That’s what we call a one-two punch. After three sweaty days of tunes, Austin City Limits Music Festival shut down the first weekend with an electrifying one-two punch from two of the hottest rappers in the game. At 7 p.m., chart-topper Lizzo drew a massive crowd to the Miller Lite stage. Cardi B then closed out the Honda stage with a pyrotechnic hit parade.
Team 360’s Deborah Sengupta Stith and Eric Webb break down a historic night for ACL Fest.
DSS: Well, I think we can safely say, that’s the most booty we’ve ever seen at ACL Fest. Big bootys. Medium bootys. Little bootys. Talented bootys. Bootys that defied the laws of gravity and physics. Booty, booty, booty.
EW: I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) say it better myself. We need to start with Lizzo. We’ve both seen her many, many times, but never as the rapper with the No. 1 single in the U.S. Every time, she refines her performance, her budget gets bigger, her voice seems to carry even farther. From the first time I saw her at South by Southwest in 2016 to now, it’s amazing to see her growth. And she was already pure magic to begin with!
» See more photos: Lizzo's performance at ACL Fest 2019
DSS: It seems awfully appropriate that she and her Big Girl dance team came dressed like actual fire emojis. Those ladies came to slay, and slay they did. And speaking of things that are bigger, we need to talk about that crowd. One of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen at ACL Fest. Lizzo called it one of the “most insane and most special crowds,” one of the biggest crowds she’s ever seen. Early in the set, when she played her ode to rhymes-with-duck boys, “Jerome,” she asked us to put our phone lights in the air. It created an amazing sea of swaying points of light that stretched far across Zilker Park.
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Lights up for @lizzobeeating at @aclfestival. Unreal. Deserved. #ACLFest #ACL #Lizzo #Austin
EW: I would love a drone shot, but to the unaided eye, it looked like Lizzo’s audience took up the entire stretch of ground in front of the Honda stage next door, and possibly then some. That was, no hyperbole, a goosebump-inducing moment. Watching Lizzo mouth “Damn!” when she looked out on her queendom after “Worship Me”? “I want the people all the way in the back to know I see you, bitch,” she said. Truly, have you seen a person look happier in your life? We stan a humble queen! She don’t need a crown, just a small army. What other highlights are worth mentioning?
DSS: Um, all of it? Walking out, we overheard someone say, “That was the shortest hour ever,” and truer words have never been spoken. I loved the expressions of self-love baked into songs like “‘Scuse Me” and “Soulmate.” I loved the dancers taking turns to show off their bootylicious skills on “Tempo.” (Booty, booty, booty.) And obviously, “Truth Hurts” was the greatest sing-along Zilker Park has ever seen.
» Related: So why wasn’t Lizzo on a big stage at ACL Fest? It’s kind of complicated
EW: Yes, I have never felt closer to a crowd of people, both physically and spiritually, than when we all announced the results of our DNA tests together. As always, Lizzo made her hour more than a concert; she made it a celebration of the soul. If I simply must distill an hour of religious ecstasy into a couple highlights, I’ll go with:
• Lizzo quoting RuPaul after “Water Me” (“If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?”)
• The instant classic stage banter, “Close your eyes for one second and imagine you’re a thick bitch. Every biscuit you eat is delicious!”
• Two separate flute solos, first on “Truth Hurts,” then on set closer “Juice”; I was so mad that I played French horn in middle school instead.
And then there was Cardi. Well, sort of. What happened there?
DSS: If that show had started right on time with a pyro-augmented version of “Get Up 10,” a fighter’s anthem which, in its own way, is Cardi’s version of an ode to self-love, that would have been epic. Instead, we had a weird lull that lasted almost 30 minutes, followed by a commercial for Cardi’s new Netflix series “Rhythm and Flow.” I was psyched when Cardi showed up, flanked by her fabulous dance team (booty, booty, booty), but the break in momentum created a palpable feeling of let down. A lot of folks left.
EW: Yeah, it was a real energy crash after Lizzo convincing me I could punch through concrete. I immediately forgave all once I saw Cardi's pink leopard print, but some fans on social media were less merciful. Thankfully, Cardi still gave us almost a full hour. This was a tick-tock run through the hits (or snippets of hits) with a few tracks thrown in for the day-ones. Cardi has figured out how to marry hip-hop stardom in shiny pop-star packaging as successfully as anyone ever has. She lifted her leg high enough to qualify it as an Austin moontower. She gave us a sprint through the singalongs ― “Money,” “Press,” “Drip,” back to back to back. She sank her teeth into tongue-twisters on “Bartier Cardi.” Let the record show that she dropped some of those bars upside-down and through her legs! And she gave the filthiest and most entertaining set-up that a Maroon 5 song will ever receive, on “Girls Like You.” I came away with two important realizations: that I need an all-Spanish Cardi album after “Taki Taki,” and that I still think the line “Yeah they call me Cardi B, I run this (expletive) like cardio” on “I Like It” has canceled Shakespeare. Your high points? I assume booty is one of them.
DSS: So. Much. Booty. Yes, Cardi gave us all kinds of “money moves”; the aforementioned upside-down tongue twister; roughly, I don’t know, two dozen top-notch twerks; and a shoulder stand booty shake for the ages. Look, I love that fact that in 2019 women who unapologetically own their sexuality are running the whole rap game. And Cardi is a top queenpin. I loved her humor and her sass throughout the set, her ferocity on “Press,” her vulnerability on the Kehlani-assisted hit “Ring” and her witty wordplay on “I Like It,” although I could have used at least two more choruses of the latter track, which is my jam. The set did feel a little short, but she packed more pyrotechnics into 50 minutes than I’ve ever seen in an ACL Fest set. Aand she used fire in ways I’ve never seen, with fan-shaped plumes of flames and sparks that showered from the ceiling. Having said that, it was odd to me that she didn’t decide to take the set out with a massive bang. Instead, after a quick mix of her star-making hit “Bodak Yellow,” she did a slow-motion walk through the crowd. I appreciate that she wanted to vibe with her fans, but after the thunderous close to Lizzo’s set, it felt weirdly anti-climatic.
EW: I’ll wrap it up with a final take on each of our rap goddesses at ACL Fest 2019. Every time we’ve seen Lizzo has felt like her “arrival.” After tonight, she seems destined to join the other single-name divas in our pop canon. (I won’t list them, but you know who I’m talking about.) And Cardi’s a superstar who comes with all the bangs and whistles, which we knew. What’s apparent after tonight is that she’s one of the artists who’s made hip-hop the defining pop music of our era, without compromising a thing.
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