By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jun 30, 2023 at 1:06 PM Photography: Dan Garcia

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By most standards and metrics, Coi Leray's Summerfest performance at the UScellular Connection Stage on Thursday night wasn't very good.

The chart-climbing "Players" singer only hit the stage for about 30 minutes – after going on more than 20 minutes past the scheduled time, though that's the fault of stormy weather earlier in the day pushing everything back – and an early portion of that time was spent dealing with technical woes. The set struggled to find its rhythm or flow as the rapper/popstar zipped through truncated minute-long segments of songs – each one punctuated with a punishingly loud and punishingly repetitive "BWIIIAAAAAAAAMM!" airhorn from the DJ booth that might've singlehandedly cleared out the wildfire smoke in the air by the end of the evening. There were prolonged on-stage tangents – and did I mention the headliner performed for just a half-hour? Because some people's cocktails in the crowd might've outlasted the show. 

And yet ... I can't say I had a bad time. And I can't say Coi Leray was bad, coming off like a star on the UScellular Connection Stage even if the show itself didn't shine so bright.

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After her DJ warmed up the crowd and got the audience to light the stage with their phone lights and chant the headliner's name, a hype video intro filled with tweets and clips finally brought the rising star onto the stage. Joined by about a half-dozen back-flipping dancers, Leray energetically started the night off with the likes of "TWINNEM" – or about maybe half of "TWINNEM," as the DJ's horn cut the song short before even Leray seemed ready. Perhaps she actually wasn't, as she told the crew and the crowd that she was struggling to hear the music on stage. While the glitch was worked on, though, Leray kept the audience involved, briefly filling time on stage with charming banter and genuine energy.

After that issue got worked out – or at least worked out well enough – Leray enthusiastically got the crowd back moving with "Fly Sh!t" and the "Pump Up the Jam"-sampling David Guetta collaboration "Make My Day." The songs, like many in this TikTok era, are remarkably short, but the renditions Thursday night felt even more so – though maybe they have to be clipped because Leray works so hard during them. The vibrant dance crew and flashy graphics on the screen behind the stage were welcome elements, but her stage presence and charisma effortlessly commanded and claimed the stage, no extra help necessary, constantly moving, dancing, singing, smiling and playing with the crowd – who happily returned the favor much to Leray's mid-set delight. 

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The set continued with the likes of "Blick Blick" and "Baby Don't Hurt Me" – another David Guetta-aided track – all engaging and energetically performed but all run through too fast to give the night any flow. Everytime a song really started to get you moving, it was time for another piercing "BWIIIAAAAAAAAMM!" screech and off to a new track. But though the songs were short and the overall set even shorter, Leray's sweat-inducing on-stage effort made it feel like the crowd was getting their money's worth. Plus her unpolished but playful tangents – like getting her lashes and makeup fixed on stage or riffing on the massive sweat towel provided for her, gleefully joking, "I could make an outfit out of this!" before hurling it into the eager mitts in the audience – made it hard to hold anything against her. Leray was clearly having fun, so the crowd had no qualms following suit. 

After dancing her way through "Bops" – fittingly, a jangly bop – and marveling at the attractiveness of the crowd, Leray took things down a notch, pulling out a stool to croon out her latest hit, the Metro Boomin-produced "Self Love" off of the popular "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" soundtrack. The singer got pleasantly lost in the moody song's universe by the end, continuing to sing the tune's smooth yet staccato hook long after the beat and backing track had stopped. 

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That hypnotic tranquility wouldn't last long, though – time for a t-shirt toss! After peppering the two-thirds-filled bleachers with free swag, the singer announced her final song of the night: predictably "Players," her smash hit that she happily humblebragged about during its intro. And in a rarity on Thursday night, the version performed at the UScellular Connection Stage went longer than the original as Leray closed out the song and the night with an extended final dance break, using the whole stage and earning the last ecstatic applause – and the last ecstatic bursts from the stage's confetti and smoke cannons. (The latter unfortunately wafting and hanging right into my section of the crowd – because apparently fate decided my lungs and eyes somehow hadn't had enough haze this week.)

Unfortunately, though, that was indeed that after just about 30 minutes. Bad news for fans and those wanting a more full show – but great news for the Sound Waves Stage still audibly roaring and raging next door, quickly drawing crowd members far from finished with the night even if Leray already was. 

In the end, Coi Leray's Summerfest set was a lot like watching an NBA top draft pick's first season: a lot of exciting talent and enthusiasm and promising all-star potential on clear display, even if in a technically losing effort. Sure, Thursday was maybe a bit of an L – but with Leray's talent and current career trajectory, it's hard not to see Ws coming in her future. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.