Wireless festival 2022, review: Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion and Nicki Minaj deliver a libidinous weekend of hip-hop hits

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Cardi B’s headline set was the highlight of the weekend  (David Cliff/Invision/AP)
Cardi B’s headline set was the highlight of the weekend (David Cliff/Invision/AP)

It’s hard to imagine better weather for the second weekend of Wireless. Across the three-day event in Finsbury Park, the sun shines, glows, and sets in Instagrammable colours. Revellers carry miniature fans but otherwise remain unphased by the scorching temperatures, chuffed that their festival outfits are, for once, actually weather appropriate.

By the time R&B singer-songwriter Givēon takes the stage on day one, the mercury has mercifully dipped. The soft glow glinting on the string of pearls around his neck is a fortuitous call back to the musician’s southern Californian roots. Since supplying the vocals for Drake’s 2020 track “Chicago Freestyle”, Givēon has become a new name-to-know... at least in the US. Tonight’s crowd appears less aware of the musician’s rising stardom. Still, they’re happy to come along for the ride, most not knowing sufficient lyrics to sing along to his honeyed baritone, choosing instead to sway enthusiastically side to side. When Givēon does perform his lulled verse of “Chicago Freestyle”, the chorus kicks in. Even more so when he follows it up with his sunshine-ready cameo on Justin Bieber’s stoner-pop hit “Peaches”.

The bombastic arrival of Megan Thee Stallion threatens to render any earlier performances forgettable. Flanked by a cohort of dancers in booty shorts and baker-boy caps, the Texan rapper descends onto the stage in a hypnotising swish of butt-grazing extensions. Her set is expectedly profane, and thrillingly so. The crowd matches her word-for-word as she reels through a back catalogue of hits, and only hits. Audience engagement is less necessary when your music is as recognisable as Megan’s is, but she makes an effort nonetheless. Things turn serious when she calls out her hometown over the recent overturning of Roe v Wade by the US Supreme Court. “The state of Texas is really embarrassing me. Let’s put our middle fingers up to these motherf***ers,” she announces, before leading an obliging audience in a chant of “my body, my choice”.

“We doing hot girl s***,” she later chastises the rowdy bunch, stamping out a few scuffles. “We ain’t fighting; we twerking. This is not a dangerous show.” It’s a libidinous rager as she playfully jiggles her bustier-clad breasts, while a male dancer mimics oral sex on her as she raps to “Eat It”. A more recent track “Plan B” – a rare Megan number that hasn’t made it onto TikTok – delivers a furious, staggering energy. More than any song, though, the crowd goes wild for Megan twerking. She spends a good portion of the hour bent over in a display of astonishing athleticism. Truly, the strongest quads in the business.

The crowd is smaller for Roddy Rich (and perhaps comprising many people hoping to bag a good spot for Cardi B who is on next), but the Compton rapper is unphased. Accompanied by his band, he bounces around the stage. Things heat up significantly as he ends on “The Box”, which he doubles down on as an encore.

Not just the highlight of day one, but the whole weekend, is undoubtedly Cardi B’s headline set. With the release of her phenomenal 2018 debut Invasion of Privacy, the Washington Heights rapper has carved a space for herself in the rap scene as both brazen and vulnerable. It’s a reputation she reiterates here with a blazing set chock-full of personality. Her voice – elastic and nasal, and thick with her distinct New York accent – is an instrument in and of itself. Between songs, Cardi displays the endearing candour and humour for which she is so adored. She puts on a British accent when asking the audience how much more “ratchet” they can get, and again with an Oliver Twist-style plea to festival organisers to prolong her set. When dollar bills shoot out of canons at the end of “Money Bags”, she tells the crowd: “Y’all not gonna buy anything with that.”

Megan Thee Stallion delivered a thrillingly profane set (David Cliff/Invision/AP)
Megan Thee Stallion delivered a thrillingly profane set (David Cliff/Invision/AP)

“I’m TIRED,” she confesses after a few songs. “I’m about to be 30, bitch! I’m tired!” She takes off her heels and performs the rest of the set barefoot. But if she is tired, she never shows it. Her energy reserves are seemingly endless as she raps furiously, twerks saucily, and chit-chats endlessly. A natural performer, Cardi makes even drinking water a show – taking a swig from the bottle before dumping the rest of it over her head. Midway through the set, she brings out fellow rapper and husband Offset – together they perform the Migos hit “Bad and Boujee”. Waving him goodbye with a kiss, she tells the crowd to “make some f***ing noise for Mr Schlong.” Across the set, there is fire, confetti, flashing lights, and fireworks, but the main attraction is always Cardi.

Day two is a more subdued affair with Summer Walker and SZA bringing laidback vibes to a thankfully breezier afternoon. Surrounded by a garden of green, Walker delivers the first songs of her set from the back of the stage. The slow groove of her music swims across Finsbury Park as festivalgoers find themselves in lyrics from of one of R&B’s most relatable storytellers. The predominant subject is heartache, and she conveys it sumptuously. Bluesy vocals shift between sultry and frustrated. “Throw It Away” is met with whoops from the crowd, but the upside of a low-key set is that the number of phone screens in the air remain at a minimum. Without warning, Walker stops a song short and walks off stage rubbing her eyes.

When she returns and sits on the rattan chair placed centre stage, she begins to cry over “how much love” London is showing her. “I really appreciate y’all,” she says, blaming the tears on her pregnancy hormones. “I never got love like this.” Taking a towel to her eyes, Walker leans on an obliging crowd to help sing “Session 32” and the self-love anthem “Girls Need Love”. We’re more than happy to share the load.

Smiles ahead: R&B singer-songwriter Givēon (David Cliff/Invision/AP)
Smiles ahead: R&B singer-songwriter Givēon (David Cliff/Invision/AP)

Revellers seeking a more party-like atmosphere flock to the Bacardi bar, where a long queue forms for the makeshift club. Back on the main stage, SZA appears as if by magic, leaning over the railing of a prop lighthouse. “All the Stars” – her 2018 collaboration with Kendrick Lamar for the Black Panther soundtrack – is a crowd-pleasing introduction, as people rush from the food trucks to the stage balancing pizzas and pints as they go. The strobe beaming from the lighthouse alternates blue, red and pink, bleeding seamlessly with the sky that sets around her. It’s a low-key headline set which can’t help but feel flat at times, especially compared to Cardi the previous night.

For the final day, headline duties fall to Nicki Minaj. The rap superstar is running typically late, though, as two jumbo screens inform the audience. The poor choice of waiting music (“Break Ya Neck” by Busta Rhymes) leads the audience to repeatedly mistake the track’s pauses as an indication of Minaj’s arrival. Thirty minutes later, the rapper is on stage wearing a skin-tight catsuit, prowling around without missing a beat. Having not released an album since 2018’s Queen, Minaj offers a set mostly comprising decade-old hits. It’s a brilliant throwback, which includes a bumper-to-bumper medley of her best collaborations. Minaj’s status as the queen of guest verses remains firmly intact, despite the conspicuous absence of her verse on Kanye West’s 2010 track “Monster”. While the omission goes unexplained tonight, last week she told a New Orleans audience that she was “Monster’d out” and appeared to diss her collaborator, saying: “We don’t f*** with clowns.” Instead, she flits seamlessly between the lightning-fast rhymes of 2011’s “Dance (A$$)” to the sass of 2014’s “Flawless” and 2016’s “Side to Side”, then 2014’s “Feeling Myself”.

“Where my Caribbean people at?” she asks before launching into 2011’s Sean Kingston hit “Letting Go (Dutty Love)”. More recent collaborations are received equally well; the crowd laps up 2017’s “Rake It Up” and goes wild for US rapper Bia, who joins Minaj onstage for a rendition of 2020’s “Whole Lotta Money”. The pair dance on a rotating circle of poles set up like a sexy carousel. “Anaconda” is predictably popular, as is her star-making hit “Superbass”. When Minaj disappears to the emotional heights of 2010’s “Moment 4 Life”, it is in a wave of applause. Her late start is all but forgotten.

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