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Bakar Talks Virgil Abloh, Stopping Traffic For Art And More At Lollapalooza 2023

Written by on August 7, 2023

Pictured above: London artist Bakar captivates listeners at the Tito’s Handmade Vodka Stage on the afternoon of August 6, during day four of Lollapalooza 2023. Owen Ziliak/Chicago Sun-Times

For UK artist Bakar, making great art often comes with some sacrifices. At least, that’s what he said about stopping traffic while filming the music video for his single “Alive!” Following his Lollapalooza debut, Bakar met with Vocalo’s Nudia Hernandez to discuss the video, plus his collaborations with Virgil Abloh and a new album coming soon.

London artist Bakar performed his first-ever Lollapalooza set on the rainy afternoon of August 6. As he held the mic out to a sea of people at the festival’s Tito’s Handmade Vodka Stage, the audience-turned-choir sang out lyrics to his hit 2019 single “Hell n Back.” 

With well over 300 million plays on Spotify, skyrocketing in popularity on TikTok, the single accounts for only a fraction of Bakar’s artistry. First appearing on the scene in 2015, anonymously sampling UK artists Bombay Bicycle Club and King Krule on Soundcloud, Bakar’s following has multiplied rapidly over the past eight years. The genre-bending artist has received praise from icons including Elton John and Erykah Badu, opened for Travis Scott and was highlighted on The Tonight Show  — though he tries not to let it get to his head.

“You can get complacent from those things,” he explained. “I think I’ve been guilty of that … You just got to fight against that and just take it as it comes and be grateful and blessed and accept it … Let it come and let it go.”

Bakar and his band perform for a packed crowd at Lollapalooza on the rainy afternoon of August 6. Owen Ziliak/Chicago Sun-Times

Even still, the artist notes one of his proudest accomplishments was working with the late Chicago icon Virgil Abloh to create the physical CD for his 2022 album Nobody’s Home. Though the two had a creative relationship of only a few years, they collaborated frequently; Abloh was a champion of Bakar’s music, and Bakar walked in two of Alboh’s Louis Vuitton runway shows in 2019, during Abloh’s time as menswear artistic director for the fashion house.

“He was just a great supporter, man. All in all, he was a great supporter,” Bakar reflected. “He gave me so much confidence in [those moments], because he was the man. Still is the man.”

This year, Bakar again made waves in the London scene with “Alive!” — the lead single from his upcoming album Halo – literally stopping traffic in Piccadilly Circus (London’s equivalent to Times Square) while dancing through the streets for its music video.

“We stopped the traffic, for real. And everyone was really beeping at us and honking their horn,” he recalled. “I was a little bit nervous. But like, I like being nervous.”

Leading up to Halo’s September 1 release, Bakar is set to perform at internationally-renowned music festivals Reading and Leeds, plus Dutch Lowlands Festival and Belgian festival Pukkelpop.

After kicking off his August festival circuit at Lollapalooza on August 6, Bakar met with Vocalo’s Nudia Hernandez backstage to talk the making of “Alive!,” delve deeper into his connection with Virgil Abloh and touch on how some things in life are more important than dressing well.

Nudia Hernandez: Hey, it’s Nudia in the Afternoons here on Vocalo Radio 91.1 FM, your NPR Music station. Backstage with someone who just got off stage, we have Bakar with us. Hello!

Bakar: What’s going on, how are you? 

NH: I’m doing great. How are you?

B: I’m doing amazing. Thank you for asking.

NH: Your first Lolla set. How was it?

B: It was fresh. It was very refreshing, because Lollapalooza is a refreshing festival. For us, anyway. So yeah, I had a great time.

Making his debut at Lollapalooza on August 6, London artist Bakar is gearing up for the release of his new album Halo on September 1. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

NH: It was your first time here. I mean, Lollapalooza is a legendary festival here in America. Is it overseas as well?

B: I love music. So like, I know what this festival is. I’ve heard of it before, yeah.

NH: I know you’re from over the pond. But okay, where exactly are you from? 

B: From London. 

NH: Okay, London. 

B: Yeah, Camden Town. 

NH: I have to ask… We have a lot of legendary stuff to get to, because you’ve done a lot of really cool stuff. But my most important question is, I was watching the “Alive!” music video and it gave me so much anxiety. Was that real? Did you really stop traffic in the middle of the street like that?

B: It was real. Because, I’ll be honest with you, where we filmed that was Piccadilly Circus, and if you’re gonna get a permit to shoot [there], it’s gonna cost you. It’s like shooting in Times Square. So like, it’s not gonna happen, or it’s gonna cost you, like, a million pounds. So no, yeah, we just did it on some like, yeah, we stopped the traffic, for real. And like, everyone was really beeping at us and honking their horn, and yeah.

NH: You didn’t feel bad? Like, what if someone was trying to get to work and you stopped it? There was a bus!

B: For the art, man! Everyone’s got to understand. And you know what, it’s funny because it was people that was in that crowd that like, people made TikToks and people sent us videos of … they walked past and they were like, “What the f**k?” And then the video would come out, and then they were like, “Oh, okay!” But I was a little bit nervous. But like, I like being nervous. Anyway, but we did it. We shot it on film, so we knew we only had four takes, because that was like the length for the rolls of film that we had. The first time we did it, I completely choked. Yeah. Because I had certain cues and stuff, because we had lightly rehearsed it in another location. And the first time we did, I completely just choked and forgot, cuz all these people are swarming, watching me… and so I just forgot all of my cues.

NH: And someone was banging on your door. Like, that was all real? 

B: No, that guy was with us. Yeah. That guy was with us. We had a little, couple things that we wanted to blend into it so it felt, you know, but we had to, you know what I’m saying? We’re trying to make a movie. But I would say 98% of what was there was all, just happened as it happened. 

NH: Do you want to say sorry to those people? 

B: No! No, like I said, it’s for the art. For great things to be made, some sacrifices sometimes also have to be made. So, no, I’m very unapologetic about that. 

NH: So if you were late for work, it was for the art.

B: Everyone’s got a story to tell.

Bakar performs tracks including hit single “Hell n Back” at Lollapalooza 2023. Owen Ziliak/Chicago Sun-Times

NH: I love that. And, I mean, you’ve got, I don’t even know where to start. I mean, the song “Alive!” – I don’t know if I’m in my soft girl era or whatever, but that song really touched me, I almost, I got emotional the first time I heard it. I feel like it’s the type of song everyone needs to hear, no matter what age you are, no matter what type of music you like to listen to. There’s a way that I interpret it, but when you made the song, what was your intention?

B: I didn’t have an intention. My intention was just to write the best song I could write in that moment. But like, “Alive!” is one of those songs that just comes to you. I can’t even really remember making it that clearly. And those tend to be the coolest ones. But like, it just kind of wrote itself. It’s quite cliché, but it just came. I remember writ– actually, no, I’m lying. Now it’s just coming to me. I remember riding the verse on my sofa at home. And I remember writing that verse and being really impressed with myself. It was like a pat-on-the-back moment. I was like, “That’s a cool verse,” and like I don’t normally, like nowadays I don’t really write outside of the studio or outside of wherever I’m working. So, for me, to write that verse outside, and then I remember thinking, “Oh, I can’t wait to go and record this.” I love having that feeling of like, “Oh my god, I can’t wait to record this.” So I had that, but the intention was really just to make whatever needed to be made at that moment, like whatever you believe in telling you to make whatever you needed to make in that moment.

NH: I love that. And I always have this question, because your song “Hell N Back” went extremely viral on TikTok. But I always have a question when the sped-up version goes viral. Did you make the sped-up version? Who makes the sped-up version? 

B: Someone else made the sped-up version! And then the label ain’t f***ing around. So someone else made the sped up version, it also went hella viral. And then the label was like, “Alright, we’re putting our sped-up version out.” I’m like, “Do whatever you want.” But, yeah, man, I think all that sounds cool. You know, at first I’m a bit like, “Ehhh.” You know, naturally, I’m a bit like, “Eh.” Just my natural thing. I’m like, “We’ve got a version. It exists, let it be.” But I’m also like, if the people want it, the people want it.


halo coming soon 😇

♬ Hell N Back – Bakar

NH: So did you go through the TikToks? Because I mean, so many people made it to that song. Were you like, let me see what people are making to it? 

B: I’ll be honest, no. I’ll be honest, no, just because it’s kinda not mine anymore. In its own sense. So like, I don’t know how to articulate this. But long story short, no, I don’t. I don’t. Unless someone sends me a really funny one. You know what I mean? Then that’s how I’ll see it. But no, I don’t really go into that. I do go on TikTok, though. My TikTok algorithm is, like, incredible. I have the funniest TikTok algorithm … I wish I could get people to subscribe to my algorithm. Because my s**t is so …

NH: Send people your feed!

B: Yeah, because my feed is so funny. And my feed is so lit, honestly, like, so I just want to share that with people, because I’m like, the way TikTok has worked out what I like, I’m impressed. And I got a funny feed.

NH: I love that. Okay, so you don’t check out the TikToks. And I feel like, if people really have their own superpower, I feel like your superpower is – you ready for this? People just loving you. Like, big, inspirational, legendary people loving you almost immediately. 

B: If you say so! 

NH: Okay, because Elton John is a fan of you. Like, do you know what I’m saying?

B: No, that stuff is cool. That stuff is super cool. The Elton John [thing] was a little while ago, it was a couple years ago, but it was super cool. And it’s always nice to be acknowledged by people that you respect and looked up to and saw in a certain kind of space, and then you start to enter a certain kind of space within … your journey, and it’s definitely nice to be. But you know … you shouldn’t get caught up on it. That’s why I’m not trying to play it down cool. I just genuinely really feel like the message from that staff should be like, take it with a pinch of salt. Because it’s like, don’t go too high, don’t go too low. That’s kind of where I’m at with it. Even with my biggest, I’ve had some cool ones. Erykah Badu messaged me the other day, and told me that she loved my sound. And like, wow, I grew up listening to Erykah Badu. But again, like, never get too high, never get too low. Just keep on going. Just keep on going. Because you can get complacent from those things. I think I’ve been guilty of that. I think I’ve been guilty of having my heroes really like me, and then like me get a little bit like, “Oh, I made it!” kind of vibe. So I think you just got to fight against that and just take it as it comes and be grateful and blessed and accept it. But let it come and let it go. Yeah, that’s what I’ll say.

NH: I think that’s good advice. And I would love to talk about Virgil [Abloh], rest in peace. Rest in peace to Virgil.

B: Oh, wow. Yeah, Chicago. Yeah.

NH: Yeah. And you walked in both of his Louis Vuitton shows, right?

B: Yeah, I walked in a couple of them. I think he did like six or seven. But I walked in a couple of them, yeah. We worked, we did a bunch of stuff together. Wow. That’s crazy. I just realized that V is from Chicago and I’m in Chicago. I didn’t… It’s been a whirlwind of a couple days and I didn’t really take that in.

Bakar for Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton AW19 and Spring 2019 runway shows. Via Versus and Elle.

NH: Yeah, no, I mean, Virgil is a huge deal in Chicago.

B: There should be a statue of him here! What’s going on? Hurry up, Chicago! Or name a road or something after this man. We need, like, “Virgil Abloh Boulevard” or whatever you lot call them out here.

NH: And then he also, you guys collabed, he did a cover for your CD, which is so cool.

B: Coolest thing ever. That’s like the thing I’m most proud of, just in my short relationship that I had with him for a couple years. That’s the effect, because it was like a product and it was real life. It was tangible. I could hold it. You know, campaigns are fleeting. But I’ve got the CD. You know, it’s like we made it together. So that was really cool. But yeah, Chicago’s finest. Wow.

NH: And I mean, I thought it was cool that it was a CD, because it’s super rare now. And we checked out the cover, I was like, “This is so cool.” What did it feel like – he was even playing your album at the Louis Vuitton store, for a secret, like, red carpet party or whatever, right?

B: He was just a great supporter, man. All in all, he was a great supporter … of just stuff that he liked. And he gave me so much confidence in that moment, because he was the man. Still is the man. And he just gave me so much confidence, man, just from those moments that you’re speaking about. Playing my music, sharing it with people, yeah, just gave me a big leg up in what I do.

Bakar collaborated with Chicago icon Virgil Abloh to create the physical CD version of his February 2022 debut album Nobody’s Home. The album was released almost exactly three months following Abloh’s passing in November 2021.

NH: So you’ve accomplished so much, you’ve gotten to meet so many great people and collaborate, and some people, legendary icons. What do you kind of want to do next? I mean, I said, you’re so young, you played your first Lollapalooza show. What is kind of your next big goal? Do you have one?

B: To just keep growing. Keep growing and, honestly, my main goal is to get better at what I do, you know? That’s my main goal. I already think I’m pretty good, but I just want to keep pushing that. Just keep trying to get better. That’s my main goal. Because everything comes off the back of that, you know. I could say, there’s some little bits … that I want to tick off. But they’re all byproducts of me doing what I do as best as I can. As long as I can just continue to keep pushing myself to do that and never get, again, like I said before, get complacent and be too comfortable. I just need to always be uncomfortable and always be pushing the envelope on the sounds that I want to make and the songs that I want to write. So that’s my main thing. I just want to write the best songs possible, because everything comes off the back of that.

NH: Can we expect more music coming? Another album? What can we expect this year?

B: I’ve got an album coming out this year. It’s called Halo. It’s on the way, and it will be here very, very soon. And “Alive!” was the first single from that, from Halo. So Halo, man. It’s Halo world. Everything’s Halo, Halo, Halo, Halo. My friends are calling me “Lil Halo” right now. So that’s what I’m doing. That’s my new alias, “Lil Halo.” I went from “The Badkid” to “Lil Halo.” That’s the progression.

NH: I love that. And also, speaking of your friends, I loved, I heard this interview you did where, for a minute, because you’re kind of the fashion guy. You’ve gotten to work with a lot of great fashion houses. And you – I love this. This is how you know someone’s a good person. You tried to put your whole crew on. You were trying to have the whole squad threaded up. 

B: Yeah!

NH: And you said it didn’t go well?

B: Nah! You know what it is? It’s more like, my friends, we always have … and everyone always dressed great. But I think in the clip that you’re saying, what I was saying was…

NH: No, you said they dress horrible in that clip. 

B: No, I said some of my friends dress horribly! What I actually meant is that, like, when I was younger, I used to be the guy that wanted like, like, I wanted us to go to the party and I wanted everyone to look great. And if someone wasn’t, I would just kind of be like, “Yo, borrow these from me.” Or I would make jokes or whatever. But as you grow up and you’re just like, you just accept everyone for how they are. And that’s okay! That’s what I was saying. Okay, but yeah, of course, I got some friends who dress s**t. Some of them are over there! It is what it is. You know what I’m saying? But we move! And you also learn, as well, that there’s so much bigger, more important things in this world than clothes. And so I appreciate them for so many other things, other than their dress sense! But yeah, man. That’s funny, though, yeah.

Bakar chats with Vocalo’s Nudia Hernandez following his set at Lollapalooza 2023. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

NH: No, I love that clip. And thank you so much. Again, we’re backstage, Lollapalooza 2023, with Bakar. Congratulations, your first Lolla. And I know you said you want to catch the Red Hot Chili Peppers tonight.

B: Oh my god. That’d be amazing. Yeah, Anthony, the lead singer, he influenced me a lot. And anyone that’s listened to music can kind of hear it in there, and I’ve never seen them live, so I can’t wait. I hate that they’re making me pick between Lana and the Chili Peppers, but I have to just be loyal to what influenced me. So yeah, I’m gonna go to Chili Peppers tonight. I can’t wait! It’s gonna be amazing.

NH: Perfect. Well, thank you so much for chatting with us.

B: You are an amazing person. Because everyone asks s****y questions. She’s got it going on.

Keep up with Bakar on Instagram and TikTok, and listen to his music below.

Interview conducted by Nudia Hernandez

Audio editing and production by Morgan Ciocca

Video editing and production by Omi Salisbury

Portrait photos by Morgan Ciocca

Performance photos by Owen Ziliak (Chicago Sun-Times)

Written introduction, transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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