Courtesy of Ralph Arvesen via Wikimedia Commons

A year after its cancellation at the onset of the pandemic, Spring Splash 2021 made an impressive virtual return on Saturday, May 8. Despite being headlined by a prerecorded 21 Savage performance, the ASPB event still delivered dynamic performances by its supporting acts: the R&B sibling duet Chloe x Halle, DJ Madeon and Blxst. 

Blxst, who garnered attention after his breakout hit “Hurt,” kicked the night off with a minimalistic set that went well with the raw pleasantness of his music. The Los Angeles native set the tone for the night, producing straightforward, melodic beats accentuated by stirring lyricism like “Heart on my sleeve, but got a problem with wearin’ it.” It’s clear that Blxst is a gifted songwriter, but it’d be easy to overlook the head-bopping fuse he creates between R&B and rap. 

Up next was the self-taught duo Chloe x Halle. Although the instrumentals were largely relegated to audio output, the duo’s harmonies were enough to overcome any production mishaps. The stripped down aesthetic — nothing more than a tan backdrop and a pair of mics — helped to create a more intimate showing as the R&B sensations checked in with the live audience chat in between songs. The duo capped off their performance with an acoustic guitar rendition of “Busy Boy,” this time unaccompanied by any external instrumentals. 

What made the opening acts especially noteworthy were their respective backstories. When Blxst had his breakthrough with his hit single “Hurt,” he did so without a record label, and he continues to build his case as a lyrically gifted rapper. What began with song covers posted on YouTube, Chloe x Halle eventually earned the tutelage of Beyonce and went on to receive three Grammy Award nominations in 2020. While it’s much easier said than done, it’s a gentle reminder that humble beginnings still have the ability to produce real talent.

As Madeon entered the fold, the ambience began to feel more like a typical Spring Splash, with more uptempo dance music and electronic dance music, this time featuring a few perfectly placed Daft Punk samplings. What draws the most admiration for Madeon’s performance is his liveliness in spite of a faceless audience. In a job where most of the gratification comes from a crowd’s reaction, DJing in an empty room with that much enthusiasm is commendable at the very least. Madeon’s act also featured an insane combination of video effects that gave his performance a psychedelic visual to it. After wrapping up his set, the DJ played himself off to “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire, a fitting way to end the most entertaining act of the night. Madeon also displayed a versatile tracklist, even turning overplayed tunes like “Mr. Brightside” into a re-energized transition in between beat drops.  

Unfortunately, the event’s headlining performance failed to keep the momentum going. Although the British rapper did his best to maintain an animated disposition, it was not nearly enough to ignore the awkward set and an intrusive emcee. While the final set of the night still contained 21 Savage’s most well-known hits like “A Lot” and “No Heart,” the so-called hype man’s interjections were far more intrusive than they were excitatory.

Nevertheless, this year’s Spring Splash did enough for students to enjoy quality background entertainment, because let’s face it — no one is going to stream a concert full-length on the seat of a chair. Even so, the melodic R&B vibes accompanied by a stellar DJ performance make for a gratifying virtual experience.