LA Pride Festival 2019: Meghan Trainor Impresses, Years & Years and MNEK Shine
Midway through her headlining set on the first full day of L.A. Pride Festival 2019, Meghan Trainor, an admittedly unlikely headliner for the event, gave what was perhaps the most stirring, genuine meditations on what being an ally means as a pop star in today’s climate.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t want us to be here, who don’t want us to be celebrating right now. But none of that matters right now, right? Because we are here!” she exclaimed, dressed in a rainbow leotard. “This year is the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, and the fourth anniversary of marriage equality. How dare people tell us how to love and how to live our lives? It’s not right. It will never be right. And eventually we will win. So tonight, we celebrate those who came before us. We remember every single one of them.
“I promise,” she continued, “I’ll be by your side, supporting you and loving you, for the rest of your life. Forever. I promise you that.”
If there was any proclamation of what this year’s L.A. Pride represented, Trainor captured it in just short of two minutes. After 2018’s event was rife with set-destroying sound issues and over-selling that locked ticket holders out of the grounds, this year’s almost entirely smooth festival felt like a true unification of all corners of the queer spectrum, an ambitious endeavor that boasted a diverse lineup—everyone from Kodie Shane and The Drums to Amara La Negra and Pabllo Vittar—and a production that the LGBTQ community deserved. In a political climate where the government actively erases LGBTQ representation in official documents and openly attempts to diminish rights, Trainor’s words rung out, from a pop star that perhaps we started to doubt we needed all along.
The festival, held in the heart of West Hollywood over June 8-9 (plus an inaugural free performance from Paula Abdul the day prior), served as a carousel of queer talent and allies, a smooth coaster with few hiccups. At any point, artists were on stages diagonal to one another, and this year open to the adjacent street to allow for a freer thoroughfare. There were unfortunate layout issues—the only way to get from the main stage to the adjacent one, for example, was through a small slit between a long line of Porta Potties that involved crossing an active service road for busses and ambulances—but the pacing of the performances gave concertgoers a reasonable amount of time to traverse between areas and take in what organizers had to offer.
Highlights were plenty. MNEK, who made his U.S. Pride debut this year, was enrapturing, from the buttery vocals to the sassy choreography. It was a hit parade, at least according to those familiar with his catalog, from the canonized “Wrote a Song About You” and “Never Forget You” with Zara Larsson to cuts off last year’s Language including “Correct” and “Colour.” The evening before, Vittar was electric, bringing Brazilian drag queen flavor to a teeming audience, white leotard and all. “If you’re happy to be gay, scream!” she said in between renditions of “Problema Seu” and a take on Major Lazer’s “Lean On.” “If you’re happy to be yourself, scream!”
Across the lineup, there were moments of hope and harmony everywhere you looked. Greyson Chance, the viral sensation who gained traction in sixth grade thanks to a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi,” was all grown up during his set, his shirt unbuttoned down to his bellybutton, for a performance that was competent and compelling. After his mic cut out and he re-did an entrance to the stage, he addressed those watching: “I know that it’s pretty good in L.A. and I know that it’s sometimes pretty good in America, but what I’m telling you now is do not settle. I’m not here to settle in the United States of America as a citizen here. I’m going to continue to fight, I’m going to continue to vote for people that I think are going to fight for our rights, and let’s keep on going until it’s perfect, alright? Because that’s what I think those heroes at Stonewall would have wanted, and I think we owe them that, right?”
Years & Years, who headlined the second night, were frothy and fun, playing songs from last year’s Palo Santo including the seductive “Desire” and the deliciously palatable “Karma.” Dej Loaf cooed on stage, bucket hat and all, while Drag Race alum Miss Vanjie snapped her long yellow wig to Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.” Ashanti showed up 40 minutes late as the festival came to an end, likely because of the fire marshal escorting onlookers out of the backstage area, hitting cues to “Happy” and “Only U.” Australian duo The Veronicas, who also arrived late, discussed how welcoming L.A. and the LGBTQ community were when they touched down eight years ago. “When we started making music, the community here embraced us entirely and made us the artists that we are today,” they said. “We want to say thank you guys, L.A. is such a special place.”
It’s hard not to give the Pride MVP award to Trainor, whose career first burned bright with hits like “All About That Bass” and “Lips Are Movin’” but waned in recent years, to no obvious fault. Her music has remained consistent—her recent The Love Train, which arrived earlier this year, is a testament to that—but it’s her personality that hasn’t broken through. So it seemed confounding that Trainor, who hasn’t had such pronounced ties to the LGBTQ community in the past, would be chosen as headliner. But then suddenly, it made sense. Trainor’s set was the stuff that allies should have to offer, right down to the rainbow outfits on her backup dancers to the mid-set break where drag queen Shangela gave her own mini-performance. The crowd was hesitant at first, but gave in with ease to songs like “Champagne Problems” and “Me Too.” Even her husband, actor Daryl Sabara, came out for a cameo: “Spy Kids playing the saxophone!” she said, referring to the children’s franchise in which he starred.
As the audience petered at the end of Years & Years’ set and the night came came to a close, it felt like, compared to last year, L.A. Pride largely accomplished precisely what it set out to achieve: bringing together a disparate group of artists intent on celebrating such a marginalized group of people, without many issues. Pride in 2019 felt easier than in years past, and the sentiment among the crowd and audience showed for it. It was an honorable way to appease a mass of individuals who came in a lineage of those who fought for their rights, and can enjoy who they are, at least for one unencumbered weekend, in peace.