In a year mostly deprived of live shows, frustrated yet inspired artists pushed the limits of creativity right from their very own living rooms. Crafting immersive experiences or intimate moments with fans through a screen is not what anyone had in mind for 2020, but it’s artists such as Billie Eilish staging an NPR Tiny Desk concert, or The Weeknd performing on the roof of a NYC skyscraper that pushed the boundaries of how music can still keep us connected.
From masked-up award show performances, to behind-the-scenes documentaries, and the few lucky concerts we had, these are our top 10 live performances from a year we won’t forget anytime soon.
SIX60 – Don’t Forget Your Roots / Kia Mau Ki To Ukaipo at Western Springs in Auckland
What a way to kick off the year! Nothing screams an ideal Kiwi summer more than a sold-out crowd of 35,000 packed into Western Springs for SIX60 Saturday’s. It was one of just a handful of concerts that we were able to experience before NZ went into lockdown, back when being in a mosh pit was a way of life and not risking other people’s lives. Anthem ‘Don’t Forget Your Roots / Kia Mau Ki To Ukaipo’ featuring Ngā Tūmanako kapa haka group was a proud moment, celebrating Māori and it’s beautiful culture, language and people. Make sure you snap up a ticket to SIX60 Saturdays 2021 before they’re gone!
Post Malone – Nirvana Tribute Livestream
Posty announcing that he’d be doing a livestream tribute concert of all Nirvana songs was a ballsy move, but he pulled it off like he could have been an original member of the band. Even admitting himself that it was going to be a huge risk, “everyone knows I can’t sing for s***, but I’m trying to sing my heart out for y’all tonight.” And he did just that. The April performance of deep cuts and fan favourites was one of the first livestream concerts of the quarantine era, raising over one million dollars in support of Covid-19 relief efforts, as well as wracking up 14 million views on YouTube. Post received the seal of approval from Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, who enthusiastically live-tweeted throughout, and from Kurt Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, who left a cheeky “#stylingbyme” comment in regards to his Cobain influenced floral dress.
Billie Eilish – NPR Tiny Desk (Home) Concert
At first glance you’d think Billie and her brother Finneas were somehow on the Tiny Desk set at the NPR Music offices. Always the innovator, Eilish used a little magic to replicate the background behind them using a cardboard cutout of what appears to be Bob Boilen’s famous desk. The siblings performed ‘my future,’ and then ‘everything i wanted’, with Eilish pausing in between songs for a wholesome chat about staying hopeful throughout the pandemic and how her brother is her “best friend” and the one person who makes her feel like she’s never alone. They’ve never sounded better together; Eilish’s voice sounds like someone running their hands through your hair.
Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande – Chromatica Medley at the MTV VMAs
The Video Music Awards? More like the Virtual Mother Monster Awards. The MTV VMAs were ruled once again by Lady Gaga (see 2009’s ‘Poker Face’ performance and 2010’s meat dress), as her and Ariana Grande created the blueprint for having a Covid-19-safe set with their Chromatica medley. The fierce duo did more than just confirm why they’re constantly at the top of the charts, they also proved that you can indeed do anything whilst wearing a mask; including a 10-minute award show performance with three outfit changes. Side note: It’s been nearly four months and I’m still thinking about Ariana’s whistle note at the 4:18~ mark.
Shawn Mendes – Wonder at the AMAs
Shawn Mendes was born to become a musician. And if that wasn’t evident from his new Netflix documentary In Wonder, then it’s performances like this that display his gift – with vocals that are even better than the studio version. Not only did he crush his performance of ‘Wonder’ at the AMAs but he also got his step count up immensely. Oh, and did we mention that he also performed ‘Monster’ with Justin Bieber? No big deal, just another day in the life of one of the most hard working artists in the biz right now.
Taylor Swift ft. Bon Iver – ‘exile’ from folklore: the long pond studio sessions
Taylor Swift is on some new sh*t. If she hadn’t already spoiled us enough this year by surprise releasing two full-length studio albums, folklore and evermore, she also gave us the Disney+ special folklore: the long pond studio sessions. The 106 minute special gives fans an in-depth look into how folklore was created, as she sits down with collaborators Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff, discussing each song and performing the entire album live together for the very first time. ‘exile’ duet partner Bon Iver, also makes a guest appearance, as the pair debut an explosive gut punch rendition of the melancholic track, which will make you feel like arguing with your boyfriend that you don’t even have.
Katy Perry – Medley (Tmall Double 11 Gala)
Now if you’re not a KatyCat you might have missed this exclusive performance for the Tmall Double 11 Gala in China, but the full video is now up on YouTube! A barefoot, heavily pregnant Perry mashing up hit singles ‘Never Really Over’, ‘Not The End Of The World’, and ‘Roar’ is something we never knew we needed until now. You can feel the happiness radiating off her right into your screen as she dances atop a floating merry-go-round. It’s special effects like these that are breaking boundaries for what we can come to expect from virtual performances during Covid-19. And the transition from ‘NTEOTW’ into ‘Roar’ is definitely worthy of a Paris Hilton ‘That’s hot’.
The Weeknd – Blinding Lights at the MTV VMAs
No audience? No problem. The lyric “this city cold and empty” hit different as The Weekend took social distancing to a whole new level (literally), by performing ‘Blinding Lights’ on top of a NYC skyscraper. Adorned with spotlights, surrounded by helicopters, and fireworks, the city was lit up more than Smith and Caughey’s Christmas windows. With one of the biggest songs of 2020, and a performance that will go down as one of best of the year, the world is absolutely fizzing to see what he has in store for next year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show.
BENEE – Supalonely at Spark Arena in Auckland
New Zealand really got it’s flex on the rest of the world by being Covid-free and able to have large scale events again. Attending BENEE’s sold-out back-to-back shows at Spark Arena (the biggest tour in the world at the time) was an instant hit of serotonin after being deprived of any form of live music for so long. Singing along to ‘Supalonely’ on election night with the Kiwi superstar and a few thousand strangers is definitely one of the highlights from the worst year. And we can’t wait to do it all again during festival season.
Halsey – You Should Be Sad Stripped Live from Nashville
Petition for Halsey to release an acoustic album asap. This stripped back version of ‘You Should Be Sad’ has lived rent free in our heads since February. After having to postpone her Manic World Tour half way through, the pop trailblazer has found other avenues to keep herself busy whilst still connecting with her fans. Her voice has never sounded better, reinforced by this comment from YouTube, “I think Halsey has a third lung cause her breath control is out of this world, she doesn’t miss one note.” There’s a reason it has been viewed over 9 million times… we hope y’all are doing okay.