2020 Grammys

Head in the Clouds 2019: Niki, iKON and More Celebrate Asian Pop Culture With Performances

Scott Dudelson/Getty Images
Rich Brian performs onstage during the Head in the Clouds Festival by 88 Rising at Los Angeles State Historic Park on Aug. 17, 2019 in Los Angeles.

Putting Asian representation front and center, 88rising’s Head in the Clouds festival returned to the Los Angeles State Historic Park on Saturday (Aug. 17) for a full day of celebrating Asian pop culture.  

Only on its second installment, the first Asian-centric music festival in the U.S. truly outdid itself this year to draw a bigger turnout and put on an even bigger show.

Founded in 2015, the media collective 88rising bridges the gap between Western and Eastern pop cultures through music and art, catapulting underrepresented Asian stories into the mainstream. The day was filled with good food by way of the 626 Night Market, interactive art installations and amazing artists, of course.

From R&B crooners to rappers to a K-pop act, representation mattered at Head in the Clouds. The day’s lineup reflected some of the biggest names in Asian entertainment in different genres, including returning acts like Joji, Niki and Higher Brothers, as well as first timers Deb Never, DPR Live and iKON. 

Here are some key highlights from the Head in the Clouds festival.

Joji’s duality

In between singing tracks like “Yeah Right,” “Will He” and “Sanctuary,” the night’s headliner Joji interacted heavily with the crowd by cracking jokes. Whether it was freestyling a song about his tonsillitis, tricking the crowd into thinking he was about to cover Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” after his keyboardist began playing the melody and randomly covering Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me," Joji brought comedic moments to lighten an otherwise moody setlist. He also prefaced his performance of the very sorrowful “Slow Dancing in the Dark” by asking the crowd who was ready to dance. 

Niki repped Indonesia and Asian women hard

Celebrating Indonesia’s independence day, Niki opened her set with a row of kids dressed in white and red holding the country’s flag as she sang the national anthem and the Proclamation of Independence played in the background. Also wearing a red and white ensemble, the R&B singer and Jakarta native expressed the importance of being heard, understood, and represented, telling the crowd: “As an Asian female, I don’t take this for granted.”

She then performed “Vintage,” “See U Never” and the self-proclaimed best anthem she ever wrote “Warpaint,” showing the world what she has to offer not only as an Indonesian woman but also as hugely talented artist.

“Love Scenario” by iKON

One of the most anticipated performances of the night was without a doubt the K-pop group iKON, whose fans with their baseball bat-shaped light sticks illuminated the crowd red. As it was the group’s first time performing in L.A. since their debut, expectations were high, with fans camping out since the wee hours of the morning just to get up close with the guys -- and they delivered. Though the now-sextet’s entire set was hype from start to finish, no song resonated more with the crowd than last year’s “Love Scenario.” With smiles from ear to ear that mirrored each other, both the iKON members and their fans sang the hit in sync together.

Later, during the festival's closing performance, they specifically shouted out iKON and thanked them for coming all the way from Korea by playing “Love Scenario” in their honor. (The group had already left for the airport.) And even though the artists on stage did not sing along to it, the crowd had that part down, taking the lead singing the lyrics in Korean. Joji and Rich Brian did show the audience some moves of their own, though!

Rich Brian’s first performance in nine months

After a fiery opening performance of “Rapapapa,” Rich Brian told the crowd that he hadn’t performed in nine months and he “missed the stage so much.” You wouldn’t have guessed it since he completely bodied his entire set. The rapper didn’t miss a beat and burned through crowd favorites “Dat $tick,” “Gospel” and the recently released “100 Degrees.” And even when he got serious, especially during his performances of “Yellow” and “Kids,” he had the crowd hanging onto every bar he spat. 

Also hailing from Indonesia, Rich Brian opened his set showing a huge Indonesian flag to commemorate his country’s independence, just like Niki.

Color changing bluetooth-powered wristbands

Taking a page from the K-pop playbook, some of the festival wristbands lit up in different colors depending on the artist performing, powered by Bluetooth. Typically seen at different K-pop shows with the groups’ lightsticks, the color changes gave the night performances at the festival an entirely different vibe depending on the songs and the artist. It made for a more interactive experience that made the audience feel they were part of the show, as well as make for a pleasing sea of colors that would otherwise just be lit up by phones.

Niki's live debut of "Indigo"

Earlier in the week, Niki dropped her new song “Indigo,” which she performed live for the first time ever at Head in the Clouds. The fans only had four days to learn it, but they sang it back to her with “spunk, gumption and attitude,” just like she asked for. 

Joji soared through the crowd

For his performance of “Slow Dancing in the Dark,” Joji got on a crane and serenaded the crowd up close and personal. Though the lyrics aren’t exactly the happiest, the singer put on a euphoric performance, constantly responding happily to the fans singing the track back to him.    

iKON’s Bobby stopped their performance to look out for fans

Being one of the most anticipated acts of the festival, things got pretty wild in the crowd. Mid-way into their performance of “Freedom,” Bobby had to cut the music because people at the front were getting crushed and fainting. Soon after noticing the situation at hand, the rest of the members reached out for the water bottles on stage and started giving them out to the crowd. “We need y’all to be careful man, please,” Bobby pleaded before jumping right into their final song, “B-DAY.” 

88rising's surprise closing performance

Though mysteriously marked by as “???” on the set list, just as last year, the festival’s closing act was a joint performance from the 88rising artists. Niki, Rich Brian, Higher Brothers, August 08, and more joined Joji for a few encore performances including the song that later named the festival, “Head in the Clouds,” and the collective’s own “Midsummer Madness.”  


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