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On the opening night of the Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest Thursday night, Halsey — doing her first concert in two years — was even more mindful in her remarks of what else happens in the host venue, Crypto.com Arena (formerly Staples Center), than what might be going down across town at SoFi Stadium this weekend.

“I know it’s football time, but I’ve gotta say something,” Halsey said, finally adding after a pause: “Go, Lakers.” She explained herself: “I was getting ready for the show tonight and I was like, something good has to happen here. The people of L.A. have to leave feeling good, right?”

With two nights left to go in the Super Bowl Music Fest, it remains to be seen whether a triple dose of pop double-headers will quite make up for averted championships, but Halsey and co-headliner Machine Gun Kelly couldn’t be faulted for taking anything less than an athletic approach to their performances. MGK made a non-dribbling trip around the arena floor, and Halsey literally bent over backward on a couple of occasions, showing that the singer hadn’t lost too many yoga steps while taking a time-out to have a baby last year. (Halsey frequently referred to the experience of motherhood, bending over frontward to glare at the genital area and wonder aloud how that came out of that.)

Halsey’s appearance seemed, for all intents and purposes, to be a sneak preview of an amphitheater tout that begins in mid-May, with plenty of pyro and LED staging to suggest that the show is already up and ready to go, three months from opening night. Machine Gun Kelly didn’t go with any visual extras for his set, meanwhile, although the vaguely advertised “… and special guests” may have counted on the bell-and-whistle front, as MGK ended up bringing out Willow, Travis Barker, Trippie Redd and even Halsey for guest shots.

 

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Halsey at Bud Light Super Bowl LVI Music Fest held at Crypto.com Arena on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Christopher Polk for Variety

A couple of covers turned up in MGK’s set as well. “This song isn’t ours, but goddam, I love to sing it,” he said by way of introduction to Paramore’s “Misery Business.” Later, it was the Kid Laroi’s “F— You Goodbye.” Trippie Redd joined for “All I Know” and Candy,” Halsey made her supporting appearance of the night with “Forget Me Too,” and Willow starred in the title role of “Emo Girl.”

It may have been Barker sitting in on drums for a couple of numbers that drew the most thunderous response of the night, though, and it certainly accounted for the most comical moment, when Machine Gun Kelly asked him: “Hey, Travis, remember when we got the wrong tattoo?” Fans are, of course, well aware that the two comrades had a former title for MGK’s upcoming Barker-produced album emblazoned on their bodies before Kelly had a change of heart. He is coming down to the wire to change it yet again, for, as he aggressively reminded the audience, “It’s coming out March 25, you fucks,” while a bar code appeared on the big screens so fans could immediately pre-order it on their phones.

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Travis Barker and Machine Gun Kelly are surprised with plaques celebrating the platinum certification of over 1,000,000 copies of the Interscope Records album “Tickets To My Downfall”. at Bud Light Super Bowl LVI Music Fest held at Crypto.com Arena on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Christopher Polk for Variety

 

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Machine Gun Kelly at Bud Light Super Bowl LVI Music Fest held at Crypto.com Arena on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Christopher Polk for Variety

Halsey had butterflies appear on her backing screens at one point in her 75-minute performance, and indicated she was feeling them, having lost her confidence since coming off their last tour cocky. “I look at the Lakers play, and think they must be nervous to play here in front of this many people, and then it hits me,” said the apparent basketball fan. “It’s been so long so long since I’ve been on stage and I was really nervous, I’m not gonna lie.” (Halsey was just a few shows into a tour behind a previous album when the pandemic hit in early 2021.) “Imposter syndrome is a bitch,” they said, adding that there were voice in her head saying “You weren’t supposed to make it this far — back to Jersey you go,” with visions of getting the hook and made to be forgotten, “Men in Black style.”

Songs from the summer 2021 release “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power” inevitably were at the forefront, including a show-closing (with no encores) rendition of “I Am Not a Woman, I’m a God.” But Halsey also alluded to the power of “throwbacks,” then chuckled at the incongruity of being at the point in a career of using that. “I haven’t played this song since 2017 in the U.S.,” they said, introducing “Bad at Love.”

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Halsey performs at Crypto.com Arena during the Super Bowl Music Fest Chris Willman/Variety

Whether Halsey could deliver on the promise of a feel-better-than-a-Lakers-game show might have been in question, given the dark nature of the recent Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross-produced album, and not a few Halsey songs before it. The performer even went to pains to point out just how grim the earlier song “Graveyard” really is, lest anyone be fooled by what she called its beauty. Introducing “Darling,” the acoustic centerpiece of the recent album, Halsey talked about being “apathetic” about death until the birth of her child, at which point “I don’t want to die” came to the forefront of their consciousness.

From then on, though, Halsey promised, “no more sad songs… only ragers,” as “Easier Than Lying” kicked off the final portion of cheerfully angrier, if rarely outrightly celebrative, material. “Yeah, baby, I’m havin’ fun,” Halsey insisted, reveling in a world where black stage costuming is beautiful.

The Bud Light Super Bowl Music Festival continues Friday night with a show by Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani and Mickey Guyton, and concludes with Saturday’s Green Day/Miley Cyrus co-headlining gig.

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Machine Gun Kelly performs onstage at Bud Light Super Bowl LVI Music Fest held at Crypto.com Arena on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Christopher Polk for Variety