10 takeaways from Las Vegas’ star-studded iHeartRadio Festival

Pink sails through T-Mobile Arena during the 2017 iHeartRadio Music Festival.
Photo: Ashley Osborn

The iHeartRadio Music Festival returned to the Strip for the seventh straight year this past weekend with more than 30 performances and 15 hours of live music from some of the biggest names in music across a variety of genres. The two-day festival, held Friday and Saturday at T-Mobile Arena, also featured a six-hour, 16-artist performance Saturday afternoon at the MGM Festival Grounds across the street from the Luxor.

Here are 10 takeaways from the weekend:

1. Kesha’s transformation is complete. Once synonymous with Auto-Tuned performances and cheap lyrics, Kesha wowed the near-capacity T-Mobile crowd with emphatic vocals on “Woman,” and “Learn to Let Go,” before punctuating her five-song setlist with an emotional performance of her latest hit, “Praying.”

The 30-year-old did not play “TiK ToK,” “We R Who We R” or “Die Young,” the three biggest hits from the beginning of her career.

Coldplay's Chris Martin

Coldplay's Chris Martin

2. Pink delivered the best stunt of the festival. Launching from the iHeartRadio stage on a harness, the singer soared from one side of T-Mobile Arena to the other, landing on platforms placed along the side of the floor-level seats during a performance of “So What.”

Pink continued singing into a headset microphone as she flipped and twisted while airborne in the harness, until she hung upside down from higher than 70 feet above the crowd. Then, in perhaps the most dramatic moment of the weekend, she was free-falling. As the crowd gasped, the harness stopped her close enough for her to nearly touch hands with fans sitting on the floor level.

2017 iHeartRadio Music Festival

3. But Coldplay’s Chris Martin stole the show. Coldplay received louder cheers from Friday’s T-Mobile Arena crowd than any of the seven other performing acts to take the stage that night.

Martin, the band’s lead singer, was spectacular—acting out the lyrics of each song while engaging with the crowd gathered around a part of the festival’s protruded stage.

When singing about death in “Viva la Vida” Martin lied down and remained motionless. When singing about being drunk and high in “Hymn for the Weekend,” he stood flopping his hands and body around like a fool. All of that between contributing to the band’s instrumentals on the piano, amongst a masterful light show.

4. Halsey has some serious swagger. She won the Daytime Village crowd over with her voice during performances of “Strangers,” “Now or Never” and “Hopeless,” but she also commanded its engagement with an intense yet smooth stage presence, featuring sporadic dancing and a joyful smirk at the end of nearly every song.

5. So does Bebe Rexha. Wearing all gold with L-O-V-E spelled out in block letters across her waistline, Rexha told the crowd she didn’t need a “f*cking hand to hold” while performing her verses in G-Eazy’s “Me, Myself and I.”

Smiling wide as she danced and stomped across the Daytime Village stage, she also welcomed Louis Tomlinson on stage for their duet, “Back to You.”

6. Five to seven songs was enough for most fans to get a good sense of those onstage. While some performers, like Kesha, focused on their newest songs in light of recent musical transformations, others, like Big Sean and Miley Cyrus, also played early career hits.

Some DJs, like Khaled, Flume and David Guetta, were able to fire off nearly a dozen songs, when including shorter clips and mashups. But nearly every other artist stayed in the five- to seven-song range for their 25-minute setlists.

A jumbotron message board with tweets from fans at the show suggested that Saturday performer Lorde most benefitted from that format. Though there were plenty fans of “Royals” present, many didn’t seem to realize familiar hits “Homemade Dynamite,” and “Team” were also authored by the New Zealand-born artist until she played them at Saturday’s festival.

7. The festival lineups started strong and ended strong. While Pink and Kesha have each headlined multiple world tours, they were respectively the first of eight acts to hit the T-Mobile stage on Friday and Saturday. The credentials of Friday’s final act, David Guetta, and Saturday’s closer, DJ Khaled, are just as extensive.

Festival organizers sprinkled less massive names acts, like Thirty Seconds to Mars and Niall Horan, throughout the middle of the shows.

8. T-Mobile was packed each night from the beginning. From the front rows surrounding the protruding iHeartRadio stage to the back wall of the third level, fans packed the sold-out show from its first performers, and most stayed until the final acts.

While Friday’s crowd had dwindled to about half-capacity by the time Guetta took the stage, the arena remained at least 80 percent full on Saturday.

9. Other artists are still raving about Chris Stapleton. Several Friday performers, including Pink, Coldplay and even Harry Styles, had a complementary quip, joke or reference to the Lexington, Kentucky native’s booming voice and guitar strumming prowess.

And when it was his turn to take the stage, the country star again lived up to the hype. With far and away the simplest of all stage setups over the weekend, Stapleton and his four-person band shined through hits like “Tennessee Whiskey,” “Broken Halos” and “Nobody to Blame,” highlighted by a three-minute guitar solo by Stapleton between sips of whiskey from a red solo cup.

10. Saturday’s show saved the best for last. DJ Khaled took his signature catchphrase “another one” to a new level on Saturday night, welcoming five different guest artists to the stage during a 40-minute, 12-song performance to close the festival.

While only Chance the Rapper had previously been announced as a special guest, he was soon joined by Quavo for “I’m the One,” and Travis Scott, who dazzled the T-Mobile Arena crowd with “Butterfly Effect” and “Goosebumps.” With Khaled and the three hip-hop artists flexing in the background, Demi Lovato walked on stage for a sassy rendition of “Sorry Not Sorry,” and Daytime Village performer French Montana also rapped “Unforgettable,” as the crowd cheered for each of DJ Khaled’s surprise guests.

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