It doesn’t matter how much forensic planning you do as a festival organiser, there are always going to be some variables. The weather, for example, or the punctuality of the talent. Staged during a heatwave, the Finsbury Park leg of Wireless certainly lucked out with the former, but ultimately limped over the finish line, with Sunday night-headliner Nicki Minaj’s set cut in half by the curfew, after starting almost 40 minutes late.
And yet the weekend started so promisingly. Occupying the top slot on Friday was Bronx-rapper Cardi B, making her first UK festival appearance since Wireless in 2019. Emerging from a staircase laden with video projections, and beneath a floating, diamond-shaped lighting rig, the Invasion of Privacy-star worked every inch of the stage and sprawling catwalk during her 70-minute set, pausing to quip “I got asthma!” after a particularly gruelling twerking session. As charismatic as she was combative, Cardi powered through a barrage of hits, bringing out her husband Offset for an extended section, as well as Houston-star Megan Thee Stallion to reprise her verse on the confetti-strewn set-highlight WAP.
Indeed, the Texan rapper’s set proved another highlight of day one, going some way to make up for the last-minute cancellation of Burna Boy with her booty shaking and braggadocious bars. The show culminated with Megan referencing the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, and leading the audience in a chant of “My body, my choice”, middle fingers aloft.
Women ruled day two too, with multiple Grammy-winner H.E.R. bringing a Prince-like class to proceedings with her retro soul sounds and impressive multi-instrumentalism. Pregnant and visibly emotional, Atlanta’s Summer Walker struggled with composure during the first half of her set, even leaning on UK star Bree Runway to lighten the mood with a sassy performance of Hot Hot. After the interlude Walker regained control, and her languid R&B proved a fitting warm-up for SZA.
Rising to the occasion as headliner, SZA brought sou’wester-wearing dancers and a convincing, seagoing-themed stage set, complete with lighthouse. And though their deft choreography was slickly executed, nothing could distract from the St Louis-singer’s soulful tones, which swooped and soared over the likes of Love Galore, All The Stars and I Hate U.
Pulling the biggest crowd of the weekend a little less than 24-hours later, Nicki Minaj’s performance proved less seamless. Hastily truncated yet still scattered with indulgent video interludes and costume changes, fans would have absolutely been justified in feeling short changed by the minimal stage time. As it was, they were simply delighted to hear the Trinidadian rapper dash through the hits, from Beez in the Trap to Anaconda, via Ariana Grande smash Side 2 Side. And yet, as the closing set of a festival that had otherwise effectively showcased female talent, it still felt like something of a damp squib.