Three fiery females in Cardi B, SZA and Nicki Minaj headlined the Finsbury Park instalment of Wireless this weekend, to varying levels of success, amidst a backdrop of cancellations and crowd chaos.
A lot of noise was made this year when organisers of Wireless announced the “biggest ever” edition of the festival; in which, across two weekends, it would sprawl over Crystal Palace, Birmingham and Finsbury Park – the latter being where it was held for five years since 2014.
It led to something of a bizarre feat for festival-goers, with FOMO for the very same festival – albeit on different days or at different venues. This weekend’s all-female headline billing at Finsbury Park, with Cardi B, SZA and Nicki Minaj, was in direct contrast to last weekend’s machismo showing of A$AP, J. Cole and Tyler and was where your trusty reporter headed.
To start with the obvious, this was a weekend of sweltering heat and so, like ants under a magnifying glass, an already energetic crowd were even more stimulated than usual, swaying and screaming to rap, RnB and dancehall. It would have been perfect occasion for Burna Boy’s upbeat brand of Afrobeat, especially with the release of his latest album Love, Damini last week.
But alas, with nothing in the way of explanation – other than a simple tweet saying “sorry” – he pulled out last-minute. Such a change in schedule, with little clarity as to why, would be something of a recurring theme across the weekend; in the end, it was a lesson in learning to embrace chaos, rather than moan about it, to minimise disappointment.
Things would pick up, when Brighton cheeky-chappie Arrdee delivered not the most remarkable set, but one that certainly did enough to lift the crowd’s spirits on the Main Stage – finishing in time for Backroad Gee to crank it up some more on the alternative N4 Stage.
The queen of the show last year, though, Megan Thee Stallion, is showing real consistency, with show after show of high-energy ‘Thot Shit’. Her powerful cries of “my body, my choice”, which rang out in unison among the crowd in response to the recent overturning of Roe vs Wade, resembled her recent Glastonbury performance. She would appear later, too, joining Cardi B for their mega hit ‘WAP’.
Before that, Compton’s Roddy Ricch showed his mettle, providing a hype-filled half hour as the penultimate act on the Main Stage, especially with his crowd interaction on ‘The Box’. Then, after a brief wait (which was nowhere near the interlude for Nicki Minaj’s Sunday set), came Cardi B.
In her first UK festival appearance since Wireless 2019, the Bronx rapper overcame what she joked about – her age, her asthma – to give a barrage of twerk-filled, swaggering tunes, providing perhaps one of the highlights of the festival when Megan Thee Stallion appeared.
It wasn’t quite the level of surprise as last year’s Friday slot – when Future brought out Drake (Megan, after all, had obviously appeared already in the day). But it was an almighty opening headliner, as Cardi B strutted around the stage for in a glittery, sheer black catsuit. The other surprise appearance of her husband Offset proved another gift. But, for 70 minutes, this was all about Cardi.
In a warped rendition of Goldilocks, the middle day, Saturday, would prove the best of the bunch – the one that was just right. (Well, almost). Kaash Paige eased us into proceedings with her soothing RnB and ‘Love Songs’. She promised the crowd “rage”, but much of her performance was far from it and had the crowd swaying side-to-side instead of headbanging.
The one slight rage for some, though, was the frequent technical issues. Kaash Paige’s set came to an odd, abrupt ending, whilst a speaker issue had to be resolved during DJ Tonee’s warmup for 6lack. 6lack’s eventual appearance did make up for it, though, especially during ‘Ex Calling’.
Arguably, as Megan Thee Stallion’s non-headlining counterpart, Jack Harlow had a number of tricks, not least bringing out Ali from the crowd, who’d been holding a sign asking for them to perform together. Harlow eventually obliged, and whilst it took Ali a while to get into gear (he wasn’t quite an Alex-from-Glastonbury), when he did the crowd inevitably cheered on.
The other surprise was the guest appearance of Aitch, who ran onstage to the track ‘Baby’. Harlow’s performance was probably, by that stage, the best evidence of performative flow – his clear-cut delivery of ‘Nail Tech’ exemplifying this clearly.
There were difficult set clashes, too. Lucky Daye was on the N4 stage the same time as H.E.R. I caught Lucky first – and was glad to have done. Every festival has a performer that surpasses your expectations. He was the one for me this time, as he offered us his funky, soulful RnB in a full red jacket.
Catching the end of H.E.R., though, and ‘Best Part’ was superb; her vocals tender and powerful without ever being forced. It was therefore such a shame that more technical problems persisted, and she even started to play the drums with next to no effect, as they simply couldn’t be heard.
— Teddy Coward (@cow_ted) July 9, 2022
A breakdown of a different sort was present in Summer Walker’s set – albeit a far more understandable, human one. Looking slightly uncomfortable from the start, it wouldn’t take long before she broke down crying and told the crowd she was pregnant. “So my hormones, you know,” she added, “but y’all be showing me so much love”.
This had little bearing on the luxuriousness of her vocals, even if she did momentarily stop singing as she composed herself, the crowd happily filling in the words instead.
Whilst much of Wireless has, in recent years, been about stirring fever and whipping up energy, Saturday was as much about the sheer quality of the performer’s vocal range. Nothing epitomised this more than SZA’s headline slot.
Amongst the backdrop of a replica lighthouse, and dressed in bright blue, the St. Louis soulstress took us through her catalogue of tunes, from the emotive ‘Garden (Say It Like Dat)’, through to the danceable hits like ‘Kiss Me More’, who many guessed would warrant a surprise appearance from Doja Cat, but alas.
As well as the impressive choreography, with SZA flanked by a troop of dancers, and her strong connection with us all – dedicating ‘The Weekend’ to us all “being stuck in our twenty-somethings” – she proved the greatest headliner of the lot.
When Sunday rolled around, things were slightly awry from the start, not least when Finsbury Park tube station was closed. You’ve probably seen the news reports of police being called and people jumping the gates, so I’ll spare you further. But there was no doubt Sunday was a far busier affair.
If you were able to squeeze through the mass of people, Unknown T was late but impressed upon arrival, whilst on the Main Stage, Polo G gave one of the most energetic performances across the weekend (albeit with one fan later telling me things were “too wild” inside the main pen).
Mass crowds of course meant a logistical nightmare at times, as staff shouted from food-trucks that they were out of water, and the rush of people between stages broke off many queues. Once you found a spot, on the whole you were locked in, amidst a tight mesh of people.
And so, after Lil Baby’s penultimate Main Stage performance, you wondered just what this would mean for experiencing Nicki Minaj’s closing set. The answer, though, was delayed. Then delayed some more; and with a message reminding people of the 9:30pm curfew, you wondered if she would perform at all.
Fortunately, she did. Thirty minutes late though, eating into her setlist of bangers. In fact, unlike many big stars, her redeeming feature was her willingness to dive into her old classics, including ‘Anaconda’, ‘Feeling Myself’ and the hit which launched her ascent into stardom: ‘Super Bass’.
Aside from the appearance of rapper BIA for the track ‘Whole Lotta Money’, there were few major surprises. And the set was largely blighted by its stop-start nature – during one rather long pause midway through, some even started to disperse.
Yet this was a shame simply because when it was in its flow, it provided another sexually empowered, riveting showing from another powerful female headliner.
After Nicki expressed her love for the crowd, and with a spatter of drums, Wireless at Finsbury Park was brought to a close. It wasn’t perfect, but it had its moments, Maybe the three-show festival ultimately proved too much to pull off.
Like many of the acts who experienced technical glitches, I’ll simply end it there.