The Best Acts to See Every Day at Governors Ball 2021

Here's what indie rock, pop, and rap acts are a must-see this year at the NYC fest.

carly rae jepsen performing live
Carly Rae Jepsen at Primavera Sound 2019 | Xavi Torrent/WireImage/Getty Images
Carly Rae Jepsen at Primavera Sound 2019 | Xavi Torrent/WireImage/Getty Images

New York: It's the moment you've been waiting for. Despite this year's delayed festival season being in full swing since July and other major cities like Chicago holding a handful of big fests like Lollapalooza and Pitchfork Festival, the Big Apple had to patiently wait for the return of its resident music festival, Governors Ball. Now, Gov Ball is nearly upon us—acting as a three-day summer send-off from Friday, September 24 to Sunday, September 26.

This year, Gov Ball moves to Citi Field, which is where the festival's promoter Founders Entertainment held their other event, The Meadows, in 2016 and 2017. That means things might be a little different than other years, but at least you can take the 7 train directly there instead of walking across the bridge to Roosevelt Island. (Fingers crossed there won't be a torrential downpour, which the fest has a reputation for inviting in the spring.) One thing's for sure, though, and that's that the lineup is as eclectic as ever, pulling a variety of A-list names across indie, pop, hip-hop, and rap. Once you scope out what can't-miss local food vendors will be there and make sure you have all of the entry requirements like your vaccination card prepared, it's time to turn your attention to the real draw to the event. Below, we break down who you absolutely must see at every day at the three-day fest.

Who to see at Governors Ball on Friday

The local act to see

When: 12:45-1:30 at the GOVBALLNYC Stage
Could you use a new boy band in your life? These five New York natives met and started collaborating in high school just a few years ago are revitalizing the boy band, inspired by the the charismatic, genre-defying plays from Brockhampton. The multi-instrumentalists dip into just about every sound—pop-rock, hip-hop, R&B and jazz—to create something that's distinctly sunny and youthful. It's the perfect set to start out your festival weekend.

The must-see indie rock act

Bartees Strange
When: 2:15-3:00 at the Honda Stage
There aren't too many indie rock bands on the Gov Ball lineup this year, but Bartees Strange is one of the few guitar acts—and he's a powerhouse. Honestly, it's possible you'll be overwhelmed by how captivating his gruff, soulful voice is, and his loud, brash guitars are a whirlwind. He'll absolutely capture the exciting live experience you've been craving.

The biggest conflict of the day

Leon Bridges and EARTHGANG
When: 3:50-4:40 at the GOVBALLNYC Stage and the Honda Stage
As you hit the midday festival daze, are you looking to get serenaded or get amped up? That's the question you'll have to ask yourself with singer-songwriter Leon Bridges and rap duo EARTHGANG's competing set times. Leon Bridges is a nostalgic crooner making music resonant of '50s and '60s soul, and his romantic voice will absolutely make you swoon. EARTHGANG also pulls from soul, but their sound imagines the soul of the future, tapping into funk and a whole lot of hip-hop. Hailing from Atlanta and co-founders of the collective Spillage Village, they've been compared to Outkast. Both acts are great, so the choice is yours based on the ideal mood alone.

For your dose of yeehaw (and if you miss Leon Bridges)

Orville Peck
When: 4:40-5:30 at the Grubhub Stage
You're gonna want to giddy-up on over to Orville Peck's set because he's one of the most interesting contemporary cowboys in country. He would especially be worth seeing if you miss Leon Bridges, considering he similarly has an affinity for music of the past. Although his true identity is unknown (he performs behind a fringed mask), he's been lauded for making country western more queer. His tunes are dark, moody, and delivered with a Johnny Cash-inspired twang, so he'll have you feeling like a real outlaw.

The weekend's must-see headliner

Billie Eilish
When: 8:45-10:00 at the GOVBALLNYC Stage
Just a few years ago, Billie Eilish played an afternoon set at one of the smallest stages at Gov Ball. Now, she's one of the biggest stars in the world and headlining Friday night. It was inevitable: Her voice is pristine, and her alt-pop songwriting is original and connects. Her set should highlight both her debut and recent, more somber sophomore album, and no matter what song she's performing, you can expect "Bad Guy" to make the crowd of her cult-like fans to lose their mind (and probably get really emotional).

megan thee stallion performing live
Megan Thee Stallion at Made In America Festival 2021 | Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation

Who to see at Governors Ball on Saturday

The small font act to see

When: 2:15-3:00 at the Honda Stage
Phoebe Bridgers recently launched her own label, Saddest Factory, and the three-piece indie pop band MUNA is one group she plucked to be a part of her roster. The queer band makes synth-heavy dark pop that's drenched in sentimentality, managing to inspire optimism even as it explores heartbreaking themes. Their 2019 album, Saves the World, is a gem, and they recently released a lovely single, "Silk Chiffon," so new music is imminent. With Bridgers in their camp, they're bound to blow up.

The act who should really be headlining

Megan Thee Stallion
When: 5:30-6:30 at the GOVBALLNYC Stage
Why isn't Megan Thee Stallion headlining? Unclear. But she should be! The rapper performs like none other and her rapid ascent over the past couple years has been a thrill to see. With her lively mega-hits, her set will be one of the most fun of the entire weekend. Don't be afraid to dance and shake that body-ody-ody.

One of indie pop's brightest stars

King Princess
When: 4:40-5:30 at the Bacardí Stage
Mark Ronson's been working closely with King Princess, the pop project of Brooklyner Mikaela Mullaney Straus, for the past couple years. It makes perfect sense: She's a pop innovator who spikes her sound with funk, her seductive, smokey voice, and queerness. Her latest single, "House Burn Down," sees the singer infusing her sound with more rock elements and guitars. She's known to perform with a certain prowess, so she's guaranteed to put on a great show.

The biggest conflict of the day

Aminé and Phoebe Bridgers
When: 6:30-7:30 at the Grubhub Stage and the Bacardí Stage
Aminé and Phoebe Bridgers make very different music, but they're two very exciting talents in their respective lanes, so it's a bummer they're performing in the same slot. The Portland-bred rapper makes a poppy brand of rap that mixes trap beats with his quick, often melodic delivery. You may have seen Aminé perform at Governors Ball before, since he was there in 2018. If that's the case, you should make it a mission to see Phoebe Bridgers. There's a reason the folk-influenced singer-songwriter has skyrocketed to fame and has a devout following of self-proclaimed sad girl and sad boy fans. Her voice is angelic and those confessional lyrics are simply poetic. See her and embrace the flow of tears that her words inspire.

The act that'll get you dancing (and to see if you miss Aminé)

J Balvin
When: 7:30-8:45 at the Honda Stage
Despite Latin music being one of the biggest, most successful facets of the music industry and international artists increasingly breaking over into American audiences, festivals haven't necessarily reflected that on their lineups. So, it's pretty exciting that reggaeton star J Balvin has the pre-headlining slot at Gov Ball. You can expect him to bring the heat and get you dancing with his fast-paced hits that lure your hips into a rhythmic sway. If you miss out on the fun of Aminé's set, be sure to catch Balvin.

young thug performing live
Young Thug at Made in America Festival 2021 | Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation

Who to see at Governors Ball on Sunday

The small font act to see

Faye Webster
When: 1:30-2:15 at the Grubhub Stage
There's simply no better way to kick off the early afternoon on the final day of the Fest. Atlanta's Faye Webster makes something totally unique with her indie folk that manages to also touch alt-country and R&B. It's simply delightful and chill. She's one of music's brightest, and her bashful songwriting is sure to dazzle you. Her recent album I Know I'm Funny haha is full of charming, cheeky gems.

The NYC native to see

Princess Nokia
When: 2:15-3:00 at the GOVBALLNYC Stage
Just like Princess Nokia sings in her latest single, "It's not that [her] fault that [she's] that bitch." The NYC-born-and-raised rapper's been pushing boundaries since she was coming up in the LGBTQ+ nightlife scene in the city, and still does in each one of her tracks. Her beats range from punk-inspired to R&B, but her confident delivery and outspoken bars are always what's at the forefront of her music.

The pop star of tomorrow

Caroline Polachek
When: 3:00-4:00 at the Grubhub Stage
If you're at all interested in where the pop landscape is going, you'll want to check out Caroline Polachek. She just got tapped to join Dua Lipa on tour, and it seems likely that the singer-songwriter will be leading her own major tour soon enough. Polachek actually used to front the duo Chairlift and co-write for other artists, but upon one listen, you'll be shocked she hasn't been the one in the spotlight. Her voice is ethereal, accompanying stylish electro-pop, and feels as if it's capable of putting a spell on you.

The best in bubblegum pop

Carly Rae Jepsen
When: 6:00-7:00 at the Honda Stage
The past year and a half has been tough for everyone, but if there's one person who can single-handedly fill your life with joy and warm, fuzzy feelings again, it's Carly Rae Jepsen. Her bubblegum pop that's influenced by '80s synth-pop is like rainbows, butterflies, and first kisses personified. "Cut To The Feeling" of you at her set: Yeah, that's pure euphoria you'll be experiencing!

The biggest conflict of the day

Jamie XX and Young Thug
When: 7:00-8:00 at the Grubhub Stage and the Bacardí Stage
Young Thug and Jamie XX are both extremely cool, and the fact that they're playing the exact same spot means mourning the extremely lost opportunity of them performing their banger collaboration "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)" together. (Seriously, why didn't they at least cater to this possibility?) Thugger may have helped popularize this generation of rappers' melodic, slurred sound, but he constantly keeps his audience on their toes. His trap-influenced hits are woozy and lavish, and you can count on him to work the stage like it's a catwalk, considering what a style icon he is. As for Jamie XX, it's been a minute since the producer released a breadth of new material, but it's undeniable 2015's In Colour still goes. You'll certainly catch a vibe from his sleek, minimal electronic tracks, and likely catch a glimpse of what new releases are coming. With these two, the only logical option is catching a portion of each of their sets.

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Sadie Bell is the entertainment associate editor at Thrillist. She's on Twitter and Instagram.