Be the Cowboys: Jain, Years and Years, Tove Lo and Alma (Best Concerts of Sziget 2019 Part Five)

I will call this the ‘festival feel good gig’ section and will readily admit that I did not stay through all of these concerts. Except Alma’s, as I was making a political statement of sorts to pretty much no one but myself about being seriously underwhelmed by Foo Fighters and choosing ‘girly’ pop over ‘manly’ rock. Or well, it gets worse, I did leave the tent for about a song to get a shot of Unikum, which always disappears from the A38 bars by the last evening, and which I consume purely out of medical reasons, namely avoiding the szikness. There is of course no avoiding the szikness, only suffering from a less debilitating form, and in this I have seemingly succeeded, so my efforts were amply rewarded. Returning to the long lost initial idea of not staying for the whole concert, festivals are like a huge smorgasbord of assorted delights, and sometimes you feel compelled to leave a concert even if you enjoy it to be able to catch a bit of another one that you might enjoy just as much. Or less, but of course you couldn’t know that. So, the very thin red thread connecting these four concerts is that, for as long as I stuck around, they had a very fun vibe to them, like a warm summer shower of happiness you could walk in and out of, the kind of only seemingly mindless fun that makes festivals so enjoyable and liberating.

Jain came first, chronologically, on the Wednesday that brought along the First Coming of the Sheeran to Budapest and she was a fairly good match for the crowd, as opposed to other main stage line up choices which lead to some friction between the fanbases. I will really sink into the murky world of dumb stereotyping here and say that Jain’s poppy-happy-catchy tunes with just a bit of ethnic tint to make them palatably exotic are something the Church of Sheeran, made up mostly of young females, will find to their liking. But, as I’ve said it before, there is nothing inherently wrong with the fandom of young girls, although their choices are often demonized in ways that those of other groups are not. My only complaint would be that Jain was alone on stage, no dancers, no band, and while she has plenty of explosive energy and runs incessantly during her songs, I still occasionally felt that there was something a bit empty about the performance, a feeling that I did not have when she played the more moderately sized A38.

Tove Lo is a much more adult content altogether, dubbed both ‘Sweden’s darkest pop export’ and ‘the saddest girl in Sweden’, both monikers giving a rather warped image which you’d probably strongly contradict based on her Sziget outing. Her lyrics are indeed often confessional and don’t shy away from the nastier sides of life, and she’s refreshingly blunt about sexuality in a female-centric way that can sound anything from affronting to revolutionary. Yet, on a sweltering hot evening on the island, clad in a crop top, fishnets and a pair of hot pants that look both extremely enticing and very uncomfortable, she unleashes one hell of a party: dark or not, these are killer tunes, occasionally with a slightly wicked or smutty edge, which, if anything, makes them even more enjoyable. If you want something that’s both camp and a bit tormented, and you also want this something to be mindbogglingly catchy, let a Swede do it.

The much maligned Sziget programmer did get something very right when they scheduled Years and Years after the rainbow party- generally, this was a very rainbow themed year, given the absolutely silly fuss that Coca Cola’s Love is Love campaign elicited in Hungary. There was everything from bigots refusing to drink the infamous soda to people pointing out that this is actually a perfect publicity campaign. And it is, sure, but Sziget, ever the island, showed what it’s like to live in an environment where love is indeed just that, love, and people accept each other with all their manifold differences. Let me tell you, it’s great. It’s a place where Olly Alexander can come on stage, be absolutely amazing, magnetic, joyful, and completely himself, without having to conform to what society expects him to look or act like. And he can be, exalted as that may sound, a beacon of hope for those who in everyday life have to lie about themselves in order to be accepted. Maybe one day the whole world will be more like our island, but until then it’s these fleeting hours of joy that can give solace to those who are aching.

In a not necessarily concert related parenthesis, it’s worth mentioning that in order to underline the importance of getting Sziget’s message across to as many visitors as possible, this year had daily events, connected to the now traditional short ‘parties’ at the main stage, which touched on various topics such as environmental protection, LGBTQ rights or immigration. The organizers were very open about the fact that they thought it important to have these events at the festival’s most popular venue so that they could reach people who perhaps only come for headliners, and would not necessarily visit other locations, especially not those that deal with thornier matters. On Thursday there was a short talk by primatologist Jane Goodall, on Monday, slam poetry with Sudanese-American Emi Mahmoud and, on the day of the Years and Years concert, an acrobat performance by Canadian-American duo Francis Perreault and Matthew Richardson titled All Love is Equal.

Alma is another great ambassador for ‘Sziget values’: as you may well notice, she is larger than the ideal society imposes on young women in general, and young women in show business in particular. She of course has the perfect size for being Alma, and for doing things Alma does best: writing great songs that tap into both the Zeitgeist, and the less talked about Ortgeist as well, given that there is something unapologetically and endearingly Finnish about her. You can brand her music as girly, given that she is, well, a girl (duh) but there is nothing cutesy about it, more of a slightly Tove Lo-esque edge (to no one’s surprise, the two have collaborated), which becomes very evident when she looks you in the eye and states that she’s a cowboy. Not cowgirl, mind you, but a cowboy, because being a cowboy is a state of mind, closely linked to freedom and control of your own destiny, and girls like Alma are finally claiming it for us all.

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