Condoms, “old as f—” rappers and professional simps: 88rising’s Head in the Clouds festival unfurled like a dream. Last weekend saw a joyous return to live music, with Head in the Clouds spotlighting performances at times both strange and stunning.
Some of the most unique performances of the day came from exhilarated rookie acts wanting everyone to simply have a good time. Despite a relatively barren stage with nothing other than Korean producer Chasu attempting to awaken the audience by clumsily bouncing around on stage, Warren Hue shined, commanding his set. Especially during sultry “Star in Love,” he was completely immersed in his performance. He took off his suit jacket, dropped to his knees and dramatically clutched his chain as he belted out sweaty note after note.
During the festival’s promotional campaign, 88rising tapped into seemingly every Asian influencer on TikTok to promote their event to the tune of Bibi’s “The Weekend.” While it might’ve been irksome to hear the singer’s whiny “And why, why, why, why, why” played live, Bibi’s stage presence completely outshined any other aspect of her set. There could hardly be a more obvious choice for the most magnetic act of the day. Her backing band translated her poppy sound into patient, soulful rearrangements as the singer restlessly skipped along the stage. Despite being a fresh face to the industry, she still wasn’t afraid to ascend to full gay goddess status as she pecked squealing and scrambling fans at barricades and served Oprah — but make it condoms and not cars.
In perhaps one of the oddest acts of the day, Korean hip-hop trailblazers Tiger JK, Yoon Mi-rae and Bizzy served a self-proclaimed “sappy and corny” set. It was chock full of proudly acknowledging label Feel Ghood Music’s struggling roots and awkwardly placed interjections of the roaring “You!” from Soulja Boy’s “Crank That.” Flicking back a greasy lock of hair, Tiger JK asked the audience to scream “boom boom boom boom” and hold up their hands in the shape of a gun. While it revealed his geriatric tendencies, the levity the rapper was trying to achieve worked. The crowd went from reluctant to boisterous as the trio launched into the potent “Angel.”
Being in your feelings wasn’t a requirement for enjoying Head in the Clouds on its second day, but it definitely helped. Keshi, known for populating his work with sad boy lyrics the most basic of tastes relish in, was electric despite his barely functioning mic (was he silent, or was he silenced?). The crowd was plenty loud despite the technical issues, ever ready to get their gloom on. “Baby, I call in the dead of night!” was screamed from the depths of the broken-hearted souls at the festival during national simp anthem “Like I Need U.”
Despite having to cut his set early — causing the singer to run around the stage until he was informed he was singing bittersweet “2 Soon” — Keshi didn’t hesitate to stretch the few moments he had, enveloping the audience in tranquil escapism. Bathed in a sea of iPhone flashlights, Keshi brought his perpetual woe and radiance that transformed the night into a triumphant celebration of his craft.
As one of the most anticipated acts of the night, Niki was at her best. With elaborate choreography, glittering, yeehaw fringe dangling off her jacket and multiple costume changes, there was nothing subtle about Niki’s show. Her performance fully intended to take up space and transform a seemingly minuscule moment — especially in the universe’s grand scheme — to feel as endless as the sky.
Fans climbed on top of each other, trying to appear as tall as possible while they waved the Indonesian national flag with pride. She vulnerably discussed her journey and her pride in being able to stand on a massive stage and “sing songs and hear them sung back.” During somber “Lose,” even as the crowd seemed to be at their most quiet and still, everyone was spellbound. Endless festival-goers were singing along, some crying, some frantically screaming in between the tears. It’s an ability that explicitly speaks to the magic of Niki — being able to harness moments of insurmountable emotions and make them sparkle in the night.
For some, the festival proved nightmarish during times when headliner Joji would scream and stomp his way through lyrics as though he had come down with a case of irritable bowel syndrome during his set. Of course, Joji interspersed poignant moments in his performance with bursts of idiosyncrasy. “This shit got me emotional,” he said as he watched the expansive audience sing along to “Yeah Right.” Then, true to his roots, he quickly added: “I’m going to get a nut. A giant nut. All kinds of nuts. Beautiful nuts.”
As the festival winded down, headliners Niki and Rich Brian and barely on-beat rapper Lil Cherry came out for the last performance of the night, where they ended up making the entire audience sing their own finale — a hollow ending to a kaleidoscopic event. Despite its shortcomings, the festival was so chaotically magnificent, it seemed as though little could disrupt the breezy bliss effortlessly conjured among its crowd. As Head in the Clouds and its performers continue to expand its limits, 88rising ultimately proves its ability to transcend boundaries.