Review by Angela Leung
Photo Credit: 88rising
Forest Hills Stadium
Forest Hills, NY
On May 20-21, 88rising’s Head in the Clouds Music & Arts Festival made its long-awaited New York debut at Forest Hills Stadium. As a music and media company founded in the Big Apple, many New Yorkers have anticipated 88rising in having a homecoming festival and that day has finally arrived. Coinciding with AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Heritage Month, this lineup features 26 talents across the Asian diaspora. Attendees had plenty of food options to choose from the all-Asian vendors available as they discussed which acts they were looking forward to seeing. In case you’ve missed it, here are some highlights from Day 1 and Day 2.
The festival was bound to happen rain or shine and despite the constant downpour, a generous number of attendees have shown up dressed in ponchos as soon as doors opened. The show kicked off right on schedule with the first act FiFi Zhang as she made her festival debut on the main 88rising Stage. With her angelic voice and warm smile, she definitely captivated the crowd in a heartbeat. Her music features lyrics in English and Chinese and gave off dreamy, ethereal vibes. FiFi performed tracks from her latest EP So Beautiful So Lonely and was met with a welcoming response.
Having been part of HITC several times before, Boy of the Year Warren Hue is no stranger to the stage. He was accompanied by his DJ Chasu and was greeted by fans, some of whom saw him at
his New York show this past fall. At one point during his set, he busted out singing the popular refrain of NewJeans’ “OMG” which immediately got the audience singing along as he continued with his track “Star in Love.” Warren was later joined by guitarist Joe Cho as Chasu switched to bass for the rest of his performances. He teased the crowd with some unreleased music,
possibly hinting at a new album or EP in the works.
Beabadoobee is another artist well-loved by the audience. As she walked out strapped with a
guitar, the crowd couldn’t get enough of her stage presence. Her honey-like vocals paired with catchy instrumentals were the perfect combo to attract new fans. Songs like “10:36” and “Glue Song” created a romantic atmosphere on that rainy day. Beabadoobee will be back in New York during the summer for two sold-out shows so make sure to check her out!
It was a full house for this act. Light rings were spotted in the crowd which could only mean that K-pop girl group ITZY was ready to take over the main stage. There was no doubt that MIDZY (their fandom name) have been waiting for this quintet since early afternoon. Their
powerful performances of “In the morning” and “WANNABE” brought in an eruption of cheers
and endless barking on top of that. The group closed out their set with “LOCO” and it would be fitting to say that the crowd went absolutely loco for them.
Never missing a HITC lineup since 2018 was none other than Rich Brian as the headliner. It has been a long day but the audience was more than ready to see the rapper bring out his creative rap verses in person. Rich Brian delivered an endless amount of energy on stage and kept the
audience entertained with his jokes. A touching moment was during the song “Drive Safe” where a fan ended up crying to which Rich Brian commented, “I’ve never seen anyone cry looking at me before.” In what felt like a blink of an eye, his 50-minute set was brought to an
end, an amazing way to wrap up Day 1.
The weather was bright and sunny for Day 2, a stark contrast from the previous day but the Sunday lineup went in full swing. One of the first acts on the bill was LØREN, 88rising’s newest member on the roster. The producer-songwriter had some major credits in his resume, most notably from his previous work with K-pop girl group Blackpink and has recently released his debut EP Put Up a Fight. He played tracks such as “Panic” and “Folks” which showcased his grungy, alt-rock style while ending it off with a cover of Surf Curse’s “Freaks.” With his previous appearances at SXSW, Coachella and now HITC, fans anticipate what will be his next move for the U.S. market. A handful of attendees flocked to the Double Happiness Stage for this next act.
Hailing from Japan is the girl group ATARASHII GAKKO! as they made their first New York appearance. The girls’ enthusiasm was contagious as evident in their “ワクワク (waku waku)” (Japanese term used to express excitement) remarks. There were fans in the audience dressed up in sailor-style school uniforms to match the group, one even brought out a pineapple during their performance of “Pineapple Kryptonite.” The girls were showered with love as each member received flower bouquets.
Right up next was another girl group from Japan (now based in South Korea) known as XG. As a freshly debuted group, they didn’t have many songs in their discography yet but specially
prepared unit stages with cover songs including Justin Bieber’s “Peaches.” The audience was in awe of their rap and singing skills as the group returned in unison for their last two hit tracks
“LEFT RIGHT” and “SHOOTING STAR,” with the latter song being performed in front of a
backdrop of clouds and stars that matched with the cloud stage overhead. With a stellar set like that, the girls sure are “making big moves” for their U.S. debut.
“Coming to you live” were DPR Live and DPR Ian from the artistic collective Dream Perfect Regime, two of the most highly anticipated acts on the lineup. This set was split in two – first by DPR Live as he greeted the crowd with a “Dreamers are you ready?” The rapper was a natural on stage, spitting out rap verses one after another in “Laputa,” “Text Me” and more. He was then joined by his labelmate DPR Ian for live renditions of “No Blueberries” and “Boom.” For the second half of the set, DPR Ian was accompanied by his band, bringing out an edgier sound to these performances. Across the venue were Dreamers who sang along to his songs such as “So Beautiful” and the fan favorite “Nerves.” There were several signs held up in the audience, most notably one that had the catchphrase “DPR we gang gang.”
Last, but certainly not least, was the headliner for the night. As the name “Nicole” flashed on the LED display, NIKI took total control of the stage. She made her entrance decked out in a pretty batik patchwork outfit, paying homage to her Indonesian heritage. She evoked a range of emotions throughout her set, from the heart-wrenching tunes of “Backburner” to the upbeat “High School in Jakarta.” NIKI wished the audience a happy AAPI month while giving a heartfelt speech – “The first New York HITC would not be a reality without your support. You’re welcome here, you belong here, and this whole f*cking thing is yours.” Cheers roared through the venue as she closed out the festival with a banger.
Attendees were getting ready to leave when a voice from 88rising’s founder Sean Miyashiro boomed into the mic, causing everyone to rush back for the grand finale. In a matter of minutes, MaSiWei and Spence Lee were back for a special stage. The spotlight was turned to Rich Brian and Warren Hue, who were then joined by ATARASHII GAKKO! and MILLI. Towards the end, several 88rising labelmates made their way on stage as they and the crowd collectively sang along to “Midsummer Madness.” What great way to celebrate AAPI month than to attend a festival that sheds light on Asian talents? It was the first HITC in New York and we really hope that it won’t be the last!