Coachella wants cellphones off
Coachella is getting back into the you-have-to-be-here business.
On Thursday night the annual music festival widely regarded as the planet’s most prestigious revealed the lineup for this year’s edition, set to take place April 10-12 and April 17-19 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. And though its headliners represent different musical traditions — rock’s Rage Against the Machine, hip-hop’s Travis Scott and R&B’s Frank Ocean — what links the three acts (beyond their gender) is the promise of an experience best had in person, not via the popular YouTube livestream that’s helped turn Coachella into a global brand.
For Rage, reforming this year after a nearly decade-long hiatus, the draw is right there in the band’s name: Nobody does guitar-driven political outrage like this furious Los Angeles foursome, whose previous appearance in Indio, in 2007, inspired a scarily intense mosh pit in front of Coachella’s main stage — and that was before anyone had any Donald Trump-related angst in need of exorcising.
Scott will provide a similar opportunity for release with his rowdy rap songs about partying as the world burns. (You haven’t understood the power — or the point — of Scott’s smash “Sicko Mode” until you’ve savored its steroidal effect from inside a crowd of thousands.) Then there’s Ocean, whose refusal to perform over the last few years only heightened memories of how transfixing this cerebral yet deep-feeling singer had become: Onstage at LA’s FYF Fest in 2017, as part of his last round of concerts, Ocean seemed to bring the entire audience into his mind — a feat of public intimacy few if any have equaled since.
Whatever ends up happening on the ground in April, Coachella’s top-of-the-bill emphasis on uniquely great live acts registers as a shift from last year’s show, when Childish Gambino and Ariana Grande put on carefully choreographed productions that felt designed for close inspection on YouTube and Instagram. In a sense, you couldn’t blame them for orienting their somewhat airless performances that way; both were following the unfollowable spectacle known as Beychella.
But the thing about Beyonce’s mind-blower of a 2018 set, which drew an unprecedented audience online and which the singer later turned into a Netflix movie, is that its filmability never came at the expense of the type of in-the-flesh thrills that festival-goers drive two hours to the desert — and pay a minimum of $429 — hoping to encounter. (Coachella’s first weekend has already sold out; passes for the second are set to go on sale Monday.)
This group of headliners grasps the durable value of proximity and spontaneity — a heartening development at a moment when an ever-growing number of streaming services are conspiring to keep you from leaving your house.
Which isn’t to suggest that Coachella, founded in 1999 by LA-based Goldenvoice, has gone old-fashioned as it enters its third decade. Apart from Rage Against the Machine — whose singer Zack de la Rocha and guitarist Tom Morello are, like Scott and Ocean, nonwhite men — the festival is going light on the rock reunions in which it once specialized. (Fatboy Slim and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke are about the only other prominent Gen Xers in the mix.) And as in recent years, hip-hop looms rightfully large, with Scott, Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Uzi Vert, DaBaby, 21 Savage, Big Sean, Brockhampton, Roddy Ricch and Denzel Curry all as high on the bill as DJs used to be back during the EDM boom.
After a well-received performance in 2019 by Blackpink, the first K-pop girl group to play Coachella, this year’s show will feature the return of Bigbang, the influential K-pop boy band whose members recently completed South Korea’s mandatory military service. 88Rising, an ambitious record label and management company focusing on Asian rap, will present its own showcase — an interesting new ripple in Coachella’s established programming stream.
Latin and Spanish-speaking pop is reasonably well-represented given its expanding place in the American mainstream — see Anitta, Omar Apollo, Banda MS and Cuco — though the festival might’ve done well to spring for a marquee hit-maker like Ozuna or even brought back Rosalia, who performed last year but has advanced quickly since then to find a spot in the international creative vanguard that Coachella is always seeking to embody.
Other glimmers in a lineup that stretches well past 100 acts: Lil Nas X and Orville Peck, two oddball country disrupters scheduled to play both Coachella and Goldenvoice’s roots-music festival Stagecoach, which goes down in the same spot a week after Coachella ends; Danny Elfman, the veteran film composer (and former Oingo Boingo frontman) whose appearance here follows Hans Zimmer’s two years ago; Rex Orange County and (Sandy) Alex G, two sensitive singer-songwriters doing beautiful work to redeem that tired job title; and 100 gecs, the merry digital-punk anarchists behind one of 2019’s most exciting debuts.
If you noticed the scarcity of women in that list, you’re not alone: Within hours of Coachella’s posting the 2020 lineup online, observers were pointing out that, after three consecutive years with a female artist among the headliners, the festival had taken a step back in terms of gender parity.
For the record, women scheduled to perform include FKA Twigs, Carly Rae Jepsen, Jessie Reyez, Marina, Charli XCX, Kim Petras, Summer Walker and Ari Lennox.
Oh, and Lana Del Rey, the hugely beloved LA scene queen whose “Norman F–-ing Rockwell!” just topped countless rundowns of last year’s best albums, is a second-tier act at Coachella.