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September 04, 2017

Made in America 2017: highlights and low points

A weekend’s worth of bucket head dancers, mosh pits and Jay Z’s curated crowd of artists

Two days of Made in America is always a lot with which to contend. The Jay Z-curated Live Nation event is dozens of bands and DJs on five differently located stages and something near 130,000 attendees mulling about in varying degrees of odd fashion choices and bad dancing. Now, add teeming rain and mud to the festival equation (the Saturday portion of MIA), and you had a muck that, though inconvenient to anyone who wore pants below the knees, was actually thrilling. 

RELATED LINKS: Run the Jewels calls Philly police union boss a 'punk-a**' at Made in America | Made in America: Photos of the fashionable from Day 1 of the festival | What's the future of the Made in America festival in Philly?

The mud paste Saturday may have even been more hilarious and fun than the dry, sunny Sunday that followed along Benjamin Franklin Parkway. That way, if the bands were boring (and some were), you could either flap around in thick, murky water or watch men and women with buckets on their heads (in tribute to DJ-producer Marshmello) do the splashing. 
Here’s a list of highlights and lowlights.  

The Good 

Celebrity sightings: if you were in and out of MIA’s VIP areas during the weekend, you got an eyeful of several 76ers, including Joel Embiid (who, on Saturday, was spied watching Migos in the crowd), two Fox 29 morning show hosts (Mike Jerrick, Alex Holley), and two top Philly rappers (Chill Moody, Meek Mill, the latter of which appeared on stage with Jay Z during Hova’s finale). Rumor had Sasha Obama somewhere in the MIA crowd (hey, she popped up at Lollapalooza), and it was no guessing game as to where Jay Z’s wife, Beyonce, or their children were this weekend. Bey, Blue Ivy and the twins Rumi and Sir were spotted in a secure area watching Cardi B on Saturday and 21 Savage on Sunday. Jay also gave a birthday shout out to Beyonce during his set, urging the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday.”
Little Dragon: The Swedish electro-dance quartet fronted by Bjork-like singer (and dresser) Yukimi Nagano seemed to surprise the entire audience with its theatricality.

Cardi B: It’s not enough that the doyenne of “Love & Hip Hop: New York” had the song of the summer with the woozy “Bodak Yellow.” The Trinidadian-Dominican-American princess just happened to be the queen of Made in America as its most anticipated act. And she didn’t disappoint. The haze and rain was miserable, but B was a trooper, sashaying and bouncing across the stage in a bedazzled silver dress during an altogether too-brief set. Always leave them wanting more.

Green Velvet: The Chicago DJ-producer also known as "Cajmere" has been making the most treacherous, humorous minimalist house tracks since the 1990s, and continued doing so during his militaristic set on the EDM stage. This was a lesson in how real house music gets done. Funnily enough, later that evening, a friend shared a Green Velvet Tweet about an audience member who thanked the mohawk-ed DJ for playing “The Percolator.” GV had to laugh because he wrote and played that song, but still remains a secret to many.

Migos: MIA’s best rap set next to Run The Jewels (see Brian Hickey’s story) and Jay’s Z came from the bold, bristling Atlanta duo who, by set’s end, seemed annoyed that the audience wasn’t paying attention.

Marian Hill: Known as the spare electronic duo behind that Apple AirPods ad (their song “Down”), Philly-raised Jeremy Lloyd, Samantha Gongol and Steve Davit could be this generation’s slower, spaced-out Thompson Twins.

Jay Z: As the fest’s finale, Hova was a most casual – yet still dramatic closer. Rather than jump out of the gate with pounding, blaring hits, he came out to the strains of dancehall reggae, swaying Jamaican flags and the syrupy, introspective “Bam,” accompanied by Damian Marley. That song, like a surprising handful of tunes, was from Jay Z’s heralded recent release “4:44,” and Made in America was its first public airing in the States. Though the inclusion of the confessional “Marcy Me,” “Caught Their Eyes,” and “The Story of O.J.” slowed the momentum of his set, Hova took the risk, and included the alongside the hook-laden "Empire State of Mind,” a thrashing “Dirt on My Shoulder” and a tribute to his fallen friend and collaborator, Chester Bennington, with “Numb/Encore.” Only Jay Z could stand next to a 100-foot tall metallic Jeff Koons dog assemblage, and outsize such staging. Along with his "Happy Birthday" shout to his wife and some weird, fatherly words to the mosh pit, Jay Z gave stage time to Meek Mill and sent blessings to the hurt in Houston. “We hope you can hear us, Houston. You in our prayers. We with you H-town.”

Japanese Breakfast: Philly’s Michelle Zauner usually makes an icy brand of atmospheric electro-pop on albums such as the aptly-titled “Soft Sounds from Another Planet.” On stage at Made in America, she decided to strap on a guitar – the fest’s true missing element – and turn some of the most tender, depressing songs about death and loss into sturdy, stringy, contagious jangle pop. 

The Bad

21 Savage: What should’ve been a triumphant set of hardcore tech-rap wound up something listless, overly voice processed and ultimately tired. "21 Mild," though, just doesn’t sound right, so, stick with the name. 

J. Cole: The first night’s headliner came out strong and ready for drama with an orange prison jumpsuit, a jail’s stage motif and “For Whom The Bell Tolls” with its lyric, “I see the rain pouring down,” that signaled the next in a series of downpours. After that rough-voiced first song, he was nothing but dull. 

The Chainsmokers: The only thing more annoying than this EDM-pop act’s records was this stage show – one that was originally planned as a headlining set. Too twee and childish for even the youngest of their fans, singer Andrew Taggart and the other guy minced through an hour-plus set that was damper than the still grassy knolls of the art museum.