Festival Watch – V 2016

Little Mix threaten to steal the show at Hylands Park’s 21st anniversary bash, but in the end no one can beat the star power of Rihanna

The vibe

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.

The crowd

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.

Best act

Sia at V Festival 2016, Hylands Park.
‘Sensational voice’: Sia at V Festival 2016, Hylands Park. Photograph: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

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.

Little Mix at V Festival 2016, Hylands Park.
‘Surprisingly huge draw’: Little Mix at V Festival 2016, Hylands Park. Photograph: David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock

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.

Justin Bieber at V Festival 2016, Hylands Park.
‘Bored boy-king’: Justin Bieber at V Festival 2016, Hylands Park. Photograph: Ian West/PA

Best discovery

Karate world champion and Essex homecomer Anne-Marie channels Adele at Fabric during her all-too-short Street Stage set on Saturday.

Best dressed

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.

Best tweet

Freelance journalist Kate Solomon:


Damien Morris

The GuardianTramp

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