Over Labor Day weekend, the streets of Philadelphia flooded with what seemed like a sea of teenage girls in red tank tops and boys in basketball jerseys. They were headed to the same place: Made in America, a music festival featuring two days of EDM and hip-hop music, five stages and thousands of sweaty fans.
Made in America was created in 2012 by rapper and music streaming platform Tidal founder Jay-Z. Tidal was founded on the idea of bringing the best artists to one singular online platform; Made in America’s star-studded lineup made an admirable attempt to do the same. Still, some performances were spotty. If these stars are what taste-maker Jay-Z believes are the best of the best, either he has lost his touch or the truly biggest and brightest were unavailable. Regardless, a festival is what you make of it, and Made in America was well worth braving the heat and the crowds for an unforgettable weekend.
Although music lovers flock to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the heart of downtown Philly for the festival, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is not a fan. The two-day event shuts down a major road and causes congestion, trash and hefty costs for the city. In July of this year, a spokesperson from the town hall told the local news source “Billy Penn” that 2018 would be the last year the festival was held in its current venue.
Jay-Z pushed back, referencing the economic growth from tourism that Philly has experienced since 2012, the first year of the festival. After a meeting between representatives, the star won out: Desiree Perez, chief operating officer of American entertainment company Roc Nation, stated, “The Made in America festival will continue at the heart of Philadelphia, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, for many years to come.”
At the festival itself, fans were greeted by art installations, food trucks and carnival rides. Still, the artists were the main event.
Saturday night, headlining singer Post Malone performed for an ecstatic crowd. “Thank you all so f—king much,” he declared after nearly every song in his set as the fans cheered wildly. After a heartfelt acoustic song, “Feeling Whitney,” he went straight into a rowdy performance of “Rockstar,” smashing his guitar onstage. Smoking a cigarette and drinking from a red Solo cup throughout the performance, Post Malone brought both his tender personality and baller attitude to Philly — and the crowd loved it.
Another great set was Miguel, the half-black, half-Latino R&B singer. His calculated and fun performance had groovy ’80s vibes: He danced around stage in lime green pants, and the mic stand had black and white tassels. Smooth and sexy songs like “Adorn” seemed to be perfectly timed as the sun set over the Philadelphia skyline. The audience adored him.
Nicki Minaj was one of the disappointments of the weekend. Her gaudy headliner performance Sunday night included mainly songs off her new album as well as guest appearances by rappers 6ix9ine, A$AP Ferg and Lil Uzi Vert. In classic Minaj fashion, theatrics stole the show over the music itself. Audience members were either confused and unimpressed or too intoxicated to care.
There was no shortage of DJs or electronic dance music in Philly this weekend, and fans were more than excited to get up and dance. Diplo roused the packed audience Saturday night with seemingly infinite bass drops and beats. Zedd’s artsy performance brought crowd members to their feet. Snakehips, Louis the Child and Jai Wolf similarly encouraged moshing, dancing and general joy from the audience — standing still was nearly impossible.
One of the most anticipated performers was the one and only Kendrick Lamar. The popularity of his most recent album “DAMN.” was apparent in the crowd’s swarming to the main stage to get closer. His performance cut straight to the point; there was little speaking, storytelling or theatrics, just rap. Songs ranged from older Kendrick, like “Backseat Freestyle,” to his latest and greatest hits from “DAMN.”
So how did Made in America 2018 compare to other festivals like the Governors Ball or Lollapalooza? The short answer is that it is hard to tell. There were highs and lows; performances varied both among the artists and within the sets.
Another valid answer is that it does not matter. Statistics on the number of attendees or the amount of revenue can give some indication of the festival’s overall success, but numbers cannot tell the full story of an experience. The impermanent moments of any festival make it impossible to quantify the feeling of pushing through a crowd to get to the front and look a performer straight in the eye, or the experience of being tired and dehydrated but still smiling as your feet ache from dancing. Regardless of a couple of dud performances, the experience of Made in America was well worth the trek.