines "Her name was Noelle" and instantly started singing along.

Delaware Water Gap, like Halsey, is a group that never predicted they’d one day be playing on the Governors Ball stage after being an attendee. Yet, over the weekend, they performed twice. Though I only witnessed one of their shows, they sounded great and had an even better crowd, whether they were enjoying new music or singing along to every word.

Indie artist Soccer Mommy also put on a great show, with pink drums behind her and a crowd full of enthused fans in front of her. She’s precise, hitting every note, and the kind of singer and artist that makes me excited about the future of my favorite kind of music — the aforementioned indie sad girl variety. 

COIN, probably known best for their hit song “Talk Too Much” also performed a rousing set with a crowd full of excited listeners. By this point in the weekend, I was exhausted but listening to a huge crowd of people all sing at the top of their lungs and dance around for a performance like that was a good energy boost.

Clairo is one of my favorite artists’ and she put on a great show toward the end of the evening on Sunday — despite a mountain of technical issues that put a damper on some of the songs (most tragically for me, “Bags” of hit debut album “Immunity”), Clairo was empathetic to how frustrating it was for herself, her band and the audience as the continued to push through and sing her other songs with the same fantastic bedroom-pop voice she always has, just on a larger stage.

Overall, the music at Governors Ball was a delight. While some of the shows left something to be desired, it was overwhelmingly a weekend chock full of good live music, whether artists’ were adding new depth to tracks I knew and loved or singing them identically to their recordings and proving their vocal chops — or just giving me something new to listen to.


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