On its 21st anniversary, V celebrates adulthood with its youngest, poppiest bill ever. Only Travis and Kaiser Chiefs remain as a nod to its indie/rock cradling and David Guetta is probably the oldest person on site, let alone on stage. Amazingly intimate, friendly and compact, though, even with 90,000 attendees.
A mostly female, selfie-obsessed audience that has no patience for failed singles or “one from my new album”. More than once, fields empty mid-set as an act makes the schoolboy error of playing their biggest hit too early.
Flesh-flashing Little Mix are a surprisingly huge draw, perhaps because of all the weekend’s acts they most closely resemble the V audience. In comparison, Sia’s face-covering wig and arty staging is a bit Lazy Gaga, but when her sensational voice belts out Diamonds there’s a visceral reaction as close to transcendence as is feasible in Essex. However, 25 minutes late and beginning with a string of incredibly slow songs, it’s Rihanna who confirms her position as the brightest and strangest star on the planet. A songbird marionette, worked into various aggressively angular poses, she delivers a mesmerising combination of trappy album tracks and gigantic hits, Caribbean grit and American showbiz, peaking with a throwaway take on Umbrella. After which, as if she demanded it, the sky gently fills with rain.
And the worst
Some stars can deliver the most mediocre performances while keeping their fans magnetised. Justin Bieber is not among them. Constantly referring to Chelmsford as London, Biebs slopes around the stage truculently, a bored boy-king briefly forced to slum it with us peasants to collect his regal stipend. Sure, poor sound and occasional drizzle aren’t his≈fault, but lacklustre dancing and a shameful mix of taped and live vocals is. The set reaches a nadir when he stares blankly across the adoring faces and starts to list the food outlets he can see from the stage. The saddest thing is, when he picks up a guitar and sings acoustic versions of Cold Water and Love Yourself, he is startlingly brilliant.
Karate world champion and Essex homecomer Anne-Marie channels Adele at Fabric during her all-too-short Street Stage set on Saturday.
Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander’s backless red number has the prize right up until the moment that Rihanna struts out on stage in her breathtaking black-and-white gladiator fetish outfit.
“Find your mum - I’m gonna get a beer” sums it up.
Freelance journalist Kate Solomon: