Marshmello's packed show at Mardi Gras World was testament to the confectionary DJ's growing popularity across genres.

marshmello photo
Marshmello

Though everyone's pipes had burst the day before, enthusiastic fans streamed into Mardi Gras World on Thursday night to catch a set by electro-pop sensation, Marshmello.

The semi-anonymous DJ rocked a frenzied crowd with ecstatic, future-bass bangers and neon laser beams for nearly two hours. Happy-go-lucky dance hits punctuated dubstep screamers and floor-breaking trap remixes, all glazed with Marshmello’s signature sugar-flavored sound. Many DJs lose focus over the course of even a one-hour-long set, but Marshmello performed a show that kept the audience interested and energetic from start to finish. As expected, when Marshmello closed out the show with his number one hit, "Silence," the satisfied, sweat-soaked crowd sang along to every word.

Marshmello has been on meteoric rise since he first appeared in 2015, but the DJ/producer catches more flak than almost any other electronic act. Deadmau5 says he'd rather be associated with a pile of dog shit. Reviewers call his music "aggressively dumb." Critics judge Marshmello for making easy, uninventive music, but what they miss is that the Marshmello brand was designed to reach a broad audience in the most efficient way possible. 

Take his headgear: recognizable and fast becoming iconic, much like that of deadmau5. But unlike deadmau5, Marshmello doesn't cater to any single subculture. He produces music designed to bring almost every fan of dance music into his "#Mellogang.” It’s why he’s dipped into the pop and hip-hop worlds to produce his biggest hits, collaborating with such stars in their own right as Selena Gomez, Khalid, and Migos. It’s also why he’s started to use his own vocals in his music. The same tactic catapulted the Chainsmokers to pop stardom in 2016 and is paying off well for Marshmello, though he now faces many of the same criticisms leveled at The Chainsmokers. 

But Marshmello’s growing presence on the radio and the fields of premier music festivals indicates that all kinds of listeners are warming up to Marshmello’s new pop sound. Thursday night’s show was no exception. The usual EDM suspects were in attendance: the kids sucking on baby binkies near the back, and the frat dudes opening up violent mosh pit throughout the crowd. But the audience in attendance was largely comprised of the casual listeners across ages who would almost never find themselves at an EDM show. These fans engaged with Marshmello’s music with the same fervor as the moshers and kandi ravers. The entire crowd squeezed tight into the venue trying to get as close as they could to the sugar-coated DJ.

Marshmello played a set worthy of the headlining spot on Thursday night, but nothing captured the spirit of the show quite like his introduction. As the lights went dark, a video flickered onto the big screen and the camera came into focus on the title DJ seated in a chair. As the camera zoomed in, Marshmello reached up and began to remove his mask. The audience wondered collectively, Is this the moment that we’ve all been waiting for, the moment we learn the true identity of the DJ?

The helmet came up to reveal Will Ferrell sporting the same white-on-white getup as the confectionary DJ. Ferrell admitted that he had been behind the mask this whole time. The audience went ballistic, although Marshmello played a similar game at last year’s Electric Daisy Carnival when Tiesto removed the helmet and revealed himself to be Marshmello as well. 

The presence of such stars stokes playful intrigue around the DJ's anonymity and proves that he’s big enough to get stars as big as Ferrell and Tiesto to join in. The game he plays with his identity signals to fans and critics that he shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Before the real Marshmello took the stage, Ferrell asked the crowd the question every listener of EDM suspects about electronic artists: “Are you guys ready to watch my pre-recorded set?” Not surprisingly, his fans eat up the comedy like, well, a bag of marshmallows.

No one is accusing Marshmello of producing innovative music, and he’s not claiming that for himself. Critics bemoan his growing permanence on the festival circuit, and his refusal to settle into--and excel in--one definable genre. But that’s not why people listen to Marshmello. They come for fun, easy hooks they can sing with friends in the car and strangers at a show. Marshmello cares more about inclusivity than orthodoxy, and because of that, more listeners join the Mellogang everyday.