Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Jackson Wang, Rina Sawayama, Rich Brian standout at Head In The Clouds Festival

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As Jackson Wang tried to catch his breath, he told the crowd at the Head In The Clouds Festival in Pasadena on Saturday, Aug. 5 that his set was intended to be a teaser of his Magic Man World Tour.

And by the time he left the stage, literally dragged off by his backing dancers, it had done exactly what any tease would: Left the audience wanting a whole lot more.

Wang headlined Saturday at the festival founded by the 88rising record label to showcase the best in Asian and Asian American music. But like so many more of the artists this year and in years past, that really just means showcasing fantastic music that happens to be made by people whose ethnic and cultural roots are Asian.

Great music is great music no matter where it comes from. And in Wang’s too-brief 10 songs over 35 minutes, it’s clear the Hong Kong-raised singer is a shining star today who’ll only burn brighter in years to come.

Wang opened his set with the 2020 single “100 Ways,” and followed that with the “Magic Man” tracks “Blow” and “Champagne Cool.” (If you want to sense of his artistic vision check on the video for “Blow” on YouTube).

  • DPR Live performs on day one of the two day...

    DPR Live performs on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Rich Brian performs on day one of the two day...

    Rich Brian performs on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Rina Sawayama performs on day one of the two day...

    Rina Sawayama performs on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Milli performs on day one of the two day music...

    Milli performs on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Jackson Wang headlines day one of the two day music...

    Jackson Wang headlines day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Jackson Wang headlines day one of the two day music...

    Jackson Wang headlines day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Jackson Wang fans take pictures and video during his performance...

    Jackson Wang fans take pictures and video during his performance on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • DPR Live performs on day one of the two day...

    DPR Live performs on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Jackson Wang headlines day one of the two day music...

    Jackson Wang headlines day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Fans of Spence Lee sing-a-long during his performance on day...

    Fans of Spence Lee sing-a-long during his performance on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Rich Brian performs on day one of the two day...

    Rich Brian performs on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • DPR Live performs on day one of the two day...

    DPR Live performs on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Rina Sawayama performs on day one of the two day...

    Rina Sawayama performs on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Jackson Wang headlines day one of the two day music...

    Jackson Wang headlines day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Jackson Wang headlines day one of the two day music...

    Jackson Wang headlines day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • DPR Live performs on day one of the two day...

    DPR Live performs on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • From left, Zi Sie, Tina Wu and Airy Liu pose...

    From left, Zi Sie, Tina Wu and Airy Liu pose for a photograph inside the Boba Village at the Head In The Clouds festival in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • From left, Yvette Bantug and Mark Lagrisola pose for photograph...

    From left, Yvette Bantug and Mark Lagrisola pose for photograph on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Milli performs on day one of the two day music...

    Milli performs on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Spence Lee performs on day one of the two day...

    Spence Lee performs on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • From left, Richard Fung, Alex Au, Jason Li and Daniel...

    From left, Richard Fung, Alex Au, Jason Li and Daniel Lee pose for a photograph inside the Boba Village at the Head In The Clouds festival in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Festival-goers pose for a photograph on day one of the...

    Festival-goers pose for a photograph on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Akini Jing performs on day one of the two day...

    Akini Jing performs on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Fans of the DPR Gang cheer during their performance on...

    Fans of the DPR Gang cheer during their performance on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Spence Lee performs on day one of the two day...

    Spence Lee performs on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Supreme Musubi’s Lechon Kawali musubi available during the Head In...

    Supreme Musubi’s Lechon Kawali musubi available during the Head In The Clouds festival at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Ghostix’s Diced Potato Goblin corndog available during the Head In...

    Ghostix’s Diced Potato Goblin corndog available during the Head In The Clouds festival at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Rina Sawayama performs on day one of the two day...

    Rina Sawayama performs on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Stephanie Poetri performs on day one of the two day...

    Stephanie Poetri performs on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Milli performs on day one of the two day music...

    Milli performs on day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Jackson Wang headlines day one of the two day music...

    Jackson Wang headlines day one of the two day music festival Head In The Clouds at the Brookside at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, August 5, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

The music mines a vein of alternative and synth rock. The production makes evident Wang’s past as a member of the K-pop group Got7, especially in the crisp dance choreography of Wang and eight fantastic backing dancers. As with many K-pop stars, Wang is an objectively beautiful man, his hair divided between bleached blond and black, his bright eyes popping amid the broad smudges of dark eyeliner that encircled them.

Other highlights of Wang’s performance included songs “Dopamine” and “Cheetah.” The finale of “Cruel” not only delivered one of the standout songs on “Magic Man,” but the wildest performance of the night. As Wang sang, the men and women in his dance crew tossed him back and forth like a pinball — like, no kidding, physically hard— knocking him to the ground several times until he collapsed in a panting, sweating heap.

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Their leader subdued, the eight lifted him aloft like a dead warrior, dropped him again, and left the stage dragging his limp body with them. Wang’s Magic Man Tour played the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in April after he performed two weekends at Coachella. Here’s hoping he comes back soon.

Here are some other highlights from day one of the Head In The Clouds Festival.

Women who ruled

Rina Sawayama was the standout of the daylight hours on the golf course outside the Rose Bowl. Born in Japan but living in England since she was 7, Sawayama’s got more on her mind – feminism, LGBT rights, and casual racism for three – than most women dance pop and rock singers.

Highlights included the metal-ish “STFU” — who the heck knows what that means — the emotional “Frankenstein,” and the dance clubby “Lucid.”

Despite temperatures that reached the 90s on Saturday, Sawayama didn’t cut any of her choreography or production, changing her outfit maybe six times in 45 minutes, from a romantic, flowing white dress to start the show with “Hold the Girl,” to a shabby businessman look for “Comme des Garcons (Like the Boys),” to a devilishly red leather-like catsuit and a whip for the set-closing “This Hell.”

Elsewhere, women performers turned in more terrific sets. The Chinese singer Akina Jing was fascinating to hear and watch, her songs sometimes mixing traditional Chinese sounds with moody rock, at other times, like with “Pump Up,” delivering vigorous dance rock. She describes her music as “oriental cyberpop,” and there was something vaguely Björk-like in her artistry.

Indonesian singer Stephanie Poetri delivered a softer singer-songwriter style of pop, while Thai singer-rapper Milli was always a fun set from interacting with fans who’d made $100 bills with her face on them, to duetting with Indonesian rapper Warren Hue, who’d performed earlier in the day.

Even the dance tent had a female face most of the day with long sets from DJs that include Hu Dat, the stage name of Kim Hu, a Pasadena native, and Tokimonsta, the acclaimed DJ/producer who grew up in Torrance as Jennifer Lee.

Why it’s different

The crowd at Head In The Clouds is predominately Asian American and mostly from California, though we did meet fans who’d traveled from out of state to be here.

Zi Sie and Airy LIu came from Dallas for the festival, meeting with their friend Tina Wu of Irvine. We met them walking with a purple parasol at Boba Village, a new-this-year grouping of six different boba tea booths, and asked them what drew them here.

Head In The Clouds brings together artists that often don’t tour extensively in the United States, making it a one-stop shop to see faves such as Jackson Wang on Saturday and XG and Yaosobi on Sunday, Liu said.

“We want to see pop stars that we can identify with,” Sie added.

Today’s culture has diversified and opened, Wu and her friends also said.

“Now with social media, artists have different ways to reach people in the United States,” Wu said of the rapid growth in Asian acts appearing here.

Boba Village wasn’t the only food and beverage aspect of the Head In The Clouds that makes this one of the tastiest fests in Southern California. The 626 Night Market was back to curate a mix of food vendors the likes of which you won’t find at others.

Ghostix served its usual selection of wildly different corndogs. The Lucifer is covered in Flaming Hot Cheetos dust, the Gizmo in sweet corn. I went for the Goblin, which was battered with cubed potatoes to create the corndog breading. Each bite tasted like hot dog and home fries with barbecue sauce. Don’t mind if I do!

Photographer Drew Kelley chose the longest line in the 626 Night Market zone, waiting for Supreme Musabi to serve a lechon kawali – pork belly – musabi for a quick dinner.

Elsewhere, you could get fun food such as the pizza-stuffed bao at Baozza, a particularly Japanese take on the sandwich at Sandoitchi, or the build-your-own ramen-in-a-cup at Shake Ramen.

Dudes deliver too

The men on Saturday mostly worked in different flavors of rap, from the R&B-influenced hip-hop of DPR Live and DPR Ian, who gave popular back to back sets on the main stage, to the odd kind of mumble-rap of Keith Ape, all three of them Korean artists.

Rich Brian, who performed just before Jackson Wang on Saturday, had a huge crowd. The Indonesian rapper has a fun, traditional style, and like many of the artists on Saturday, sings in impeccable English, making the crossover to American audiences that much smoother.

Early sets Saturday included the Indonesian rapper Warren Hue, who opened the main stage, and Spence Lee, a Chinese-Vietnamese American rapper from the “dirty, dirty, dirty Jersey,” as he sang in one song, pulling up his shirt to show of the 732 New Jersey area code of his hometown tattooed on his torso.

Guys on Saturday also delivered smoother sounds in other sets. Phum Viphurit drew a large crowd for a mellow set of feel-good laidback tunes. Think of him as a Thai Mac DeMarco and you’re in the right vibe ‘hood.

And Dhruv, the Singaporean-born, English-raised, Yale-educated singer-songwriter had an adoring crowd at the second stage for his set of soulful love songs, including the viral hit “Double Take,” written about falling in love with his best friend.

Head In The Clouds

When: Saturday, Aug. 5

Where: Brookside at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena

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