Lil Nas X, Carly Rae Jepsen, And Muna Played Headliner-Worthy Sets At ACL Fest 2022

The Austin City Limits Music Festival is, like the majority of music festivals, made up of several stages. Unlike most festivals, however, there’s a literal divide between the biggest stages and a smaller stage in the form of a road. But don’t let the size of the Barton Springs Stage, named after the best spot to take a dip and go sunbathing in the Texas capitol, fool you: it hosted two of the best performances during ACL Fest 2022.

Muna and Carly Rae Jepsen were booked only for weekend one of the two-weekend festival, but both acts brought enough energy to last several weeks. Muna is a force for good in this world, with members Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson preaching joyfulness and tolerance, especially for the LGBTQ+ community. They also make powerfully infectious indie-pop. On the energetic “What I Want,” Gavin regrets that she’s spent “too many years” not knowing what she wants, but she’s “gonna make up for it all at once.” That’s the kind of energy Muna brought to the mid-afternoon set; it was a safe space for dancing on your own.

That was true for Carly Rae Jepsen, too. The beloved-yet-still-underappreciated pop icon is touring behind her sixth album, The Loneliest Time, which comes out this Friday. (Yes, the same day as Taylor Swift’s new album, as she joked during the show.) She played six songs from the record, including the jubilant single (and hopefully a setlist mainstay) “Talking To Yourself” and the live debut of the title track, her yearning duet with Rufus Wainwright. But the biggest pops from the packed, eager crowd were for “Run Away With Me,” the best song on her best album (and for my money, the best pop album of the 2010s); the bluntly horny “Want You In My Room”; and “Cut To The Feeling,” the euphoric set closer. “Sing along with me! Because it is, in fact, the law,” Jepsen joked before launching into “Call Me Maybe,” her breakout single that’s better than 98 percent of all pop music but is only her, like, 12th best song. Speaking of queer icons who have defied the “one-hit wonder” label they were nearly imprisoned by…

Lil Nas X’s hour-long set was structured in three acts, REBIRTH, TRANSFORMATION, and BECOMING, complete with costume changes, backup dancers, and a prop golden horse. The rapper and social media expert is much more than his record-setting biggest hit, with four other singles that have cracked the Billboard Hot 100 top-10, but it was still a risky move to not save “Old Town Road” for the end of the set. Instead, it appeared during Act 1, potentially risking a mass exodus once the casual festival audience heard the one song they were for (this, sadly, happened for Carly Rae post-”Call Me Maybe”).

But, at least around me, no one moved. Everyone was there for Lil Nas X’s full set, not one song. The patience paid off: he delighted the crowd with a spirited and strained-voice rendition of “That’s What I Want,” interpolations of “Get Ur Freak On” by Missy Elliott and “Pony” by Ginuwine (with pelvic thrusts, naturally), and stage designs seemingly inspired by Lisa Frank folders and Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. Near the end of the show, the background screen read, “Long live Montero.” Long live Lil Nas X.

At one point, Lil Nas X acknowledged that he hadn’t played in Austin since 2019. “If I don’t see y’all for another three years,” he added, “I hope y’all have the motherf*cking best years of all time.” At the very least, Lil Nas X, along with Muna and Carly Rae Jepsen, gave three of the motherf*cking best sets at ACL 2022.

The ACL Music Festival will return to Austin on October 6-8 and 13-15 in 2023.