It’s 4pm on a bloody freezing Saturday arvo and some RNB Fridays fans are decked out in looks akin to summer festival wear, legging it over to Marvel Stadium at full speed to snag prime positions. One group arrives arm-in-arm, scream-serenading each other with Jason Derulo’s In My Head as they join the queue. Words: Bryget Chrisfield & Natasha Pinto
While entering what is billed as “Australia’s Biggest Party”, there’s strangely no music playing over the stadium sound system. A selection of #rnbfridayslive Instagram photos are collated on screens either side of the stage and punters are loving it, hoping their posts will result in personal 15 minutes of fame. A roaming cameraman picks out his favourites from the crowd, encouraging groups of revellers to twirl, laugh, dance and strut with drinks in hand as if they were on a catwalk while staring sassily down the barrel of his camera. As he races around, directing each potential scene and filming from every angle possible, these chosen ones are living their best lives and this is pure, people-watching heaven.
When Yo! Mafia finally mans the wheels of steel she drops bona-fide partystarters including Will Smith’s Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It, Naughty By Nature’s O.P.P. and Prince’s Kiss. Actually, is she VJ-ing? Each song’s accompanying video clip is perfectly in sync as we boogie on down memory lane with smiles on dials as we lap up the onscreen action. Yo! Mafia’s energy is contagious and she reminds us why new jack swing is cool in preparation for RNB Fridays Live 2019’s headliner, Janet Jackson, whose 1986 album Control ushered in this genre fusion featuring synthesised percussion. When large beach balls are volleyed into the crowd between sets, Yo! Mafia cheekily remarks, “I know my ladies want the big balls!”
J-Kwon hits the stage with a bang – literally. After a huge boom sound effect, he performs two songs that nobody seems to recognise. “I THINK MY SH-T NEEDS TO BE LOUDER!” he yells. And look, he’s right. The volume is pretty low right now, which results in his tunes coming across as slightly lacklustre. Once volume is pumped-up, J-Kwon launches into Nelly’s track Hot in Herre and then Chingy’s Right Thurr. And by that, we mean the tracks are played and he just sings a little over the top of them. We’re slightly confused by this choice but, hey! They’re bangers and punters are loving it. Finally the moment everyone’s been waiting for: those first few bars of Tipsy hit hard and we’re hooked. It’s a delicious track that’s been loved for years and has soundtracked many nights of regret, packed dancefloors and too much bad tequila. He throws the mic in the air, there’s another huge boom sound and then that’s it! J-Kwon’s super-fun, has great energy and Tipsy is a forever hit.
A few minutes later, Fatman Scoop enters the stadium with no lack of fanfare. As a camera documents the action, we watch on the big screens as he upgrades select fans sitting in the nosebleed section. After announcing this is the “biggest event in Australia”, Scoop claims, “Last year we had a problem with the sound, we had a problem with the bathroom… and I got on the phone with everyone in Australia and fixed this shit!” Fans laugh and cheer. We’re not entirely convinced, but you gotta give it to the guy – his banter is entertaining, he lightens the mood and people are loving him.
Keri Hilson glows on stage. Dressed in the most brilliant gold blazer, she demands our attention immediately. Her voice is as beautiful and silky as when we first fell in love with her in her 2009 prime and she remains a pro on stage. Every step and note is calculated and skilfully executed. Knock You Down’s chorus is sung loudly by the crowd – ten years later and this one’s clearly still a fave. After apologising and telling us she’s dealing with some sound issues, it’s time for Pretty Girl Rock. Before beginning, she tells us that this song was never about what is on the outside, but about how we are on the inside. It feels genuine and kind. She’s a super-slick performer and gives all she can in this 30-minute set.
Fox FM radio presenter Ash London leads “a sexy Happy Birthday” singalong for Sisqó, who turns 41 today. “The dragon’s here!” Sisqó announces before opening track, Unleash the Dragon. We really wanna own one of those badass black Sisqó tour jackets with all-over skull print as worn by the man himself plus a trio of extremely talented backup dancers (which Sisqó matches in skill). Wow! It’s a veritable dragon’s lair up there on stage! The dragon logo graces the visuals, also hangs around Sisqó’s neck in oversized diamanté pendant form and there’s a mic holder caved out of mirror in the same scale as well. Sisqó also sports a diamanté belt – he’s positively dripping in ice and hollers, “We about to take this show to the next level!” You already have, my friend. Sisqó tells us that although people mistakenly think his number one solo single is Thong Song, “In actuality, my number one solo single was a little song called Incomplete.” Every day’s a school day! Of course there are smoke cannons to punctuate Thong Song’s key change (LIT!) and boyfriend sure can sing. We’re “livin’ la vida loca” every single moment Sisqó graces the stage. What!? Did he just throw his jacket into the crowd? (I’ll give ya $100 for it.)
While we’ve got you, check out our very own Remi’s version of Thong Song. You’re most welcome:
All of a sudden, Scoop’s on the screen again. We’re watching an obviously pre-recorded video of him having a massage ‘live’ from backstage. There’s a whole skit where we watch him lying on a massage table as a member of RNB Fridays’ staff frantically approaches to tell him that he can’t be having a massage right now because he’s “meant to be on stage getting ready to announce Brandy” (who is up next). It’s a very weird transition and a legend such as Brandy surely deserves a better intro.
Referred to as “The Vocal Bible” due to her effortless vocal gymnastics and pitch-perfect mastery – also this year’s RNB Fridays Live Mystery Act (announced only a coupla weeks back) – Brandy inspires us to slowly grind along to her selection of hit tracks such as Baby, I Wanna Be Down and Best Friend while pulling a variety of stank-face expressions in appreciation of her riffing. As that harp intro twinkles, we all prepare for the string-assisted swoon that is The Boy Is Mine. This ultimate passive-aggressive ownership anthem (“I’m sorry that you/Seem to be confused/He belongs to me…”) is a delightful singalong moment. Here’s hoping Brandy returns to our shores for a string of her own headline shows stat!
It’s now time for rap royalty 50 Cent and he just casually saunters into the spotlight while movie posters from films he’s starred in flash up on the screen behind him. Bonus points for having a live band tonight! His stoic, nonchalant exterior seems to wash away after a few tracks and he is grinning up there, loving every second of the adoration he’s receiving. His necklace, ring and watch shine so bright we pretty much need sunglasses to look directly at them for an extended period of time. He leaves the stage and hypemen keep the vibe going by getting the crowd to yell “SMOKE WEED!” while Bob Marley’s Is This Love plays in the background. Then 50’s back in a flash after a costume change – complete with change of jewellery, of course. Ayo Technology goes down a treat and 50 proves that he’s a veteran in the field with his classic flow that requires no effort at all. Our faces are melted off with insane drum and guitar solos. Obviously, In Da Club has the stadium going wild; there are not many songs that are that instantly recognisable from the first few seconds, but as soon as this one drops people lose their minds. After a couple more songs, 50 Cent and co leave the stage instantly. His crew look side stage and then run off after a very quick thank you, as if being prompted to do so.
London and Scoop conduct a good old-fashioned left-versus-right crowd cheer contest before introducing the man behind “one of the highest selling singles in Australian history”: Jason Derulo, who is a shoo-in for fashion on the field.
Somehow a dyed-blond channel within Derulo’s hairdo ties back in with the colourway of his black leather jacket that’s covered in appliqué gold snakes. An adorable pair of young fans hesitantly hold up their hand-made sign that reads, “Notice Me Plz”. “You’ve gotta learn to love yourself,” Derulo shares, “before you can learn to love anybody else,” by way of Ridin’ Solo intro and then we’re hypnotised by his fancy footwork and isolations. “Single ladies put your hands up, now! Where you Aussie girls at?” his henchman bellows. The crowd singalong during In My Head is deafening as expected and hearing a live guitarist shred adds pins-and-needles-level excitement. Derulo sheds layers until he’s shirtless to perform Talk Dirty, which is virtually unrecognisable at first. Then enter Derulo’s minimally backed a cappella outro that basically glues us to the spot as we’re temporarily paralysed by his brilliance.
After admiring Derulo’s eloquence and vibe from his time on the So You Think You Can Dance judging panel (and also particularly enjoying Talk Dirty when it came out), witnessing this level of performance ability is electrifying. No matter how attractive or nimble his backing dancers are, it’s impossible to drag your eyes away from Derulo. Star quality to spare and killer dance moves for days.
DJ Horizon keeps the room dancing in-between sets, playing the high rotation punter-favourite tracks from Fox FM’s RNB Fridays radio show. The dancefloor is totally loose by now. Cans cover the floor, punters drop it low, people bolt back and forth to the bar for a refill and others weave through the crowd while precariously balancing mountains of popcorn chicken and hot chips – sustenance for the next few hours of partying. London brings Scoop back out onto the stage for none other than his classic: Be Faithful. There’s no denying this song could rescue the direst of dancefloors. It launches everyone into overdrive. At this point in RNB Fridays’ young history, it’s become a tradition for Scoop to take off his shirt at the end of this song and, without fail, he does. You can’t mess with tradition, right?
“Where the f–k is Fergie, though!?”
“Where the f–k is Fergie, though!?” someone yells as soon as the spotlight hits the stage and we hear the opening lines to Let’s Get It Started. Black Eyed Peas blow our minds with this one. Their energy is palpable from the very start. They’re electric to watch and between the three of them – will.i.am, apl.de.ap and Taboo – they’re able to take hold of the stadium and remain in total control from beginning to end. Boom Boom Pow dropkicks us straight in the chest and just when we’re starting to wonder who’ll take over all those Fergie bits, a new singer appears, later introduced to us as J Reysoul. A contestant on The Voice Philippines, she tells us she was “discovered” by apl.de.ap. The breaks hit party mode when we see the iconic Where Is the Love? question mark that features in the song’s video clip. “This is the song that gave us our career,” will.i.am says before kicking it off. It’s a special track for many – most people in this stadium probably remember it being played endlessly, for months, on Saturday morning Video Hits. Altogether, it’s nostalgic and sweet to hear everyone yelling out the chorus. will.i.am ends by talking about the band’s performance at Falls Festival in 2002, and how essentially their career took off from that moment. If there were a few reluctant hearts left in the house, this admission probably won them over. Confetti cannons explode and the air is filled with sparkles. The dancefloor is wild and full of sweaty, stoked punters.
A very strange 100-second countdown – it’s longer than it sounds! – on the giant screen precedes tonight’s headliner: Janet Jackson. It doesn’t exactly build suspense in the dead silence and we’re relieved when Control takes over. “I’m gonna do it my way,” Jackson spits, wearing a bedazzled black utility jumpsuit that means business and demonstrates she’ll be nailing all of that choreography tonight. And the choreography is dynamic, totally blowing us away throughout (but particularly during If).
“No, my first name ain’t baby, it’s Janet/Miss Jackson if you’re nasty!” Nasty makes us bust out sidestepping dance moves punctuated by head rolls and ribcage isolations to boot. There are most probably some vocals on the backing tape, but Jackson is also singing live while simultaneously performing dance routines we could only ever execute in our wildest dreams. Seriously, how can you resist that beat? “Es-ca-pade/You’ll have a good time!” What Have You Done for Me Lately, though! A deadset showstopper.
Songs like Together Again and That’s the Way Love Goes are aural sunshine we wish we could somehow convert to wear as a scent. The title track from Jackson’s 2018 album, Made for Now, deserves your ears and cooperation from those dancing feet. Man, this floor sure is sticky! Must be all spilt “Fatmelon Scoop” (actually not even joking) watermelon daquiris!
Frustratingly, we see punters abandoning their posts in favour of early car park exits and wish everybody would just sit down, listen up and be educated even if they don’t recognise all of the tunes. The audiovisual presence of Jackson’s late brother Michael bursts forth for their duet Scream as the song’s accompanying black-and-white film clip plays out on the screens. As silver ticker tape rains down over Rhythm Nation (and we challenge you to find a better song to accompany The Robot) it dawns on us: without Miss Jackson, there would be no Beyoncé and so many other fierce female artists.
Walking towards an Uber-friendly exit, we overhear a convo that might go some way towards explaining where some of the younger audience members racked off to earlier. “My niece just messaged me,” Aunty shares, before reading out the text: “Meet you at Crown for the after party?”
Check out our RNB Fridays 2019 gallery here.