26 Thoughts On The Coachella 2022 Poster
It’s a tradition like no other. Every year, Coachella unveils its poster to great social-media pomp and circumstance. And every year, I write a long and ridiculous Stereogum piece about all the tiny narratives embedded within that poster. Or that’s what used to happen, anyway. When Coachella announced its lineup last night, it was the first Coachella poster in two years. The last time that Coachella revealed its poster, the actual festival didn’t happen. Maybe this festival won’t happen, either! We could have another five or six COVID variants circulating by April! Nobody knows anything anymore!
Whether or not you have any designs on attending the festival, the Coachella poster is always a fascinating bit of business because it lays bare the hierarchies that otherwise tend to go unstated within the music industry. It’s always hard to gauge what’s really popular and what’s not, but Goldenvoice, the agency that books Coachella, has historically proven that it’s got a pretty good handle on things. Coachella is North America’s biggest music festival, and it always tends to sell out before the damn lineup even comes out. It’s fun to complain about how Coachella is an Instagram-influencer feeding frenzy where nobody actually cares about music, and god knows I’ll do some of that in this piece, but Coachella was able to become this vastly lucrative annual event because the people at Goldenvoice have their finger on the pulse. They know what draws.
Every Coachella makes for an interesting snapshot of its big-tent live-music moment. If Coachella is booking a ton of reunited ’80s bands, that means something. If it’s all EDM DJs, that means something, too. If Coachella were to replace all musical acts with the casts of various Bravo! reality shows — a hypothetical situation that we should not rule out — then that would mean something, as well. You may not like the way things are heading, but the Coachella poster at least gives some idea of what’s up.
This year’s poster is a little complicated because Goldenvoice clearly did everything in its power to bring back many of the acts from the cancelled 2020 fest. Some of the acts on this year’s poster are off-cycle. They don’t have new records, and their touring rhythms are all jacked up. But this new reality also tells its own stories. Some of those 2020 acts have moved up in the billing, and some have moved down. There are new stories to be told. Here are 26 things that I noticed about this year’s poster.
1. “Ye.” Come on. Get the fuck out of here with that.
2. Coachella lost all its headliners. In 2020, the acts at the top of the Coachella bill were Rage Against The Machine, Travis Scott, and Frank Ocean. As recently as August, Goldenvoice president Paul Tollett was talking about the festival’s plans to bring back all three headliners. Rage and Travis Scott would play in 2022, and Frank Ocean would bump his performance back to 2023. It’s anyone’s guess whether that Frank Ocean performance will actually happen next year, but the Rage Against The Machine and Travis Scott performances will definitively not happen this year.
This isn’t Goldenvoice’s fault. The members of Rage Against The Machine looked around and evidently decided that this wasn’t the time for mosh mayhem on the grandest scale — a sensible decision on the part of these men, who are all between 52 and 57 years of age. Travis Scott, meanwhile, has come to represent uncaring and vampiric corporate party-time branding, murderous institutional rot, and the yawning chasm of death — things that you might not want to consider if you’re taking a selfie at a Tesla-sponsored flower wall or whatever. God looked at Goldenvoice’s plans, and He laughed.
3. The headliners are all pop stars. The age of rock bands has come to a final and definitive end. There’s no Rage Against The Machine equivalent on this year’s list of headliners. In 2019, the last time the festival actually happened, Tame Impala played last on the big stage, sharing that duty with Ariana Grande and Childish Gambino. Tame Impala might be an uncomfortable fit for the term “rock band,” but they’re still a group of guys with guitars and long hair — the sort of institution that once built the Coachella name. As it turns out, Tame Impala were the last of their kind — at least for now. (Bonnaroo, one of the only festivals with a reach that even approaches Coachella status, has Tool and Stevie Nicks as headliners, but Bonaroo has a very different relationship with the zeitgeist.)
Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, and “Ye” have all interacted with the idea of guitar-based rock music in different ways over the years. Styles is friends with Stevie Nicks or whatever, and he booked Coachella OG Jenny Lewis as the opening act on his last arena tour. Billie Eilish dominates alt-rock radio playlists these days, and “Happier Than Ever,” currently probably her biggest hit, is an actual no-shit rock song. “Ye” told Jay he had a song with Coldplay; next thing he knew, Jay had a song with Coldplay.
But all three of those headliners are solo artists, and each of them has at least one #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. As far as I know, only one of those headliners has ever been in a band, and that band is of the boy-band variety. Coachella hasn’t made the full leap into pop; they haven’t reached the point where they’re booking BTS and Dua Lipa, which honestly might be pretty lit. But they’re getting close.
4. The Swedish House Mafia billing makes no sense. A few months ago, superstar-DJ trio Swedish House Mafia announced that they were getting back together and headlining Coachella. I have to confess that I don’t really understand Swedish House Mafia’s place in the world. They’re certainly a big deal with a long Coachella history, but they’re probably also not big enough to headline the thing. (By the imperfect “Spotify monthly listeners” metric, Swedish House Mafia aren’t anywhere near as big as second-line poster acts like Lil Baby and Doja Cat.) But they said they’re headlining, so there they are, down in some previously-unestablished “returning to the desert” big-font slot at the bottom of the poster. It’s like they got the “and” credit in a movie’s opening credits. They got the headliner font size, but they did not get the headliner placement.
To me, a guy who does not care about Swedish House Mafia, the best-case scenario is that a Swedish House Mafia performance just turns into a performance from their recent collaborator the Weeknd, who probably makes more sense as a Coachella headliner than any of the actual Coachella headliners. (The Weeknd has already headlined Coachella twice, most recently in the 2018 Beyoncé year, and the impulse to mix things up is a good one. But that guy is human Coachella in the flesh; he could practically be the house band at the Indio Polo Grounds.) It’s also funny to imagine those three Scandinavian DJs just occupying their own tent all weekend — never stopping, trading off 12-hour shifts — just to justify that absurd poster placement. 88rising’s Head In The Clouds Forever gets a similar billing, but that’s a whole collective and not just three DJs. I guess we’ll all figure out what that performance is when it happens.
5. “Ye” will get a whole lot of attention. The former Kanye West has headlined Coachella once, in 2011. That time, he had to share co-headliner billing with the Strokes. “Ye” was supposed to headline Coachella in 2019, but he thought the stage was too limiting or something, and he dropped out. In the past few years, “Ye” has continued to live his life as a deeply aggravating public performance-art stunt, and so maybe he’s an ideal avatar for what Coachella currently is. In any case, his final-night headlining performance will be a circus, and people there will be very excited to see whatever he does. Pity the DJs and bands scheduled to play the smaller tents during that last headlining set; nobody is going to be paying any attention to them.
6. No more reunions. Coachella used to be notorious for throwing piles of money at every broken-up band to get back together for the festival. Those days are long over. As far as I can tell, there are no prominent band reunions on this bill — unless you count Swedish House Mafia, who, as I understand it, are less of a band and more of a house mafia. (This is assuming the the “Belly” on the Coachella bill is Belly the rapper, not Belly the band, which seems like a safe assumption.)
7. A whole lot of 2020 acts did not make the 2022 cut. There are plenty of similarities between the 2020 lineup and the 2022 one, but there have been lots of changes, too. One of the biggest is all the acts who were booked to play two years ago and who will not be making the trip to the desert this year. Maybe their invitations got lost in the mail. Going by the second line alone: Calvin Harris, Lana Del Rey, Lil Uzi Vert, Rex Orange County, FKA twigs, Marina, and BIGBANG are all off of the bill. DaBaby is obviously off of the bill. Plenty of these artists probably had scheduling conflicts or just decided that they didn’t want to do it. Summer Walker is now one of the biggest R&B stars in the world; she probably wanted (and deserved) a lot more money. Thom Yorke is on to another side project. But there’s also a good chance that some of these acts have experienced precipitous drops in buzz and/or popularity in the last two years. It’s a cold world out there.
8. Some acts are on their way up. Congratulations to Doja Cat, who was buried at the bottom of the fourth line on the 2020 poster and who has now vaulted up into the spot directly below the headliner. That’s a tremendous ascent. Maybe we should all be in racial chatrooms showing feet. Also, Big Sean! Goldenvoice is fuckin’ with youuuuu! For whatever reason, you jumped up a whole line. Anitta jumped up a line, too. Megan Thee Stallion, Rich Brian, and Daniel Caesar made slight upward moves.
9. Some acts are on their way down. Run The Jewels would’ve made perfect sense as direct support for their buddies in Rage Against The Machine, but Rage are off the bill now, and RTJ’s spot took a bit of a hit. Caribou, Kim Petras, Duck Sauce, and Chicano Batman all seem to have moved slightly down the bill.
10. Those small font sizes are really small. Maybe Coachella booked more acts, or maybe they just had to make room for “Swedish House Mafia” to be in gigantic letters, but those band names get into real magnifying-glass territory near the bottom. Condolences to Dear Humans, Miane, and Cole Knight. I’ve never heard of any of you, and the Goldenvoice powers-that-be have judged you to be the very bottom of the bottom on your respective days — names that require serious screen-squinting.
11. No Olivia Rodrigo. Our latest and greatest Disney pop princess is just now embarking on her first tour, but she seems like a natural for Coachella, and I’m genuinely surprised that she’s not on the bill. If I were Goldenvoice, I would’ve parked five different Brinks trucks on Rodrigo’s front lawn. I would’ve offered to buy back all the songwriting credits that she had to give away. Maybe next year.
Look: I’m an old man. I’m not going to Coachella. If I were going to Coachella, I would be one of the 12 people watching Spiritualized in what is certain to be a gigantic and empty tent. But I have a 12-year-old daughter, and she’s way closer to the Coachella demographic than I am. She looked at the poster, shrugged, and handed me back my phone. She was happy to see Beach Bunny and girl in red on there. She said that she’d be kind of interested in seeing Billie Eilish live. But if Olivia was on that bill, then she would’ve been genuinely psyched.
By that same token, most my kids’ favorites are not on the bill. Marina, booked near the top of the 2020 poster, is gone. Mitksi isn’t on there, either. (I would bet that Goldenvoice made Mitski a big offer and that she turned them down.) WILLOW, Clairo, and Mother Mother aren’t playing. My nine-year-old son doesn’t really have any favorite artists other than Lil Nas X and Rustage, a British nerd-rapper who’s all over YouTube with these seven-minute ciphers about anime characters. Lil Nas X was on the 2020 bill but not the 2022 one. Rustage is not booked. (Would Rustage work at Coachella? I don’t know! Maybe!) I know Coachella can’t exactly book the “macaroni with the chicken strips” meme on the main stage, but you’ve got to keep the kids interested!
12. It’s hard out here for indie rock. Phoebe Bridgers, way up on the second line, is the only artist near the top of the bill who could even vaguely be considered “indie rock.” (It’s a fine distinction, but Maggie Rogers is definitely not indie rock.) Spiritualized, Caribou, Hot Chip, Caroline Polachek, Japanese Breakfast, black midi, Nilüfer Yanya, and Yard Act are all playing, but they’re in little baby font sizes. Even a viral phenom like beabadoobee can’t get too far up that bill. Shout out to King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, who party hard enough to hang with the big dogs on this lineup.
Other big-tent indie rock acts who might’ve gotten a shot — the War On Drugs, Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Big Thief, Spoon, Snail Mail, Angel Olsen, Perfume Genius, St. Vincent, Sharon Van Etten, Soccer Mommy, Faye Webster, Waxahatchee, Bartees Strange, Phoebe Bridgers’ boygenius bandmates — are out. I’ve been wondering when Goldenvoice will finally fuck around and book Taylor Swift as a headliner, and the answer is: “Not right after Taylor Swift made two indie rock-adjacent albums.”
13. The rap bookings are fascinating. Coachella has been booking rap since the very beginning, but in its early years, most of the rap groups who played were in the underground-intelligentsia realm — stuff like the Roots and Jurassic 5. That has changed. The rappers high up on this year’s Coachella bill — “Ye,” Lil Baby, Megan Thee Stallion, 21 Savage, Big Sean, City Girls, Baby Keem — are generally about as mainstream as it gets. (Run The Jewels are a different story, but they’re Coachella standbys; El-P played his first Coachella 19 years ago.)
Further down, the Coachella bill has plenty of critical-favorite types, but they’re definitely deep in the midcard. I wonder what it would take to move Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Slowthai, Dave, Denzel Curry, Vince Staples, and Maxo Kream further up the bill. (Brockhampton, J.I.D, and Isaiah Rashad, meanwhile, are all apparently bigger draws than I realized. Good for them!) Griselda’s font size is tiny, which might be more of an issue if we had a better idea who was and wasn’t a part of Griselda these days. Meanwhile, there are all the different rap undergrounds that aren’t represented at all. An act like $UICIDEBOY$ is huge, and they get booked at big rap festivals, but they’re not here. Maybe it has something to do with their audience not being all that, uh, upscale. A guy like Earl Sweatshirt has an audience that is upscale, but he doesn’t make party music by any stretch. He’s not here, either.
It would probably make sense to book mainstream-adjacent street-rap types like Playboi Carti, Polo G, 42 Dugg, EST Gee, Lil Durk, Fivio Foreign, or Moneybagg Yo; they’re all huge. None of them are on the bill. It might also make sense, in a different way, to book underground greats like Mach-Hommy, Wiki, Navy Blue, MIKE, Boldy James, Ka, Armand Hammer, Your Old Droog, Tha God Fahim, or RXK Nephew. They’re all out, too. The rap acts booked at Coachella are all, in one way or another, part of the establishment.
14. Goldenvoice has apparently bought stock in stoned, vibey R&B. Even without Frank Ocean on this year’s bill, space-soul wave is strong, with Daniel Caesar, Joji, Giveon, Ari Lennox, Snoh Aalegra, Omar Apollo, Steve Lacy, and Amber Mark in prominent spots.
15. Coachella is all-in on Spanish-language music. Grupo Firme and Banda MS, two big names in regional Mexican music, are way up near the top of the Coachella bill, and so are artists like Karol G, Anitta, and Natanael Cano. Those acts don’t have much in common musically, but it’s cool to see all of them on there. It seemed like a big deal when Bad Bunny and J Balvin got a big spot a few years ago, but these are deeper cuts.
16. Coachella is all-out on K-pop. The festival got a whole lot of press when it booked BLACKPINK and BIGBANG, but unless I’m just not recognizing somebody’s name, there’s no equivalent on this year’s bill. It’s crazy how BTS have ascended to transcendent stardom over here and how no other K-pop act has pulled that off on anywhere near the same level. Goldenvoice is no longer flirting with the whole K-pop power structure, and that seems to be its own kind of statement.
17. Punk! The Coachella team might’ve read all the trend-pieces about how pop-punk is coming back, but they didn’t book Machine Gun Kelly or all the different TikTok-baby versions of Machine Gun Kelly with obnoxiously spelled names. Coachella did, however, book a pretty good number of bands that are punk or hardcore or, at the very least, punk-or-hardcore-adjacent. Turnstile were a total no-brainer, but I’m still happy to see them on there. Congrats to them for becoming almost certainly the first band ever to play FYA and Coachella in the same year. Code Orange, IDLES, PUP, Mannequin Pussy, Amyl And The Sniffers, and I guess maybe 100 gecs fall into the same category. None of them are very high up on the bill, but they’re all there, and I bet they’ll all play fun sets. (Emo Nite is on the bill, too, and fuck that.) I’d love to see, like, Terror getting a Coachella paycheck, but that’s never going to happen, and it’s cool that some people from that world are on that level.
18. Danny Elfman’s set should just be a whole Nightmare Before Christmas thing. Danny Elfman put out an album last year. He’s out here working with Trent Reznor and shit. As a former new wave frontman, I’m sure he’s amped to play Coachella. But nobody wants stuff from Danny Elfman’s non-movie-score solo career. The music from A Nightmare Before Christmas, on the other hand? That shit is polling at 100%. Elfman is playing on the same day as Billie Eilish, who took part in his Nightmare Before Christmas shows last Halloween. This is a good sign. There are a lot of gothy theater kids out there. Give them something.
19. Flume, huh? I only have the most general idea of what Flume even is, but Flume keeps showing up near the top of these festival bills. In 2020, Coachella had Flume one spot down from the headliner. This year, the headliners are different, but Flume is still one spot down. Flume’s Spotify numbers are big, but they’re not that big. Still, these festival bookings must mean something! Every year, I tell myself that I need to investigate this whole Flume phenomenon more thoroughly. Then I don’t do it, and I get surprised all over again when the next year’s festival lineups come out.
20. Måneskin, huh? Sure. Fine. Whatever.
21. The nostalgia-act pickings are slim. The ’90s are truly dead. Fatboy Slim might be the only act on this year’s lineup truly holding it down for the Clinton era. Does Spiritualized count as a nostalgia act? Does the Avalanches’ tiny-font placement mean that they’re no longer remotely relevant? I’m not ready to confront the idea that Carly Rae Jepsen might be a nostalgia act. Let’s just move on.
22. Black Coffee and Koffee are both playing. These two artists have nothing to do with each other. Black Coffee is a South African house DJ, and Koffee is a Jamaican dancehall singer. Still, this seems confusing.
23. Floating Points! He probably won’t bring Pharoah Sanders, right? He definitely won’t bring the London Symphony Orchestra, right? But it would be pretty cool if he did.
24. Jamie xx! Hey, maybe he’s got a new album coming out! That would be nice! In May, In Colour will be seven years old.
25. I have no idea who so many of these people are. Still Woozy? Lane 8? Wallows? Tchami? Dixon? SLANDER? Solomun? Fred again…? EPIK HIGH? The Marias? ARTBAT? Chelsea Cutler? Current Joys? Surf Curse? What is happening here? I make my living writing about music, and this list of names just makes me tired and confused. I’m going to lie down now.
26. Are we sure Coachella is even happening this year? Are we sure about anything? Doesn’t it seem a bit presumptuous to make plans right now? My favorite scenario is that Coachella does happen in April but that all the headliners drop out or get cancelled, and they have to go get a whole other group of headliners. That would be pretty funny.