Wireless festival 2022: weekend two review – raunchy, twerk-friendly rap

Finsbury Park, London
Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, City Girls and Nicki Minaj tear up the stage, while SZA and Rema provide the weekend’s sweetest singing

The second London leg of Wireless is plagued by last-minute dropouts, and the mood starts out slightly sullen. Artists including Lil Durk, JI and Ruger all cancel during the weekend, while Afrobeats star Burna Boy announced a no-show the day before. Crowds of teens repeatedly curse after every dreaded in-app notification.

But once the music begins, things lift. As was the case with its Crystal Palace leg, an air of post-Astroworld fear still hangs over large-scale performances; artists regularly stop their sets at the slightest hint of trouble, which is often, with fans who are happy to mosh to anything. Monday performer Megan Thee Stallion expresses genuine alarm due to the overexcitement of the crowd: “Y’all are supposed to be twerking!” she says, wide-eyed. But their excitement is justified as she spits the tremendous Plan B a cappella, instantly transporting us to the late 90s and back, storming the stage with the vivaciousness of a headliner.

The most standout singing of the day might come from Nigerian vocalist Rema; he delivers some wondrously crisp vocals on the smaller N4 stage, and crowd reaction suggests he could have easily commanded the main one. His theatrics, combined with the average age demographic, would have you forgiven for thinking we are in a playpen; appearing with a giant teddy bear on his back, he sends out inflatable bouncing balls over screaming young fans.

Cardi B’s headlining set is equally bright, a performance that is as much her raunchy brand of comedy as it is wild entertainment. “Imm’a be your stripper,” she gleefully announces, snaking and barefoot on stage. It momentarily becomes the Offset show when her husband appears to perform Clout and Ric Flair Drip among others, but she instantly pulls it back with a thundering delivery of drill anthem Shake It.

Uplifting … SZA performing at Wireless.
Uplifting … SZA performing at Wireless. Photograph: Scott Garfitt/Rex/Shutterstock

Day two is characterised by surprise appearances that are as clever as they are unpredictable. Bree Runway dazes with Hot Hot alongside Summer Walker; high-energy up-and-comer Dreya Mac stuns during headliner SZA’s set. Manchester rapper Aitch appears during Jack Harlow’s performance after being spotted milling around the Nando’s tent, maybe an obvious choice given their joint white-rapper notability.

SZA proves sweet and uplifting amid the most impressive stage set of the weekend, appearing on – and finally launching herself off – a replica lighthouse. “I like to think that we’re a family” she tells the crowd, and swathes of attendees can be seen locked in warm embraces, singing word for word like a makeshift celestial choir.

Bubbly … City Girls performing at Wireless.
Bubbly … City Girls performing at Wireless. Photograph: Joseph Okpako/WireImage

A final day standout is the notorious Atlanta rap duo City Girls. Anticipation for closing headliner Nicki Minaj is high, and confused security personnel struggle to keep crowds pacified. The two are bubbly and giggling on stage, and incredible fun; Twerkulator has gaggles of TikTok-reared women (and men) with their heads nearing their shins and backsides to the sky, parroting filthy lyrics.

Minaj has not graced a UK stage since the pandemic. There are shrieks of her name long before she has hit the stage, and pink clothing abounds among all genders. Despite battling a strict curfew, Minaj honours the buildup well; she is poised and smiling, and even the most stoic of attendees are sent into a trance and transformed into Barbz by her charisma. Throwback album cuts such as Did It on Em get an earth-shaking response, and Moment 4 Life ends the weekend on a high.

Though the weekend is characterised with grumbles about organisation, and plagued by denied visas, the dropouts and delays, those remaining salvage the event through force of talent and personality – and the unforgettable women performers are a reminder that this event should never go back to the male-heavy lineups of old.


Christine Ochefu

The GuardianTramp

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