Lollapalooza Chicago, 2023: Four Days of Asian Musical Excellence

From Rina Sawayama to TOMORROW X TOGETHER, beabadoobee, DPR, NewJeans and more, we takes you on a whistle-stop tour of some of the best Asian talent on offer at Lollapalooza Chicago this year.
Rina Sawayama by Dusana Risovic for Lollapalooza 2023
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Lollapalooza Chicago, 2023: Four Days of Asian Musical Excellence

Lollapalooza sits in a special space that other festivals in the US don't quite reach. It could be the festival’s long existence or the fact that it reaches across the globe with different iterations in countries like Sweden, Chile and most recently, India, with Lollapalooza Mumbai earlier this year. However, one thing is for certain: Lollapalooza Chicago always provides an excellent platform to various artists from different genres. 

The atmosphere of the festival is also unique in the sense that its vibe contains a great sense of balance, where people are relatively friendly to one another - which could be due to the influence of where Chicago sits geographically, with the midwest generally being a very friendly area of the US - and where nothing really feels forced. 

Aerial by Nathan Zucker for Lollapalooza 2023.

Something that proves to be true (at least in the few years I have covered the festival), is that Perry Farrell and his team continue to seek out and diversify their artist lineup year after year. His Co-Chair and wife Etty had mentioned to me in an interview last year that she hoped "the industry would give Asian artists more opportunities” and the line up this year proves exactly that, that Lollapalooza continues to be at the forefront of giving such opportunities to these artists to make history.

Much as last year was ground-breaking for Asian and Asian-American artists, this year has been monumental in it’s own right as TOMORROW X TOGETHER became the first K-Pop group to headline a major U.S. festival after having made their U.S. festival debut on Perry's Stage at the festival last year, and NewJeans - the recently debuted girl group taking the world by storm with their catchy songs and TikTok virality - playing one of the two biggest stages at the festival. Not to mention the awe-inspiring stages by female Asian artists that also took to the stage like Beabadoobee, NIKI, Umi, Rina Sawayama and Sarah Kinsley.

NewJeans by Roger Ho for Lollapalooza 2023

At first, the festival had seemingly immaculate weather and a fantastic start to the four days kicking off with Clinton Kane and Cafune providing indie-pop tunes, in contrast to ARMNHMR’s electrifying EDM set and fantastic stages by New Jeans, beabadoobee, and The Rose rounding off the Thursday and Friday.

New Jeans was undoubtedly one of the acts that many fans looked forward to the most. From their merchandise selling out completely, despite having restocks, to Bunnyland - their special Spotify activation area which featured multiple activities for fans - near impossible to attend since the queue was simply that long. Good luck to all those who hoped to see other acts in the meantime, as leaving the line all but meant forsaking your chance to see the activation at all. Outside of that, the quintet’s great performances were expected but nevertheless amazing; given that the group is only just over a year old and with Lollaplaooza being their U.S. festival debut, their level of professionalism in front of the enormous crowd at the T-Mobile Stage was fantastic.

The Rose by Dusana Risovic for Lollapalooza 2023

The Rose had a special day as they closed out Thursday, which also happened to be the sixth anniversary of their debut as a group. They performed on the Bacardi Stage with much love and gratitude to their fans (affectionately known as Black Roses) and despite a few hiccups with tech, Woosung, Dojoon, Hajoon, and Jaehyeong took it in their stride and still had a brilliant performance. In their set they played songs from their latest album Heal as well as a couple of songs that are due to drop on their upcoming album.

On Friday, Filipino-British artist Beabadoobee took the crowd on a dreamy journey on the Tito’s Handmade Vodka Stage. She started her set strong with popular track ‘Talk’ and continued with a kaleidoscope of selects from her discography, including the viral hit ‘Glue Song’. Her lovely vocals seemed to entrance the audience throughout, with many vibing along to her songs until the end. 

beabadoobee by Ashley Osborn for Lollapalooza 2023

Despite the sudden turn in weather from beautiful, sunny skies to persistent rain as we moved into Saturday, this didn’t seem to phase attendees as droves of fans still made their way to Knock2’s EDM set at Perry’s Stage to dance and jam, and the energy was high. Since TOMORROW X TOGETHER was headlining that night, fans still |}ardently waited at the Bud Light Stage to secure a spot where they could see their biases perform on one of the biggest festival stages in the U.S. As the skies finally started to clear, Indonesian singer-songwriter NIKI took to Tito’s Stage and presented an earnest set, singing tracks from her newest album Nicole like ‘Vintage’ and ‘High School in Jakarta’, which got fans singing along to every word.

As expected, when TOMORROW X TOGETHER did make it out, their set did not disappoint. As now headliners, those who enjoyed their Lollapalooza set last year were treated to an even longer set, including performances of new songs such as 'Sugar Rush Ride', 'Tinnitus (Wanna be a rock)' and 'Happy Fools'. The latter song saw Coi Leray join them on stage to sing her verse within the song, which was a pleasant surprise for the crowd. The five-piece even performed their newest song 'Do It Like That', which was a collaboration with the Jonas Brothers. Although the US band was unable to join them on stage, member Taehyun hoped that they would be able to join TXT to perform the song for fans one day. From beginning to end, the group's return to Lollapalooza was a complete success.

Tomorrow x Together by Roger Ho for Lollapalooza 2023

On Sunday, the rain continued on and off but the day was filled with more Asian powerhouses, starting with Sarah Kinsley and her dreamy alt-pop songs like ‘Karma’ and ‘Oh No Darling!’ from her latest EP Ascension. In the middle of the day, UMI treated fans with a thirty minute meditation and acoustic set at the Toyota Music Den before another, longer set on the Bacardi Stage later in the day. The former set was intimate, giving the audience a little preview of what was to come if they came to see her perform later that day. She gave soulful acoustic renditions of ‘Sukidakara’ and ‘Remember Me’ and covers of ‘Best Part’ by Daniel Caesar featuring H.E.R and Frank Ocean’s ‘Self Control’ from Blond, thus treating the crowd who came to the Toyota Music Den and encouraging them to let their worries go and feel healed with UMI's self-affirmations of positivity and light. 

Sarah Kinsley by Ashley Osborn for Lollapalooza 2023

In the evening, Rina Sawayama took to the stage - having flown in from LA after having just performed at another major festival - and blew the crowd away with her performance. With Lollapalooza Chicago being one of several dates on Rina’s Hold the Girl Reloaded Tour, she did not disappoint. Her creative choreography, multiple outfit changes, and powerhouse vocals were unforgettable, and enjoyable to even those unfamiliar with her work. To close the festival’s roster of Asian talent, the South Korean duo of DPR Ian and DPR Live took to the Bacardi stage and had DREAMERS (the name for their fans) dream with the duo for their forty-five minute set. The duo performed solo songs, such ‘Nerves’ and ‘Calico’ for Ian, and ‘Jasmine’ and ‘Hula Hoops’ for Live, before the two came together for ‘Boom’.

Rina Sawayama by Dusana Risovic for Lollapalooza 2023

This time last year it was possible - difficult, but possible - to experience all the Asian talent on offer at Lollapalooza. You might need to be able to run fast, sustain solely on snacks and maybe miss a song or two, but yes, you could just about do it. It is a testament to how much the festival has been able to include even more Asian talent that this year it was not possible to catch every artist of Asian heritage without missing your chance to queue for or view another (or put yourself at high risk of exhaustion).

Overall, the festival continues to grow its reach, and its efforts to diversify and expand are clearer than ever. This comes in the form of not only the addition of even more Asian artists, but with artists of other diverse backgrounds as well: such as Karol G being the first-ever Latin female artist to headline Lollapalooza. Such efforts have paid dividends, with the festival now more popular than ever and continuing to cultivate its reputation of being one of the best festivals in a US to catch a great variety of artists from all over. With this growth, Lollapalooza doesn’t lose the core of what made it popular in the first place: from giving space for smaller artists to perform on the same stages as powerhouse veterans, all for the sake of the love of music and the excitement of potentially discovering your new favourite band.

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