Lizzo by Roger Ho courtesy of Chris Vinyard

Governors Ball Highlights & More (2023 Edition)

Kendrick Lamar, Odesza, Lizzo, Lil Nas X, Lil Uzi Vert, and Lil Baby co-headlined Governors Ball 2023 before tens of thousands of music fans at the annual music festival’s new location, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, on June 9 to 11. The 12th edition of the weekend spectacular featured more than 60 artists performing pop, hip hop, electronic, and indie rock music. Attendees also had opportunities to visit dozens of art installations, corporate activations offering freebie souvenirs, and a wide range of take-out restaurants.

Kim Petras, Aespa, Giveon, Sofi Tukker, Pusha T, Central Cee, girl in red, Lauv, Oliver Tree, Finneas, Rina Sawayana, Ice Spice, and Metro Boomin’ were among the rising artists that performed before their largest-ever New York City audiences. This year’s programming may have been the most culturally-diverse ever, introducing Latin trap rapper Eladio Carrion and K-pop singers Aespa, among others, to a wider audience.

Days before Governors Ball 2023, however, New York City was engulfed in an orange haze from the Canadian wild fires. Open-air events throughout the city were cancelled. The poor air quality seemed to threaten the coming weekend’s music fest. The air quality improved daily as the weekend approached, and on the Wednesday before Governors Ball, Founders Entertainment, promoters of the annual three-day festival, announced that, after consulting with “weather experts” and “city officials,” the festival remained on schedule. The statement stirred a bit of controversy, with objectors arguing that the festival should be rescheduled to protect the health of attendees. In the end, city officials lifted its air quality alert before the weekend, none of the festival’s scheduled performers canceled, and the festival took place under near-prefect weather.

Founded in 2011, Governors Ball is perhaps New York City’s largest weekend music festival, competing in magnitude only with Electric Zoo’ EDM festival at Randall’s Island over Labor Day weekend. This year, the Governors Ball had three stages instead of four and usually staggered its start times, making it possible for revelers to taste every performance before deciding to stay or go to another stage. Only the weekend’s closing performance by Kendrick Lamar had no competing act.

Every artist put on their best show, although several were hampered by technical difficulties. Playing to such large crowds, each artist performed their best-known songs. Here are some of the festival’s memorable moments and photographs.



Lizzo headlined on Friday night, yet earlier acts like Lil Uzi Vert, Kim Petras, HAIM, Joey Badas$$, and Diplo also attracted similarly large crowds. Davido and Omar Apollo canceled in the weeks prior to the festival, but Ice Spice and Metro Boomin’ were later additions to the bill and drew considerable audiences. Substantial rain fell for several minutes while Kim and Metro’ played, but both artists continued performing without a pause.

Joey Bada$$ performed “Fallin’” live for the first time and covered XXXTENTACION’s “infinity (888)” in tribute to the late rapper, but Kim Petras was well into her set when the rain began, first as a drizzle, then as a brief downpour. She told her soaked audience that some of her favorite shows of all time happened in the rain.

HAIM performed at Governors Ball once before, in 2016, under pouring rain. The skies were sunny this time, allowing the three sisters to wear black bralettes on stage to match their black leather trousers. HAIM’s black leather was indicative of the harder pop-rock sound that the group would perform.

Lizzo was all about promoting messages of self love and body positivity. She addressed these messages in how she dressed (at one point, in a silver leotard), the plus-size nature of all her dancers, and her retort to recent body shamers before covering Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.” She pledged support for “every woman, nongender conforming femme, [and] trans women.” She also supported environmentalists by proclaiming, “We need to listen to our first nations, indigenous people, and we need to listen to our water protectors, because they’re trying to make sure that we have land to live on.” Her flute solos were also impressive. Plus, a fan by the front barricade called out and successfully persuaded Lizzo into singing “Happy birthday” to her from the stage.

Lil Uzi Vert played at a distant stage at the same time as Lizzo, and so the festival audience had to choose pop and R&B or trap and hip-hop. Uzi was among the many rappers who asked the audience to create a mosh pit, but he might be the only performer who threw himself into the audience to crowd surf. The rapper was performing a string of his hits, yet he paused the show when he noticed that a fan in the crowd needed medical assistance. As the rapper was instructing the nearby audience, security, and medical team to care for the ailing fan, another fan near the barricade called out to Uzi repeatedly that he got a tattoo of his face. Lil Uzi Vert replied, “Nice! Just make sure no one next to you is passed out.” He later welcomed on stage rappers Ken Carson to duet on Carson’s “Freestyle 2” and Destroy Lonely for Lonely’s “if looks could kill.”

Metro Boomin’ was a late addition to the festival schedule and performed many of the hits on which he collaborated for other hop hop artists, including Future, Migos, Drake, 21 Savage, and the Weeknd. His performance also got caught in the rain. “I told you we gonna tear the roof off,” Boomin told the audience. His soaked fans might have wished he had instead built a roof. “It’s a party in the rain,” Boomin’ said.

MICHELLE did not exist as a group when its debut album was released in 2018. Two producers recorded the album using various vocalists. The success of the album led to the creation of the six-member New York City-based vocal group. The two producers, Julian Kaufman and Charlie Kilgore, and the four vocalists, Sofia D’Angelo, Layla Ku, Emma Lee, and Jamee Lockard, have turned into a viable song and dance act.

“Y’all feeling me?” Ice Spice asked her packed audience during her eight-song, 30-minute set. The 23-year-old rapper from the Bronx is relatively new to the rap scene, but she already has rabid hometown fans. Two fans held homemade posters of the American flag emblazoned with her image as other fans lined up to pose for photographs between the flags. Other fans wore orange wigs resembling Spice’s hair. Others wrote the title of her hit song, “Munch,” in large black letters on their bare chests. The audience was so packed in front that security asked the fans to step back. Even Diplo reportedly watched part of her show upon the shoulders of someone in the audience. At one point, members of the audience charged into the photo pit. Rapper Sexyy Red joined Spice on stage to perform “Pound Town.”

“I’m wearing a New York Knicks jacket,” Remi Wolf told her New York audience. She added, “It’s funny because I didn’t know who they were until this morning.” She paused and added “I only play hacky sack!” If her jacket questioned the veracity of her messaging, she may have raised more eyebrows when she removed the jacket and revealed that she was wearing a black T-shirt with white lettering that read, “I love to get drunk and hump things.” Her set included a cover of Goyte and Kimbra’s “Somebody That I Used To Know.”

Diplo returned to his electronic dance persona after releasing two country music albums under his given name, Thomas Wesley. After his rousing EDM performance on one of the main stages, Diplo performed a pop up set at one of the corporate sponsors’ kiosks.

Two festivals ago, Governors Ball introduced Latin music to the festival by booking J Balvin and the most recent festival hosted Karol G. This summer, Eladio Carrion spoke Spanish most of the time between songs and presented Latin trap and electro, a bit of reggaeton, and a whole lot of emotional ballads.



Rina Sawayama was among the many performers who emphasized the show in show business. During her one-hour set, she changed into five outfits, including a red lingerie ensemble. Dance sequences with her team interpreted her lyrics, sung through a powerful voice. Her music was rooted in pop, but borrowed from trance, dance music, and nu-metal. Her set was marred by technical difficulties during her second song, “Hurricanes,” but the old adage in show business is that the show must go on.

On Thursday, Aespa threw the first pitch at a baseball game at Yankee Stadium. Two days later, Aespa again made local history by becoming the first K-pop artist ever to perform at Governors Ball. One of Aespa’s four vocalists, Giselle, stayed home due to illness, however, so the remaining three vocalists/dancers, Ningning, Winter, and Karina, forged ahead, leaving space for the missing member in many of their dance formations. Aespa’s hyper-pop music was as visual as it was aural.

Odesza is an EDM duo, but the presentation at Governors Ball was much more than heavy dance beats and a light show. Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, known individually as Catacombkid and BeachesBeaches, stood on high platforms surrounded by drums and electronic instruments. Below and around them, a choreographed drum line marched on and off the stage, the drums lit in time with the laser lights on many songs. Various songs featured guest vocalists and a horn section. The intricacy of this was equally over the top. The electro-house dance music often incorporated the expected laser lights and pyro explosions. Not all the music was for dancing, however, as the many layered musical arrangements sometimes lent themselves to lengthy slow grooves. The show ended with a majestic fireworks display high over the stage.

British singer Suki Waterhouse played a rising rock star on the television mini-series Daisy Jones & the Six. Here, fiction became truth. Tied to both a film and music career, she currently lives with English actor Robert Pattinson in Los Angeles. “This song is about suffering in Los Angeles,” she said before launching into “Melrose Meltdown.”

Once again, Governors Ball showed that it had an eclectic format when it booked a Jamaican pop singer, songwriter, rapper, and guitarist. Mikayla Victoria Simpson, better known as Koffee, performed a set that included reggae, afrobeat and other world music. Before she came on stage, Koffee had her touring mate GENRUS perform a few songs.

Before commencing his set, Kenny Beats invited a few dozen enthusiastic fans onstage, most on a long raised platform behind him. Beats played bass-heavy beats and dramatic drops, and occasionally moved away from his table of electronic equipment to dance with his onstage guests.

Baltimore’s Snail Mail strolled on stage to low fanfare, but with a few notes of soundcheck, the audience cheered. “Don’t get excited, we’re not playing yet!” singer Lindsey Jordan told the audience. Indie-rock bands were few in number at this year’s Governors Ball, so Snail Mail’s mid-afternoon set was a welcome change. “It’s always nice to play outside,” Jordan said. “Usually it’s a dark, dingy cave-type thing.”

Oliver Tree’s performance intertwined videos, stage productions, costume changes and comedic pop-rock songs, together performed in a lively and joyous manner. It was unique, like Mad Magazine transformed into a live rock show.



Black Midi may have been the most unusual band to perform at a Governors Ball. The British band’s math rock, post-punk, and avant-jazz songs were adventurous, experimental, and chaotic. In contrast to all the polished music featured at Governors Ball, this was the wildest and perhaps the most creative music in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park all weekend.

Fellow Brit PinkPantheress walked on stage for her set with a purse hanging from her left shoulder. After her first song, the rapper said she was going to discard her purse. By the time she reached “Boys a Liar,” the audience was singing along so loudly that her own vocals were inaudible. Her show ended and PinkPantheress retrieved her purse and left the stage.

Central Cee started his show with a seemingly biographical documentary film, then came on stage to technical problems. He left the stage awaiting a reboot and the audience watched the short film again. Cee delivered his steely brand of U.K. drill to an enthusiastic crowd. Cee started with high-energy drill, then transitioned to love songs before noting, “None of that lovey-dovey stuff, let me see some movement,” and returned to hip-hop.

Lil Nas X’s set went from mishap to mishap. A few seconds into his opening song, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” his in-ear monitors failed. He walked off the stage, puzzling his team of eight dancers who enthused the audience for a while, then walked of the stage, as well. Resuming the show a few minutes later, he told the audience that “Honestly, I’m having a terrible day and it’s only getting worse, but I’m doing this for you and we’re gonna turn up.” Moments later, he said, “I want to leave so fucking bad right now,” but carried on a lavish show with outlandish costumes, massive props, and dazzling routines. “Some of y’all need to fix your face,” he said. “I’m doing my best, give me a break.” Near the end of his set, he wished everyone a happy Pride Month.

Sofi Tukker played pop and dance tunes in front of a playground design. Singer/guitarist Sophie Hawley-Weld climbed the monkey bars during one song. Meanwhile, Sabrina Claudio wore perhaps the most risqué outfit. She wore shoes, a thong, and a mostly see-though smock with rows of appliqués that managed to cover just her nipples. One member of the audience noted that by wearing that outfit, Claudio did not have to sing to get attention.

Presumably, rapper Pusha T’s giant snow globe and white mounds of simulated snow on stage were references to coke rap culture. He said he loved his fans so much that he might love them even more than he does his own son, Nigel, whose third birthday party he was missing in New Jersey to be at the festival.

Ten years after he first performed at Governors Ball in 2013 in connection with his debut album, Kendrick Lamar returned to close out the 2023 festival with Sunday’s headlining set. Unlike last summer’s Big Steppers Tour, a highly conceived and artful presentation, his Governors Ball was a simple affair with him mostly just rapping. Lamar did not address the audience until nearly an hour into his performance, letting the stage go black for intermittent periods in between songs. Dancers performed between songs occasionally, and he gave a shoutout to his really early days, when he came to NYC for a rite-of-passage show at SOB’s. Just a few songs later, he introduced his cousin and protégé Baby Keem for “Family Ties.” He ended things the same way he ended The Big Steppers Tour: with the pensive “Savior.” Kendrick said “I’ll be back,” and then fireworks erupted, lighting up the World’s Fair structures that were directly behind GovBall’s main stage as the festival ended with nearly five minutes of fireworks.

Photo by Roger Ho