x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Observing Life: reality of pop stardom is jetlag, not glamour

The hectic schedules of people performing in Abu Dhabi over the F1 weekend are punishing enough to elicit sympathy, despite their fame and fortune.

What time is it?" Ashanti asked.

I told her it was 4am and the poor girl started laughing hysterically.

I couldn't blame her. The singer had landed a few hours earlier after a 14-hour flight from Canada to spend just one day in Abu Dhabi.

While most of the country was blissfully asleep, Ashanti - sweaty and visibly exhausted - had just finished a performance at Yas Island's Skybar only to have to give an interview to this bleary-eyed reporter.

Such is the life of the performer these days. Where before, album sales generated a healthy amount of revenue for an artist, the rise in downloading and general decline of record sales mean that more artists are spending more time on the road and cramming in as many shows as they can.

"Those air miles don't come for free," laughed a member of the rapper J Cole's entourage.

While some of that entertainer's lyrics celebrate the luxury lifestyle - he also wears a gold watch while on stage - behind the scenes, J Cole is working well and truly overtime.

After his Beats on the Beach performance last Thursday, Cole did two more sets in the space of four hours: one at Skybar at midnight and another at 2am in Emirates Palace's Etoiles; after which he headed straight back to the airport to catch a London flight for the start of his European tour.

Sprawling on a couch backstage after his energetic Beats on the Beach performance, Cole was spent. "I don't know if there is anyone touring like me, at least at this stage of their career," he mumbled.

Our interview was cut short when his management politely asked him to hop on the tour bus for the next show.

Superstars and moderately successful acts are also not exempt from the grind of touring. Metallica may have put on an epic 2-hour performance to 20,000 people at Yas Arena, but not many realise the group achieved the feat while heavily jetlagged.

Waiting for a pot of thick black coffee to percolate, the bassist Robert Trujillo told me that the group had just arrived on Yas Island, straight from the airport. He said experience often carried them through the weariness.

"Well, we have been doing it for a while," he chuckled. "Normally, a situation like this, you just get on stage and just do it. We also rely on the energy of the crowd, we often feed off that."

The intensity of the situation also feeds the creativity of some artists.

Wearing his wrap-around shades in the band room behind the Yas Arena stage, The Cult's Ian Astbury said: "I have to be up at 5am tomorrow for a flight back to LA and it's straight back to the studio," he said.

"Most of the time, the only experience you have of the country is the stage; that is why it is a very special space."