As a preemptive kickoff to L.A. Pride, set to begin its festivities on Friday (June 7), Charli XCX and Troye Sivan joined forces for their own celebration of the LGBTQ community, taking over legendary venue the Wiltern for what promised to be the first annual Go West Fest on Thursday night (June 6).
The two musicians, both substantial stars operating outside the margins of mainstream pop and often finding success within them, all while redefining what pop means, executed a concert with the ambition of a festival within the size of a considerable venue. Go West Fest featured a robust lineup of performers spanning Pussy Riot and Carlie Hanson to Allie X and Leland, an event geared strictly towards supporting the community that unequivocally supports the artists in return—“I have my whole career to thank to the LGBT community,” said Charli during her 25-minute set—with a portion of the proceeds going to GLAAD. (At one point, Sivan enthusiastically praised Bud Light for sponsoring the night while acknowledging how brands often take advantage of the community during Pride month by marketing specifically towards them.)
Inside the Wiltern, gift bags of makeup were handed out for free as concertgoers, dressed in mesh as far as the eye could see, collected in the lobbies with drinks in hand. The venue was split into separate areas—the downstairs, designated as the “Go-Go Room” where several DJs took turns spinning in a setup flanked by two all-gender bathrooms, and the balcony that had been turned into a makeshift market for patrons to buy records from an Amoeba stand or shirts from a Tom of Finland booth. The crowd largely took to the ground floor; upstairs, where VIP remained mostly empty throughout the event, seats were largely vacant, as the performers entertained the throngs of attendees jammed onto the ground floor.
Credit the intimate atmosphere to the expectation that Charli XCX has set in the past year or so with her coastal headlining shows. In Los Angeles and New York, she hosted two nearly mimetic carousels of guests as she served as master of ceremonies honoring her spectacular Pop 2 mixtape. It wasn’t so much an underline of her accomplishments but rather a platform to showcase the talents of the project’s contributors and the sheer power that a show can have when they all come together. Meanwhile, Sivan has blossomed from a YouTube sensation into a pop scion who exudes sex appeal, his songs as slinky and suggestive as the romances he teases in his music videos. His venues have only grown, most recently into venues that hold thousands, while re-centering the notion of what tropes a male pop star can entertain, let alone a gay one.
It made sense that, after their ineffaceable collaboration “1999” that debuted last year, that they would join forces for something of more substance. Their music is for outsiders, made by outsiders, and a festival celebrating otherness in pop only seems right under their purview. The evening itself acknowledged that in a series of truncated yet effective sets. The rap-adjacent Chika delivered original tunes and a mellifluous cover of Daniel Caesar, while Hanson, clad in a white cutoff tank and loose white pants, roared through “WYA” and “Us,” plugging her recently released EP Junk.
Pussy Riot was one of the few acts to give more than the naked stage allowed, enlisting the help of backup dancers who hit cues in rhythm to songs like “Straight Outta Vagina.” The only perceived hiccup of the night was when front woman Nadezhda Tolokonnikova told the audience she had one last song, only to leave the stage and her dancers behind to buy time and eventually follow her into the wings. Allie X played as though she was the biggest star in the world—those familiar with the pop eccentric have become loyalists thanks to her lofty ambitions, icy pop and integrity—ripping through “Bitch” and highlight “Casanova,” bringing out special guest Bible Girl.
Charli XCX, a pop artisan who willingly and readily bends the conventions of the genre, used a pyramid of steps as her backdrop for an invigorated, albeit bare, set. She began with “Blame It On Your Love,” a reimagined version of Pop 2 fan favorite “Track 10” that now features Lizzo. Clad in what could easily pass as a fashionable spandex biking ensemble and a tailored pink feather jacket, she ran through fan favorites: “Focus,” “Boys” and “Spicy,” the Spice Girls re-take she just released with Diplo and Herve Pagez. But the clear standout was the debut of what’s alleged to be called “2099,” a collaboration with Sivan. And just prior, to celebrate Sivan’s birthday, which transpired the day prior, she brought out a cake and enlisted the crowd to sing him happy birthday: “I can’t sing without Auto-Tune so you guys have got to help me sing,” she said.
“2099” is markedly different than “1999,” without any of the tinkering instrumentation or exacting melodies that made it such a pop juggernaut. But it padded the stage for Sivan, who showed up 30 minutes late for his headlining slot, a vigorous performance that he made look easy. He mined from his oeuvre without breaking a sweat, decked in a red cutoff tanktop and leather pants. “Holy fucking shit, what’s up guys!” he addressed the crowd after opening with “Bloom” and “Plum.” “I can’t even explain how many ways this is a dream come true for me right now… This was a crazy dream that my manager and I had maybe nine months ago now to make a pride festival in L.A. that supporters our LGBTQ+ talent both on and off the stage.”
New Charli XCX x Troye Sivan pic.twitter.com/DUewGcD12t
— steven j. horowitz (@speriod) June 7, 2019
He held his own without his duet partners for “I’m So Tired” (Lauv) and “Dance to This” (Ariana Grande), announcing that he was going to “turn the Wiltern into a fucking club” for “Bite,” subscribing to the yee-haw agenda by putting on a cowboy hat. But it quickly became clear it was less about the songs and more about the message that the endeavor meant beyond the festival. “I just want empower everyone for a second—I’m so in awe of all of you,” he said. “I remember when I went to my first pride. I couldn’t even breathe there. Just to be the majority for once after being in the minority for so long… Gathering in the community like this and just letting loose, it’s so sacred and important.”
He stayed true to his word and closed with “My My My!” and brought back out Charli XCX for “1999,” putting a period on the end of a precursor to L.A. Pride that lived up to the benchmark of prides before it. “Come back next year and tell your friends,” Sivan said, a mischievous grin on his face.