BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend review – electric Stormzy opens two days of non-stop pop

Stewart Park, Middlesbrough
Billie Eilish draws the crowds, Miley Cyrus rejects her previous personas and Slowthai steals the day

‘I wanna see gas! I wanna see chaos!” Stormzy asserts his major league status by inciting a riot; the BBC Radio 1 for New Music tent can barely hold him, with hundreds of his Middlesbrough fans bottlenecked far from the action. New single Vossi Bop’s tight groove was born for big speakers, and a fiery crowd fills in the lyrics for him – no swearing on the radio – with an emphatic “Fuck the government and fuck Boris!” He barrels through his hits with electrifying energy, all before 2pm, landing on early single Know Me From as a celebratory closer.

The stacked Saturday lineup tears the crowd between SoundCloud-made-flesh US star Billie Eilish and chart-topping Scottish singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi. Capaldi’s cheery patter, brassy vocals and cavalier attitude towards ticker tape melts his massive crowd, and the sing-along for Someone You Loved is deafening. Later, Charli XCX performs her sticky pop with a vigour usually reserved for drunk karaoke, and Vampire Weekend turn in a muted shift, although new track This Life holds up against festival stalwarts such as A-Punk.

Miley Cyrus delivers a glamorous, revisionist history of her previous pop personas; peppy tracks such as Party in the USA are given rock’n’roll camouflage to fit a short, serious set, and of three new songs, Mother’s Daughter offers a raucous but cliched call for a vague “freedom” that puts a tougher, adult twist on Cyrus’s wild-child reputation and makes an early play for summer anthem status. Nothing Breaks Like a Heart and Jolene confirm her knack for piercing balladry, and a progressive rock reimagining of Wrecking Ball seals the deal on a new, darker era.

A new, darker era ... Miley Cyrus on stage at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend.
A new, darker era ... Miley Cyrus on stage at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

The visuals for Sunday openers Little Mix depict them as all-powerful military dictators, and they unite the all-ages audience on a winning platform of sticking fingers up to exes. Final headliners the 1975 pogo through earnest post-internet pop rock like Year 11s at a school disco, handling heavy topics with heartfelt, self-indulgent sincerity. But Slowthai steals the day; the rising Northampton rapper gleefully insults the Queen on opener Nothing Great About Britain before plunging shirtless into the mosh pit. The small, fervent crowd jostling at the Introducing stage receives him like a preacher. On a weekend bookended by the UK’s most vital voices, Radio 1’s pop mission proves surprisingly radical.


Katie Hawthorne

The GuardianTramp

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