Live Music + Gig Reviews

Mighty Hoopla 2023 review: first-rate pop in a safe space makes for a powerful combination

1-2 June 2023

London’s premier pop weekend returns for its fifth year and once again proves a riotous success that shows no signs of slowing down

Mighty Hoopla 2023 (Photo: Might Hoopla)

Mighty Hoopla 2023 (Photo: Mighty Hoopla)

First things first, the real thing you need to understand about Hoopla is the vibe. In a world where queer and trans lead spaces (and rights) are frequently being restricted and removed, then an event like Hoopla not only thrives but endures as a riotous success (despite the train strikes taking place this weekend) is nothing short of absolutely incredible. Founded in 2017 by the team behind Sink The Pink, the Brockwell Park based festival now sails into its fifth year. Whilst the two-day queer millennial pop-party doesn’t define itself expressly as an LGBTQIA+ festival, this safe haven for all things camp and queer has established itself as the biggest festival of its kind in the world.

Wandering in the VIP entrance on the first day we’re transported over the rainbow and right into the centre of the festival, emerging from the Main Stage with a spring in our step. Our entrance music is the epic Sound Of The Underground from Nadine Coyle, who stuns in a skin-tight green dress. It’s busy because, well, who doesn’t love Girls Aloud. Aqua bounce on stage next, shrouded in Barbie pink (no doubt cashing in on the imminent July 21st cultural shift). For a moment it looks like they’ve committed festival suicide by placing Europop anthem Barbie Girl mid set; however this has the effect of hyping up a partially apathetic crowd who’ve been on the fence since they opened with Turn Back Time.

Nadine Coyle at Mighty Hoopla 2023 (Photo: Mighty Hoopla)

Nadine Coyle at Mighty Hoopla 2023 (Photo: Mighty Hoopla)

Natasha Bedingfield is up next. She understands the Mighty Hoopla assignment perfectly and delights with a sequin catsuit and coat, sliding into Pocketful Of Sunshine, and the party has truly started. It seems that the Hoopla bods have recommended at least one cover song for everyone, and we shed a tear at her emotional rendition of Purple Rain. Next, Beverley Knight – sporting a sequin and see-through outfit we’d love to fit into – brings us an earth-shattering range, a toe-tapping preview of new single Last One On My Mind and queer royalty Adam Lambert. Screaming abounds.

The opening day also saw Kelly Rowland sprinkling Destiny’s Child bangers across her headline set and Kelis bringing her own not inconsiderable hits to the party, with the likes of Milkshake and Trick Me sitting alongside suitably exuberant covers of Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, I Feel Love by Donna Summer and Bounce by Calvin Harris.

The event’s second day features more in the way of sensible music. Sort of. And more in the way of exploring. Two paracetamols and a Monster later and we’re back – today we manage to escape from the thrall of the main stage awhile, heading across to the Candy Crush Arena where Liberty X showcase razor-sharp, tight dance routines with bejewelled canes, lace, and new rocks. Phew!

Beverley Knight at Mighty Hoopla 2023 (Photo: Mighty Hoopla)

Beverley Knight at Mighty Hoopla 2023 (Photo: Mighty Hoopla)

Back at the Main Stage, Confidence Man prove that being in love with yourself is actually a really fun schtick. Later, we’re questioning the choice of the smaller stage for Vengaboys. Alas, the Vengabus turns out to be a rail replacement service, with three Vengaboys songs dropped at the start and end of what turns out to be an ADHD mash-up of every party song from the last 30 years. 

All round queen Róisín Murphy quickly rights us with catchy electro pop and excellent headgear. She plays Incapable and Something More from 2020’s Róisín Machine and a couple of older selections from Overpowered. Sultry new single The Universe gets an airing and a couple of crowd-pleasing Moloko hits also feature, naturally. If that wasn’t enough Sunday also saw Scissor Sisters icon Jake Shears perform tracks from his terrific new Last Man Dancing album (and a slew of Scissors tracks to boot) and appearances from this year’s now double Eurovision Song Contest winner and nail extensions icon Loreen, singing her winning song Tattoo, and self-styled ‘Duchess Of Canvey’ Diane Chorley, preaching to the delighted in a tiny tent. As a finale, not letting us catch our breath, Olly Alexander from Years & Years sparks a mini Girls Aloud reunion, and then it’s over and we can breathe again, wishing only that we had another day to fall through.

Róisín Murphy at Mighty Hoopla 2023 (Photo: Mighty Hoopla)

Róisín Murphy at Mighty Hoopla 2023 (Photo: Mighty Hoopla)

Right now, it’s more important than ever that we defend our rights to just be ourselves. This can take many forms – protest, political action, pride, fundraising – but more often than not these events highlight the terror and oppression we’re under. The truth is, it can all be a bit much. This is why events like Mighty Hoopla are essential. Allowing queer millennials (et al) a space to be themselves, undefined by the constraints of a society they’ve outgrown, is to help them champion everything about millennial experience that’s beautiful.

Because do you know what we see? We see the mild-mannered coder from work who can’t make eye contact making out with their partner in public for the first time. We see the kindly older gent who lives alone next to you and always holds the block front-door open, sunburnt to a crisp and given the freedom to be dressed in nothing but a leather harness. He’s singing along without a care in the world, embracing the happiness of holding peace with who he is for the first time in his life. We truly, honestly wish we could never leave. And if we can do that with a nostalgic, emotional, communal soundtrack of the most excellent pop acts from the last 30 years in the company of likeminded artists, then fuck it – we think all the better.

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Mighty Hoopla 2023 review: first-rate pop in a safe space makes for a powerful combination
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