As we hit what would be the peak of music festival season, plenty of music fans around the globe are missing their live music fix due to social distancing safety guidelines geared toward stopping the spread of COVID-19. Since large scale events like festivals guarantee a crowd — and close proximity — it’s been impossible for these annual staples to take place, and the sadness is getting real. In an effort to both replicate the experience of seeing our favorite artists perform live, and help raise money for the organizations that are working hard to keep everyone safe, Warner Music Group launched a virtual festival this weekend: PlayOn Fest.
The digital event supports the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization (WHO), powered by the UN Foundation, and features tons of the biggest artists on the planet, not performing in their living rooms, but by airing previously captured footage of some of their finest moments from the past.
None of these performances are available for streaming elsewhere, so there is a sense of exclusivity to the three-day extravaganza, and it brings together fans from all over the world by featuring shows at places like Texas’ revered Austin City Limits, and California’s gargantuan and beloved festival, Coachella. But what is any kind of festival without an official ranking of who did it best? Despite the performances happening across time and space, it’s still clear who had the most epic sets of the event, so we went ahead and ranked the top ten. Check out our picks below.
10. The War On Drugs’ 2018 Coachella Performance
— Songkick (@songkick) April 25, 2020
Early on during quarantine, The War On Drugs’ frontman Adam Granduciel went live on Instagram to tease some early mixes of brand new songs from the band. While we wait for those to be polished up and released — hopefully later this year or early next — remembering the band’s epic Coachella set where they played lots of songs off their excellent 2017 album A Deeper Understanding is a good way to keep in mind just how great they are live. Yes, I really want to hear a new studio album, but that’s mostly so I can get out to a show and hear them wail live. Indie rock is not dead while this band is still doing the damn thing.
9. Paramore’s 2018 Bonnaroo Set
— hayley from Paramore 🌺 (@yelyahwilliams) April 26, 2020
Hayley Williams has been focusing on her solo career so far in 2020, but she took some time to express just how much she loves her first band, Paramore. The iconic pop-punk group’s 2018 Bonnaroo set was a part of PlayOn Fest’s programming — and in such high demand that they showed it twice, once on Sunday evening and once very early this morning as an encore. The band’s propulsive energy has earned them a cult following, even when they took a long break between 2013’s self-titled release and 2017’s After Laughter. Though they’ve had lineup changes over the years, Williams’ impressive presence as a front person has never flickered even for a moment, and is on full display during this high-energy festival set.
8. Charlie Puth’s 2019 Rock In Rio Performance
Relive my performance from Rock in Rio in 2019 during @playonfest on 4/24 at 1:50pm ET and 4/25 at 2:45am ET. All views support the @WHO. Head to https://t.co/sernnlrrZz for more info pic.twitter.com/wPx5EDchAk
— Charlie Puth (@charlieputh) April 23, 2020
The elephant in the room when it comes to Charlie Puth is that his first album wasn’t necessarily everyone’s favorite thing. But after his second record, Voicenotes, came out in 2018, the entire critical world changed their tune — it was one of the highest rated pop albums of the year, and proved once and for all that one fluke doesn’t have to define an artist forever. There is a sense of satisfaction and confidence that permeates Puth’s performance at Rock In Rio last year, knowing that he became the architect of his own sound and turned the narrative around. And it’s thrilling to watch a pop star perform at the top of his game, especially after going through so much to get there.
7. Ed Sheeran’s 2017 Austin City Limits Set
— PlayOnFest (@playonfest) April 24, 2020
If you’ve seen Ed Sheeran live before, then you know his fans are some of the most passionate in the world. Haters be damned, the Ed heads just want to hear his clever guitar pop and sing along with the man who is arguably the most famous redhead in the world. When he played Austin City Limits in 2017, Sheeran was in his ÷ album era, you know, the album that had so many hits that when the single, “Perfect,” became one too, it was the fourth track off the album to do so. “Castle On The Hill,” the unstoppable force that was “Shape Of You,” and “Galway Girl” all lead the way, and Sheeran packs out his set with hits like these and many more to prove that even three years ago, he had the kind of songwriting chops that most artists dream about.
6. Lil Uzi Vert’s 2018 Lollapalooza Performance
Transport yourself to Lolla🔥🔥
— UPROXX (@UPROXX) April 26, 2020
I’ve never had the privilege of attending Lollapalooza, but watching Uzi’s set from 2018 has me kicking myself for not making it out sooner. Though his new Eternal Atake album dropped earlier this year, Uzi had plenty of hits to get the crowd screaming along with him, including the indelible hit “XO Tour Llif3.” That track became the lead single off his official debut, Luv Is Rage 2, which came out in 2017 and made up the bulk of his set at the epic Illinois festival. Fans will have to wait a little longer to see Uzi perform Eternal Atake tracks live, but in the meantime, watching this set was a nice reminder of just what he can do when he hits the stage.
5. Roddy Ricch’s “Trap Symphony” Performance
Hear @RoddyRicch like you've never heard him before 🙌🙌
Catch his 'Trap Symphony' performance with a live orchestra during @PlayOnFest at 10:40 pm EST
And tune in all weekend long to catch more amazing performances
— UPROXX (@UPROXX) April 26, 2020
As the reigning champion of the No. 1 song in the country for most of 2020 so far, Roddy Ricch is riding high despite the current chaos. But this performance showcases the rapper like you’ve never seen him before, as he runs through “The Box” and plenty more hits from his discography accompanied by a live orchestra for a “Trap Symphony” concert. Put this one on for your friend who claims that pop and hip-hop has nothing on classical music, and watch their skepticism melt away as worlds collide. And yes, “The Box” and its signature chorus sounds excellent on violin.
4. Bebe Rexha’s 2019 Rock In Rio Performance
— Bebe Rexha (@BebeRexha) April 25, 2020
For those who might still be underestimating Bebe Rexha, tuning in for one of her legendary international festival performances is sure to set the record straight. Performing at last year’s Rock In Rio festival, Rexha ran through hit after hit, showcasing the breadth of her discography and how many bangers she’s already released, while never letting up for a minute in front of a crowd of thousands. She emanated pure pop-star energy, and established herself once again as one of our era’s top tier live pop acts. This set was so good I wanted to watch it twice.
3. Cardi B’s 2018 Global Citizen Festival Performance
As the above clip from Cardi B’s 2018 performance at the Global Citizen Festival illustrates, her political voice is just another reason to love the Bronx rapper. She’s got radio hits, deep cuts, a fiery stage presence, and still speaks to the most important thing we can do with our freedom — vote. We’d probably be in a very different situation right now in America if more young people exercised their political voices in general, so aside from seeing her twerk and spit bars, Cardi’s motivational political speech was an affirming reminder.
2. Lizzo’s 2019 Coachella Set
— Songkick (@songkick) April 25, 2020
I was lucky enough to witness this one in real life, but rewatching with maximum camera angles instead of at the back of a packed, over-crowded tent is definitely a more ideal way to experience the full energy of a Lizzo set. If you were around on Saturday afternoon, then you had the chance to relive all the twerking, belting and pure joy that is a hallmark of every Lizzo show, and especially at her Coachella debut.
1. Nipsey Hussle’s 2018 Victory Lap album release performance at the Hollywood Palladium
— PlayOnFest (@playonfest) April 26, 2020
Another show I count myself incredibly lucky to have attended, the album release party for Nipsey Hussle’s last album, Victory Lap was half coronation party, half homecoming for LA hip-hop royalty — oh, and Diddy was there, too. A rap king’s career was cut too short when Nipsey died, and never has that been more clear than onstage at the Hollywood Palladium that night. There’s no other set that aired during PlayOn Fest that better encapsulates how music can bring us together, and how much an artist can impact their community, even after they’re gone.
The artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.