When it comes to the pop music world, RedFestDXB has its fingers on the pulse.
The music festival, held over the weekend at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, concluded last night with a smattering of timely stares.
None were more newsworthy than Kesha. The 30-year-old US singer made her UAE debut on the back of her much-praised performance at the Grammy Awards earlier this month where she was nominated for two gongs.
With so much momentum behind her - a lot of it down to her stellar third album Rainbow - you would be forgiven for expecting an almost celebratory set. Instead, while Kesha’s performance was solid, it lacked a certain 'oomph' worthy of a festival headliner.
Clad in what appeared to be black suede and a matching cowboy shirt, she swiftly launched into a set that featured select cuts from Rainbow. Backed by an eight-piece band – including two male backing vocalists – tracks such as Learn to Let It Go had a welcome grit with Kesha’s quavering vocals a sterling instrument itself.
Take it Off was also backed from the beefed-up live treatment; where on the 2010 album Animal, it sounds facile - the galloping riffs suited its perky The Cramps-style arrangements. But Kesha’s set not only needed more hard-nosed attitude, but also more songs. Before we knew it, were entering the end of the surprisingly short set and alarmingly it was packed with some filler material towards the end.
We R Who We R was studded with an excruciatingly long jam from the band – where they simply bore into the same riff for more than five minutes – while Kesha walked off the stage.
Fortunately, she returned for the set highlight, the gospel-tinged Praying. She delivered those high notes with such commitment that it was goose-bump inducing. The set was closed off with her biggest hit Tik-Tok. The 2010 track remains one of the best pop songs of the decade and should have been a slam-dunk on the stage.
However, Kesha seemed somewhat disconnected from it and the hollowness of her delivery robbed it of all energy. Maybe the fact that it was produced by Dr Luke, with whom she engaged with in an acrimonious legal battle that ended last year, was responsible for the lack of passion required, but it ultimately ended her set on a bum note.
Perhaps it wasn't all down to a lacklustre performance, but also a hard act to follow - because if there was a crowd favourite it would undoubtedly be Kesha's predecessor of the night.
American producer and DJ Marshmello had the crowd leaping in the air from the moment he arrived onstage, and moved swiftly through a marathon set, sampling everyone from Bon Jovi to the Venga Boys to Oasis. Whether the world was ready for a progressive house-infused Wonderwall or not, the crowd responded to the smiley-faced bucket-wearing 25-year-old through every twist and turn of a high-energy set - and when that set clocks up an hour and a half of nonstop performance time, it's quite the achievement. Whether he was relying on the animations playing onscreen, a flashy laser show (enough to leave you seeing stars for hours afterward) or working the stage to provide vocals for You & Me - what could have been just a show by a stationary DJ in a light-up helmet easily became one of the stand-out performances of the night.
However, after his biggest recent hits, Wolves with Selena Gomez, and Silence with Khalid, surfaced around the hour mark, it seemed inevitably that the crowd began to wane and the manic jumping became a determined hop.
Earlier in the evening Bebe Rexha made a strong case to be the next big pop-star. The 28-year-old US singer of Albanian heritage was in fine form as she delivered a dose of anthemic pop. With the sweeping melodies of I'm Gonna Show You Crazy and No Broken Hearts going down a treat with the crowd, it’s not hard to imagine Rexha selling out the same venue in her own right a few years down the track.
Meanwhile Craig David sealed his status as comeback king as the night's opener. The 36-year-old UK R&B veteran was busy behind the deck and the mic as he brought his popular DJ and vocal hybrid show, TS5, to Dubai. In what was a frenetic set, David sung the evergreen favourites Seven Days and Fill Me In while delivering free-styled rhymes over instrumentals of R&B and hip-hop favourites.
“I love the UAE, man” he told The National before his set.
“The people here showed me so much love over the years that when I come here I give it my all. This is what the people expect.”
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