Shortly after Coachella shared its 2018 festival lineup, the one festival lineup to rule them all, the former One Direction member Louis Tomlinson tweeted this:
Just seen the Coachella line up …. Where the fuck are all the bands !? It’s a festival !?
— Louis Tomlinson (@Louis_Tomlinson) January 3, 2018
The answer, of course, is that nobody at Coachella wants to see any fucking bands. (One exception might be Tomlinson’s old band, which only fits the loosest possible definition of the term “band.”) If you’ve been to the festival in recent years, you already know that rock bands basically don’t move the needle at all when it comes to that festival. Three years ago, when I was there, Brand New drew an enthusiastic throng, but they were the exceptions. I watched Jack White, billed as a headliner even though the Weeknd played last on the mainstage that night, playing to relative crickets. I went through the depressing experience of seeing legends like Swans, Drive Like Jehu, and Ride playing to maybe a couple of dozen people in enormous, airplane-hangar-sized tents. And I watched tens of thousands of kids lose their shit for Drake. If recent reports are anything to go on, that trend has only escalated. The kids who go to Coachella are not going for rock bands. And finally, for the first time, the lineup reflects that.
Five years ago, our own Chris DeVille wrote a piece about how festival-headlining rock bands are dying out. Now, the extinction is complete. This year’s Coachella headliners include two massive R&B stars, the Weeknd and Beyoncé, and one past-his-prime rap legend, Eminem. (New York’s Governors Ball, which also just announced its lineup, does have a couple of headlining rockers, Jack White and the reactivated Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But even with that festival leaning on the early-’00s return-of-the-rock wave, it seems clear that the real draws will be Eminem and the levelling-up Travis Scott.) The highest-billed rock bands on the Coachella poster are HAIM and Portugal. The Man, and even they don’t exactly sound like rock bands in the shredding-with-a-foot-up-on-the-amp sense. This is a lineup that, in a lot of ways, is actually tailored to the kids who buy Coachella tickets. And honestly, the thing that would’ve made it better is if they’d gone more pop-friendly. Eminem and the Weeknd both have hits for days, but they’re fairly uninspired choices; the festival could’ve made more of a statement by booking, say, Rihanna and Ariana Grande instead.
But the real fun of the Coachella poster isn’t in analyzing the headliners. It’s in picking through the merciless caste system outlined by those festival font sizes. So as we’ve done in previous years, let’s have a look at some of the stories that this year’s poster tells.
1. The most exciting performer is the one we’ve known about for a year. Beyoncé was all set to play last year’s festival, but then she got pregnant, and she had to drop out before the festival, making the incredibly sane call that it’s probably not a great idea to headline a festival in the desert when you have two human beings growing enormous inside of you. Beyoncé hasn’t played a full live show since she did that get-out-the-vote thing for Hillary Clinton in Cleveland in November 2016, which already feels like five lifetimes ago. Unless she releases something before then, her newest album will be two years old by the time she steps on that stage. It won’t matter. She’s still the brightest star on this entire festival, by far, and there’s no way her recent collaborators the Weeknd and Eminem can compete.
2. Jamiroquai? What the fuck? There are many confusing things about this poster, and we’ll get into some of them below. But the most confusing this is this: How in the motherfuck are noted British hat-wearers Jamiroquai all the way up in the #4 spot on Friday? This will be Jamiroquai’s first American show in a decade, sure, but also: Who cares? Jamiroquai have one hit! And that hit is 22 years old! Even if Coachella had existed in 1996, they wouldn’t have been that high on the bill! Maybe their particular form of slinky Gap-playlist soul is a bit more au courant than whatever their contemporaries were making, but there is just no goddam way they should be ranked in the same spot as Migos. It’s non-virtual insanity.
3. I guess it’s time to figure out who ODESZA is. Per Wikipedia: “Odesza is an American electronic music duo from Seattle consisting of Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight.” OK! They’re in the co-headliner spot, the spot that HAIM and SZA occupy on the other nights. That’s a big spot! That’s playing the big stage right before Eminem! And up until this moment, I have never heard a second of their music! I’ve seen them on a million festival posters, but they are now breathing rarefied air. A quick couple of streams tell me that their music is bubbly, inoffensive electro-pop that sounds a bit like Passion Pit. Have fun, kids! Other high-ranking acts that are basically complete mysteries to me: Illenium, Louis The Child, Los Àngeles Azules, LANY, Deorro. I have some research to do!
4. R.I.P., indie rock class of 2009. Jillian Mapes wrote a great recent Pitchfork piece about the changing of the guard that’s happening in indie rock right now, with last-decade stars like Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, and Broken Social Scene making low-impact returns while a younger, more diverse group of artists is outshining them at every turn. That’s pretty fucking evident in the Coachella poster. Fleet Foxes are the only big-in-’09 indie band to get a spot on this year’s lineup, and they’re a long way away from headliner status. (The younger indie bands aren’t exactly all over this thing, either, but most of them haven’t reached the point of festival ubiquity yet, and that’s mostly a good thing.)
5. Certain people have leveled the fuck up. HAIM were basically created in a lab with the express purpose of playing in the co-headliner spot at Coachella, so it’s heartening but not surprising to see them reach that new summit. It’s more surprising, however, to see SZA, who really became a star in the past year, ascend to that spot. And festival mainstays like St. Vincent, Vince Staples, Migos, Miguel, and Tyler, The Creator have climbed up into positions of new prominence. Good for them.
6. Certain people are way more popular than I thought. Congratulations are in order for Soulwax. They released an album last year, and I barely noticed, but they still apparently have enough clout to lead off line #3 on the Friday lineup. Similar congrats are also in order for Daniel Caesar, Kali Uchis, and maybe especially K-mart brand Lil Peep clone blackbear.
7. Certain people are way less popular than I thought. Condolences to Jack Antonoff, who produced half the big albums of 2017 and still couldn’t get Bleachers past the middle of line #4. Similar condolences are also in order for Moses Sumney, Alvvays, Flatbush Zombies, Helado Negro, Hundred Waters, and Cherry Glazerr. Also, chart domination is apparently not going to be enough to push Cardi B and Post Malone past the alt-Js of the world.
8. It’s just cool that certain people are even on the bill at all. Coachella is simply not the ideal place to see Priests, one of the greatest bands in the world today, but there they are, hidden all the way down on the bottom of the bill. It will not be the best Priests show ever, but I am jealous of those kids who will be hearing them for the first time. Similarly, it’s cool to see things like Japanese Breakfast, Snail Mail, Yaeji, Big Thief, Oh Sees, Princess Nokia, and Westside Gunn and Conway getting those Coachella paydays. Also, just the mental image of John Maus playing Coachella is beautiful. It’s going to be so weird!
9. Certain people are going to be great. The Coachella environment is a hard one to describe, but some of the acts on the bill are just made for it. Brockhampton, who are all bouncing euphoric energy, are going to slay. And if you’re going to be in the desert that weekend, you should also go out of your way to see Aminé, Kelela, Wizkid, Ibeyi, Moses Sumney, Flatbush Zombies, Kamaiyah, Jessie Ware, Yaeji, Oh Sees, and Princess Nokia; all of those sets have the potential to be something special. Vince Staples will be a conquering hero.
10. Certain people are going to look really, really out of place. I say this as someone who just does not get King Krule, but: King Krule at Coachella? What’s that going to be like? Droning spoken-word jazz poetry in the middle of the day, when it’s like 100 degrees out? Does anyone really need that in their lives? By that same token, A Perfect Circle will certainly draw their faithful, but the world that they’re returning to is not the world they left however many years ago. The War On Drugs and Angel Olsen are obviously great, and they’ll hopefully get the sunset spot on their respective days, but Coachella, of all festivals, isn’t really built for old souls like them. And as much as I love Westside Gunn and Conway, their bottle-to-the-face rap is going to seem a bit awkward at lunchtime, when kids are still filing in.
11. The depleted old-legends category is pretty strong. As previously outlined, this year’s Coachella is not even trying to draw in the old heads. But as token old-head offerings go, Jean-Michel Jarré, David Byrne, and Chic are all pretty fucking great. They are all aging pioneers who know how to adapt in an environment like this, and they all have a chance to blow some kids’ minds.
12. Which Belly is playing? It’s probably the nondescript Weeknd-affiliated rapper, right? And not the reunited fuzzed-out early-’90s alt-pop greats? If I’m right, though, there are definitely going to be a few confused and disappointed gen-Xers in that tent.
13. The “Classic Man” singalong is going to be beautiful. I happen to think Jidenna has a lot to offer the world beyond “Classic Man.” Thus far, the world has not agreed. However, there are few things more fun than being with a big group of drunk people singing along to “Classic Man.” So if you’re at Coachella, you should do that.
14. I’m not going to Coachella. I am 38 years old. You think I’m getting on a plane to see fucking ODESZA? Come on.