J Balvin among performers as music takes front seat at F1 Grand Prix
LAS VEGAS (AP):
At the inaugural Formula One (F1) Las Vegas Grand Prix, music and entertainment have taken a dominant role. As the elite motorsport experiments with the new race, A-list events are ubiquitous in Sin City, an unignorable part of the celebration.
Last Thursday, at a Sinatra-themed restaurant in the lobby of the Encore casino, Colombian reggaetonero J Balvin emerged in all-black leather. He’d performed the day before at the Las Vegas Grand Prix opening ceremony — the only artiste to perform a song not in English, his Usher-sampling Dientes. On Saturday, he closed the race weekend with a longer performance, making him the only musician to take the stage at this inaugural F1 race twice. In many ways, it is fitting: F1 is a global sport, Balvin is a global artiste, and music has become increasingly integrated with the sport.
“No matter where you’re from, your language, people just love it, you know?” he told The Associated Press about his connection to the motorsport. “It’s really cohesive — my vision and Formula One.”
“On the business side, it’s good exposure,” he says of why artistes are motivated to perform at F1 events. “Other things relate to it but, personally, I love fast cars.”
The sentiment echos something will.i.am told AP in advance of the opening ceremony: “Every producer, every DJ wants to play F1. Why? Because it’s a (expletive) of money they make,” he said.
Las Vegas is the most expensive F1 race of the 2023 season — and the money is felt.
At night, countless concerts overlapped with what was supposed to be the first two F1 practice sessions, but one was cancelled the first, and the other was delayed two-and-a-half hours for track repairs. Dedicated spectators were removed from viewing areas ahead of the 90-minute session that ended at 4 a.m. local time — the deadline for F1 to return the roads to Las Vegas commuters.
But, for a large population of Vegas tourists, it was as if nothing was amiss. Jack Harlow played an abridged and charming set at a private SiriusXM + Pandora concert. (Liberty Media, which owns Formula One, is also the majority owner of SiriusXM.) The Chainsmokers hit the stage at the Wynn, and Travis Scott performed at Zouk Nightclub, located in Resorts World Las Vegas, another partner of this particular race.
For the music fan, it was a remarkable night of all-star performances. For the racing fan — not so much.
For the inaugural Vegas race weekend, the Grand Prix hosted an Opening Ceremony. Jared Leto and his brother Shannon Leto wore matching race suits, launching into a medley of 2005’s The Kill, their biggest hit, and 2023’s Stuck, their most recent one.
Then, in less than half an hour, there were abridged performances from Keith Urban, Andra Day, Bishop Briggs, Journey, Steve Aoki, J Balvin, and will.i.am, each musician appearing atop their own LED platform. Tiësto and John Legend performed together from the roof of the exclusive Paddock Club, where top-tier tickets could set attendees back $40,000. For the audience in the grandstands, tickets ranged from $100 to $200.
The eclectic line-up reflects a shift in the F1 audience, which has grown in popularity among young Americans over the last half decade. The inclusion of Grammy- and Oscar-winning actor Day, for example, is a welcomed surprise in a bill stacked with dedicated artistes who frequently perform at these events: Tiësto, Steve Aoki, and F1 Global Artist in Residence will.i.am among them.
For the EDM DJ and Las Vegas resident Steve Aoki, the F1 Opening Ceremony is indicative of Vegas’ growing appeal. He also believes that there is a shared energy to F1 and live music.
“People love F1 because of the sound and the energy. People want that adrenaline and excitement — there is that synergy. And I think a lot of drivers are really big music fans as well,” he says. “I connected with (Mercedes driver) Lewis Hamilton almost 10 years back. We went to Michael Jackson’s studio in Bahrain and hung out there. There’s a lot of synergies between the drivers and music.”