When the Coachella Festival, the first of America’s big summer festivals, announces its lineup every year, those of us who don’t go to the festival every year — and, presumably, some of those who do — like to play a little game called Font Size Confusion. Coachella has kept the same format for its posters — bigger bands up top in bigger fonts, going all the way down to tiny microscopic scribbles of bands you’ve never heard of. And because of the cold, merciless calculation that goes into its font size calculation, the people at Coachella always have to get a good idea of what’s a big draw and what’s not. Sometimes, they get things wrong; 2 Chainz, smallish on last year’s poster, apparently drew a crowd way too big for the stage he was playing. Also last year there was some confusion over Blur and the Stone Roses’ billings (they ended up swapping set times on the second weekend). Most of the time, though, it’s on the rest of us to puzzle out what, exactly, is going on with these posters — which bands are apparently way more popular than we realized, and which bands are apparently way less. (Then there’s also the fun question of why certain bands didn’t get booked.) So with this year’s lineup officially out there, let’s get into the winners and losers of this year’s poster.
The biggest winner for this year is, of course, the entire human race, since OutKast is now back together and getting ready to stand on stages and perform in front of people. This is phenomenal news with no downside, and if I do make it out to the desert this year, OutKast will be the primary reason why it’s happening. The other two headliners, Arcade Fire and Muse, are obviously hugely important bands with gigantic fanbases; it’s not a Phoenix situation where you’re like, “But wait, are they really festival headliners?” Further down the poster, though, things get a bit more confusing.
I had a bit of fun with this on Twitter last night, but judging by those font sizes, there are a few bands on that Coachella bill who are way more popular than I realized. Broken Bells, who I mostly think of as a half-interesting side project who don’t merit much consideration, are apparently large enough to deserve the spot right next to the reunited Replacements. Foster The People, years removed from their one hit and weighed down by a terrible live reputation, are still a bigger deal than, say, Nas or MGMT. Warpaint are a font size up from Solange. Disclosure, who I love and whose live show is fun as hell, are still a bit of a puzzler when I see them listed between Neutral Milk Hotel and Lana Del Rey. Other winners: Little Dragon, Kid Cudi, Beady Eye, A$AP Ferg, Shlohmo, semi-obscure reunited Brit-punks the Toy Dolls. And then there are all the people I’ve never heard of at all, who I am forced to assume are hugely popular dance DJs in some other corner of the music-fan multiverse. Get that money, Martin Garrix!
And then there are the losers — the people who, I would’ve thought, should be way higher on the bill than they are. The Dismemberment Plan, for instance, have been reunited for a few years now, and their last album wasn’t all that, but they’re still one of the great indie rock bands of indie’s last truly underground word-of-mouth moment, and they deserve better than tiny-font oblivion. The Cult are decades deep into a rock-anthem-factory career, and they’ve never entirely gone out of style, and yet here they are right next to motherfucking Bastille. Bryan Ferry sang “More Than This,” but that is apparently not enough to catapult him past Bonobo. Other font-size underachievers include Chance The Rapper, J. Roddy Walston & The Business, Blood Orange, Dum Dum Girls, Wye Oak, and Frank Turner.
And then there are, of course, those artists who didn’t get booked at all — who you’d assume would be there but who aren’t. It’s weird, for instance, to have a legacy act like Motörhead on the bill but to neglect currently-vital metal bands like Kvelertak, Windhand, Kylesa, Inter Arma, Power Trip, and, especially, Deafheaven, who honestly should’ve been a lock. Similarly, the entire “emo revival,” which seems like straight-up Coachella-bait, is absent. Drake might not be on that headliner level yet, but he’s perfect for the second-from-the-top Beck spot. And plenty of other artists seem to be poised for big years but aren’t on this poster: Against Me!, Sky Ferreira, Migos, Fucked Up, the Hold Steady, Giorgio Moroder, Katy B, Robyn, Julian Casablancas, St. Vincent, TV On The Radio, and Speedy Ortiz.
Other questions worth asking: How’s that Arcade Fire dress code supposed to work? And are the Knife going to switch up their breathtakingly pretentious performance-art live show? Because I saw that thing in Sweden and I can’t imagine American audiences will be OK with it.
Commenters! What about this year’s poster seemed weird to you? And who were you surprised to see omitted?