If there was one common theme to the 2017 iHeartRadio Music Festival’s opening night, it was an appreciation for the medium which doesn’t always get its due. Sure, artists like Ed Sheeran are breaking streaming records, while others like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry are moving the YouTube bar with each successive video release, but when it comes to hitmaking, radio — and the 800-station powerhouse iHeartMedia — is a vital partner in an act’s career.
Artists like Pink, The Weeknd, Harry Styles, and David Guetta know this, which is one reason why the pop giants joined country superstar Chris Stapleton, rockers 30 seconds to Mars, and the ever reliable Coldplay for compact, hit-packed sets at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena on Friday night (Sept. 22). There was no introduction of “a song I wrote last week” — these were the proven crowd-pleasers, tracks in heavy rotation on iHeart stations like Los Angeles’ KIIS-FM, New York’s Z-100 and Nashville’s WSIX, home to syndicated radio personalities Ryan Seacrest, Elvis Duran, and Bobby Bones, respectively.
In its seventh year, iHeart has also become the forum in which to push a new single, as Pink did with “What About Us” from her forthcoming album, “Beautiful Trauma,” out Oct. 13. Always an artist of the people, Pink interacted with the crowd from the house floor, the stage, and the air, as she tore through “Just Like Fire” then strapped on a harness and pulled her best Peter Pan for “So What.” Watching from backstage, Leto and 30 Seconds to Mars stood in awe, as Leto commented of a dream he’d had, “where I was flying.”
Meanwhile, Harry Styles is seeing his solo dream come true. With a guitar strapped to his custom-made Gucci suit, the One Direction star brought audience members young and old to their feet. And considering the T-Mobile arena is only two years old, it stands to reason that Styles’ set brought classic rock references — like David Bowie and Small Faces era Rod Stewart — to the room for the first time, too. Certainly that was the case as Styles launched into the epic “Sign of the Times” (he joked that he would have flown but “Pink stole my harness”) and closed with the showstopper “Kiwi.” Earlier asked by the beloved Duran about potentially running into fellow One Direction member-turned-solo star Niall Horan, Styles cracked that he would try “not to trip” his mate.
Other highlights included a calming set by Coldplay — all-too-welcome in this time of political turmoil. The British band kicked off with their Avicii-assisted smash, “Sky Full of Stars,” then serenaded a love crowd with “Hymn for The Weekend,” “Fix You” (which frontman Chris Martin performed laying on the stage floor), and “Adventure of a Lifetime.” Martin even gave a nod to Styles, singing a lyric from “Sign of the Times.”
Also embraced was Stapleton, who opened with “Might as Well Get Stoned” then played the Springsteen-esque “Broken Halos” and crowd favorite “Tennessee Whiskey.” As Duran noted backstage: the wonder of iHeart’s music festivals is that it turns people on to music they wouldn’t have otherwise listened to.
Of course, with the universally loved The Weeknd, no such modifier was needed. Opening with “Starboy,” he quickly set to get the party started with “Party Monster.” “Every time you forget who I am / I’ll be there to remind you again,” he sang from the stage. The set was balanced and fun, delivering familiar hooks (like his nod to the Romantics and Tears for Fears in “Secrets”), and undeniable bangers like “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills.”
David Guetta certainly felt at home, remarking that, “I spend more time in Vegas than anywhere else in the world.” Indeed, a well-honed DJ set followed that included a surprise appearance by Bebe Rexha, the Bieber-assisted track, “2U,” as well as mixes of White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” and Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do.”
Speaking to Variety, the French Guetta noted: “This is a very interesting moment [as] music — and the way people are consuming it — is shifting a lot. But there is nothing like a radio hit. Streaming goes up faster, and it’s slower with radio, but when it happens it is so huge you cannot compare this with anything. For an artist it is life changing.”