V Festival 2016 – a weekend long escape from reality, filled (mostly) with music that is popular for good reason

Away from the Virgin Media Stage, Jodie Abacus took to the MTV Stage as one of the opening acts at V Festival — with a soulful set that earned a delightful start to a festival heavily criticised, for its lack of musical substance.

Little Mix rose to the occasion representing females to celebrate the 21st birthday of the festival at Hylands Park, Chelmsford. After a fierce opening, the set descended into something more of a pantomime.

Before Little Mix on the Virgin Media Stage came Years & Years, whose front-man Olly Alexander looked colourful in his red two-piece as he sang up-lifting tracks such as King and Desire — having the words sung back at him throughout the entire set.

Last minute line-up edition Stormzy welcomed a vital grime dimension, proving the genre has earned its place in popular culture. Know Me From and Shut Up provoked the biggest mosh-pits of the weekend, with Stormzy receiving huge love and energy from the V Festival crowd. Much to the excitement of his fans, the grime trailblazer announced footage from his set will be used in his next music video.


Female artists dominating V Festival 2016 were Sia, 90s comeback babe JoJo and Essex born Anne-Marie, who performed a high energy hometown gig.

Heading the bill on Saturday night at Hylands Park was Justin Bieber, who disappointed Beliebers with his lip-syncing and lack of enthusiasm. While his hits had everyone singing along, it would be unfair to call V Festival 2016 nothing more than a stop on the Purpose World Tour.

In the wake of Bieber’s underwhelming Saturday headline performance, Zak Abel shined on Sunday’s MTV Stage. Playing to a modest-sized crowd, Zak proved he has a long career in music ahead of him. His set may have been cut short, but this is just the beginning.

South London born Katy B’s arrival on Sunday’s MTV Stage, with Emerald from Rinse FM on DJ duties, brought in a headline-sized crowd. Throwbacks such as Katy On A Mission and Lights On brought a slice of London’s electronic dance scene to Chelmsford; the young audience regretfully agreeing “this right here I swear will end too soon”.

Sunday’s best set came courtesy of headliner Rihanna, who after 11 years in music, proved she’s still at the top of her game. Opening with dark pop-ballad Stay, the global superstar won over the hearts of Chelmsford with her blend of genre-spanning, time transcending hits, expressing: we was all young together one time. The heavens opened during Umbrella, adding drama to Rihanna’s Godlike status.

With Glastonbury Festival spirits dampened by news of Brexit earlier this year, V Festival 2016 offered a weekend long escape from reality, filled (mostly) with music that is popular for good reason.

Nodding towards grime acts like Stormzy, and emerging UK pop-stars like Anne-Marie, it would be unjust to undervalue V Festival’s important role in celebrating popular culture.