THE MU­SIC

What's On (Dubai) - - ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX -

With the likes of Kanye West, Bey­once and Prince play­ing the du Arena on Yas Is­land in pre­vi­ous years, the big re­veal of the head­lin­ers at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix af­ter race con­certs has an ex­cite­ment akin to the likes of the Glas­ton­bury fes­ti­val an­nounce­ment. And this year’s line-up is no dif­fer­ent, with rap­per Post Mal­one, R&B’s The Weeknd, soul-pop­per Sam Smith and peren­nial hard rock­ers Guns ’N Roses wow­ing For­mula 1 fans from Thurs­day to Sun­day. Re­mem­ber that en­try to the af­ter-race con­certs is only avail­able to ex­ist­ing F1 ticket hold­ers.

Post Mal­one, or Austin Richard Post to his Cal­i­for­nian friends, is an in­trigu­ing choice to open up pro­ceed­ings on Thurs­day, if only be­cause at first glance his mu­sic might seem to be too bleak and love­less for such a cel­e­bra­tory week­end. But this is a 23 year-old rap­per who broke Ap­ple Mu­sic’s stream­ing record with his sin­gle Rock­star last year. With a stag­ger­ing 25m plays in a sin­gle week, per­haps due to a cal­cu­lat­ing YouTube video, which merely re­peated the cho­rus five times in a row, its suc­cess proved that there are many more routes to rock star­dom than sim­ply strap­ping on a gui­tar. Be­ing a rock­star, for Post Mal­one, is clearly about more than the mu­sic - his hit song is just nu­anced enough in the clichéd de­scrip­tions of cham­pagne-soaked par­ties for it to be un­clear whether Post finds this state of af­fairs to be thrilling or de­press­ing.

What’s par­tic­u­larly fas­ci­nat­ing about his mu­sic is that even though it sits squarely amid the kind of melodic rap that made stars of Drake and Frank Ocean, the sen­si­tiv­ity in his voice means it’s not so dif­fi­cult to imag­ine rock or coun­try fans find­ing some kind of plea­sure in his un­de­ni­ably catchy cur­rent al­bum Beer­bongs and Bent­leys. That’s de­spite the fact it mainly chugs along at glacial pace and Post spends a lot of time moan­ing about how mis­er­able it is to be wealthy and fa­mous and hav­ing to go to loads of par­ties. Just in case we haven’t got the mes­sage, there’s a song on the al­bum called Rich and Sad. Bless him and the barbed wire he has tat­tooed across his fore­head.

Talk­ing of pop stars com­plain­ing about the fruits of their fame and for­tune, The Weeknd’s slot on Fri­day works as a neat segue from Post Mal­one. Post surely stud­ied how The Weeknd’s Abel Tes­faye be­came a su­per­star on the back of dole­ful, slow R&B; where Tes­faye dif­fers is that he pos­sesses an un­de­ni­able – and en­joy­able – vo­cal sim­i­lar­ity to Michael Jack­son. Live shows, too, are honed into en­er­getic disco-funk sing-alongs thanks to his col­lab­o­ra­tions with Daft Punk ( Star­boy, I Feel It Com­ing) and Brit­ney Spears/Tay­lor Swift hit­maker-in-chief Max Martin ( I Can’t Feel My Face). All of which is a long way from the self-re­lease of his

de­but mix­tape House Of Bal­loons in 2011; re­leased anony­mously and sam­pling indie favourites Cocteau Twins and Beach House, there was a gritty un­der­ground aloof­ness which crit­ics and fans loved. But there was lit­tle to sug­gest that The Weeknd would one day play are­nas packed with de­voted fans. The through line from there to No.1 al­bums and sold out tours is Tes­faye’s cheru­bic voice though, pro­ject­ing the same kind of con­tra­dic­tions as Post Mal­one: hard edged, amoral even, yet some­how vul­ner­a­ble, too.

Satur­day sees more main­stream fare – but no less in­ter­est­ing for it – when Sam Smith brings his slick pop-soul to the du Arena. Where there’s a very ob­vi­ous edge to Post Mal­one and The Weeknd, Smith’s bal­lads are an­guished in a way which, to be bru­tal, en­cour­ages women of a cer­tain age to give him a big hug and tell him it’ll all be ok. Which is not to say that such vul­ner­a­bil­ity and ro­man­tic de­spair can’t soar in an arena set­ting; Smith’s Grammy-win­ning Stay With Me from his 12m-sell­ing de­but al­bum In The Lonely Hour has be­come a 21st cen­tury gospel clas­sic (even though he ended up hav­ing to give some song-writ­ing cred­its to Tom Petty due to the sig­nif­i­cant re­sem­blance to I Won’t Back Down), while first sin­gle Too Good At Good­byes from last year’s The Thrill Of It All sim­i­larly builds to a im­mensely sat­is­fy­ing retro-soul crescendo.

On the sub­ject of awards, Smith won an Os­car for his stir­ring Bond theme tune for Spec­tre, Writ­ing’s On The Wall. It was the also the first Bond theme song to reach No.1 in the UK - which, given the com­pany it was in, is tes­ta­ment to Sam Smith’s vo­cal prow­ess, abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate deep emo­tion and huge pop­u­lar­ity.

And it’s also a nice link to Sun­day’s head­lin­ers, Guns N’ Roses, given it will be a ma­jor sur­prise if they don’t play their hugely pop­u­lar cover of Bond theme tune Live And Let Die. While it’s not their song, it some­how says ev­ery­thing about Axl Rose’s band of repro­bates; hard-rock­ing, grandiose, bom­bas­tic and, well, great fun.

Though it hasn’t al­ways seemed like be­ing in Guns ’N Roses has been great fun for the band them­selves, with break-ups and break-downs a com­mon oc­cur­rence. Still, the deluxe reis­sue of 1987 de­but Ap­petite For De­struc­tion ear­lier this year re­minded ev­ery­one just how thrilling and raw this LA band were back in the day. “A doc­u­ment of rock & roll per­fec­tion,” trum­peted Rolling Stone, and for once it’s dif­fi­cult to ar­gue with the hy­per­bole. An in­cred­i­ble com­bi­na­tion of Led Zep­pelin, The Who, Rolling Stones and any num­ber of punk bands, Sweet Child O’Mine might have been de­stroyed by karaoke ubiq­uity but Guns ’N Roses could ef­fec­tively play this record from start to fin­ish in Abu Dhabi, per­form Novem­ber Rain and Live And Let Die as an en­core and ev­ery­one would go home happy.

In­deed, the days when they rarely sent fans home happy – con­stantly turn­ing up late for shows or cut­ting them short – seem to have come to a mer­ci­ful end with a sober Slash back in the band, and “ev­ery­body get­ting along great.” Ap­par­ently, as a big petrol head, Rose ac­tu­ally asked to play in Abu Dhabi. Which means that for one night in Novem­ber, it will def­i­nitely feel like Par­adise City.

Guns ’N Roses

The Weeknd

Post Mal­one

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