21 Thoughts On The Coachella 2023 Poster

Kevin Winter/Dimitrios Kambouris/Mike Coppola - Getty Images

21 Thoughts On The Coachella 2023 Poster

Kevin Winter/Dimitrios Kambouris/Mike Coppola - Getty Images

Like we always do at this time! Every January, Goldenvoice, the booking firm behind the Coachella Music & Arts Festival, unveils the lineup for another year of the mega-fest. And every year, we analyze every weird little piece of data that the Coachella poster gives us. Listen. Shut up. Fuck you. It’s not like you’re doing anything all that important with your time.

This year, the Coachella poster showed up a little later than usual, reportedly because last-minute negotiations with a possible headliner dragged out for a while. But that just gave us more time to imagine how the Coachella poster might look when it finally arrived. Now that the Coachella poster is here, we can definitively state that it’s a Coachella poster.

That’s a good thing! Coachella posters are fun! Every year, we fart out hundreds upon hundreds of breathless gonzo verbiage about that poster because the poster tells us things. Every year, Coachella’s booking gives us a pretty good sense of what’s hot and what the music-business powers-that-be think will be hot in the coming months. And every year, the different line breaks and font sizes give a cold, hard merciless look at the pop-star class system. If your favorite band is on the fourth line, then sorry, but your favorite band is just not up to the level of whatever’s in line three. Facts don’t care about your feelings, and neither does the Coachella poster.

When Coachella finally returned from its pandemic-imposed break last year, the lineup still had plenty of hangover from what Goldenvoice had already announced for the festival’s doomed 2020 edition. Goldenvoice almost certainly booked whoever they wanted, but they had to at least nod toward what they’d already lined up two years earlier. That’s over now. Other than Frank Ocean, who was announced as the 2023 headliner way the hell back in 2021, this year’s poster only serves the fickle master of the zeitgeist. That means that the poster’s got a whole lot to tell us. Let’s get into it.

https://twitter.com/coachella/status/1612903085625741312

1. We’re entering a whole new generation of Coachella headliners. Sorry, rockers. Your time is over. Nobody’s catering to your tastes anymore. If you dare to bring a guitar to the desert, Goldenvoice will bury your guitar, and they might bury you with it. That might be a slight exaggeration, but Coachella simply isn’t a rock festival anymore. Realistically, Coachella hasn’t been a rock festival for a long time, but this year’s headliners show that the shift has definitively arrived. The kids want something else, and Goldenvoice will give it to them.

This isn’t the first year that Coachella hasn’t booked any rock bands as headliners. In 2018, the festival had the Weeknd, Beyoncé, and Eminem — three solo artists, no bands. Last year, it was Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, and the Weeknd with Swedish House Mafia. Styles and Eilish at least nod toward rock history, but you couldn’t call them “rock bands.” And yet this year feels different, and it is different in all sorts of ways.

For one thing, this year’s headliners aren’t really rappers, either. Bad Bunny is at least some kind of rapper, but it would be hopelessly reductive to refer to his music “rap.” BLACKPINK has two members, Lisa and Jennie, who sometimes rap, but they aren’t exactly a part of the rap conversation. Frank Ocean can rap, but he doesn’t do it very often. Instead, we’re dealing with three polyglot pop entities who have ascended to Coachella-headliner status by different routes. All of them have played the festival before, but none of them has ever headlined.

They’re young. Bad Bunny is 28. The members of BLACKPINK are all between 25 and 28. Frank Ocean, the old man of the group, is 35. They represent completely different ideas of stardom, and their inclusion on this bill shows us a changing world.

Bad Bunny and BLACKPINK don’t come from Anglophone countries, and they primarily sing in different languages. That matters. Bad Bunny is arguably the biggest pop star in the world right now. He packs stadiums worldwide, and he might even be too big for Coachella. But Benito has a canny sense of where he is in the world, and my guess is that he couldn’t pass up a stage this big. His set will be a statement. BLACKPINK already made some kind of history as the first big-deal K-pop idols to play Coachella in 2019, and now they’re headlining. BLACKPINK have never gotten big enough to dominate American charts the way that BTS did, but they’ve still got a whole lot of bangers, and they’ve also got the performative flash to put on a real spectacle.

On this list, Frank Ocean is the outlier — the only American, the only artist who sings in English, the only one who came up through the critics-and-blogs system that’s fed Coachella lineups for so long. (Hi, bookers.) Frank Ocean is also a weirder, more insular artist than his fellow headliners. I don’t know how Ocean’s headlining set will look, and I’m not sure Ocean knows, either. Let’s hope it happens at all!

2. Oh look, there’s Calvin Harris. Last year, before the Coachella lineup came out, Swedish House Mafia said that they would reunite to headline the festival. Coachella booked Swedish House Mafia and gave them headliner font size, but they were way down at the bottom of the poster, billed as “returning to the desert.” What did that mean? Nobody knows! Nobody will ever know!

Swedish House Mafia actually did headline the festival last year alongside their collaborator the Weeknd, but they were only in there as a last-minute replacement when Kanye West, foolishly booked as the final night’s headliner, pulled the entirely predictable move of dropping out. (In retrospect, Kanye probably did Goldenvoice a favor.) This year, 2016 headliner Calvin Harris is in that same “returning to the desert” spot — headliner font size without headliner booking. Until we learn otherwise, I’m just going to assume that Harris is there to assume headliner status if Frank Ocean drops out. It’s not a bad plan, really.

3. The past headliners are still there, on the undercard. It’s not just Calvin Harris. This year’s bill is full of past Coachella headliners, and most of them are pretty high up on the undercard. The most intriguing of them is 2007 headliner Björk, sitting right under Frank Ocean in the Sunday-night immediate-support slot. That’s the same spot that Björk had when she played the festival in 2002! That’s cool! It should also make for a trippy ending to the whole festival — three straight days of party music, then Björk and Ocean taking everyone on their respective astral internal journeys back-to-back.

Björk’s 2022 album Fossora isn’t her best, but it’s good, and it’s nice to know that decades of goodwill can still get you into a spot that prominent. I bet Björk has some big ideas for what she can do with that stage, too. 2010 headliners Gorillaz are in the same spot on the Friday-night bill, which is less surprising. They just keep doing that thing that they do, and people just keep showing up. 2002 headliners the Chemical Brothers will play, and I bet that’ll be a blast. So maybe Coachella will always have room for a former headliner. Maybe Muse and Phoenix and the Black Keys and Jack Johnson don’t have to abandon all hope.

4. There’s room for legacy acts. Last year, one of the things that really struck me about the lineup was the complete lack of established-legend types. But that was before the “Running Up That Hill” renaissance, and the folks at Goldenvoice have evidently realized that plenty of younger people still listen to older music, especially when it pops up on their TikTok feeds. This year, the legacy-act bench goes deeper than Björk, Gorillaz, and the Chemical Brothers. There’s Blondie! There’s Underworld! There’s the Breeders, hiding down there in the tiny font sizes! There’s, um, not much else, at least as far as the stars of the 20th century are concerned.

But if you widen the focus to include ’00s acts, the bill also has stuff like Pusha T and Chromeo. Also, the EDM world seems frozen in a state of perpetual stasis where all the same names keep reappearing, but it has to mean something that 46-year-old DJ Eric Prydz is way up at the top of the bill. (It’s really “Eric Prydz Presents HOLO,” which is apparently just Eric Prydz with a trippy light show. That sounds fun! It sounds more fun than Eric Prydz without a trippy light show, anyway!) Also, Sasha and Digweed! Still finding work! After the Earth is consumed by the sun, Sasha and Digweed will probably still be getting booked at Coachella.

Oh god, are Rae Sremmurd a legacy act now? The world moves too fast. I need to take a nap.

5. This is a global-ass lineup. Coachella is a destination festival for rich party kids from around the world, and its lineup also tends to reflect American kids’ shifting tastes. So it’s pretty amazing to see how far the festival has reached out across the world and how many of the big names don’t come from the Anglophone pop system. Beyond Bad Bunny and BLACKPINK, there’s also Rosalía, holding down the immediate-support slot on Saturday night. Rosalía’s set will almost certainly rule, and the idea of back-to-back Rosalía and BLACKPINK sets on the main stage might be the best reason to book a flight to Palm Springs.

Also, remember when Burna Boy got mad about his Coachella poster placement, informing the bookers that he was an “African giant”? Burna Boy is now way up in the top line, in a spot befitting an African giant. Kali Uchis sings mostly in Spanish, and she’s way high on that lineup. Becky G’s got a prime spot on the poster, too, as does Punjabi star Diljit Dosanjh. Coachella has been trending in this direction for a long time, but the prominence of all these stars from around the world has me too nervous to make too many jokes about the acts whose names I don’t recognize. I don’t want to be like “come on, who are they kidding, Boris Brejcha is not a real thing” and then find out that Boris Brejcha has been packing arenas in Azerbaijan for years.

6. boygenius in this bitch! They’re back! The sad-music Voltron has returned! One of them is super-famous now, but her super-fame will not stop the tears from flowing!

7. Jai Paul in this bitch! I briefly read it as “Jake Paul” and recoiled. But no! The mysterious prince of unreleased bangers is back! Don’t fuck with him, don’t fuck with him! It seems absolutely insane that you could potentially see Frank Ocean and Jai Paul on the same day. They might as well put DB Cooper on the lineup. They might as well have “a unicorn” on there.

8. Coachella is not Rolling Loud. For probably a decade, Coachella was a hugely important event in the rap world. This year, however, Coachella hasn’t booked Lil Baby or Playboi Carti or Lil Uzi Vert or Future or Kodak Black. The festival-rap all-stars are absent, and you could make a case that the rap act with the highest spot on the bill is $UICIDEBOY$. That’s insane.

$UICIDEBOY$, it’s worth noting, are a genuine up-from-underground phenomenon. They’re great live, and they’ve got a huge fanbase, but they’re nowhere near the genre’s mainstream. In some ways, this year’s Coachella rap bookings feel like a throwback to the festival’s early days. Rather than packing the lineup with rappers, Coachella has selectively picked critically acclaimed names who are known to be good live: Pusha T, Tobe Nwigwe, Yung Lean, Doechii, 070 Shake, Flo Milli, EarthGang, Noname, Saba. We’ve also got a handful of party-starters with big hits: Rae Sremmurd, Latto, GloRilla, TikTok favorite Ashnikko. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that’s what Coachella needed to do.

9. EDM will never die. We’re a solid decade past the moment when oontz-oontz Euro-dance sounds dominated the American charts, but you wouldn’t know it from this Coachella lineup. The Sahara Tent seems to be a time-standing-still utopia where anonymous-looking German DJs can still draw enough partiers to guarantee themselves prime placement on the Coachella poster. Just look at Porter Robinson and Fisher and Chris Lake sitting right up in the top line for Sunday night — a sign that everyone at the festival won’t have to take the Frank Ocean/Björk trip.

10. Some of these sets are practically guaranteed to have a million surprise guests. Bad Bunny and BLACKPINK clearly know that it’s a big deal to headline Coachella, and both of them may well bring tons of their friends and influences with them. That’s always the case at this festival. But certain bookings seem to come with blinking lights promising tons of big guests. You know Gorillaz will have surprises. Coachella presumably books rap producers like Metro Boomin and Kenny Beats with the understanding that they will not show up with nothing but a laptop, that they’ll bring friends. Does the Kid LaRoi even have fans? Or did he just get booked because people thought maybe Justin Bieber would show up for “Stay”?

11. Some people are way more popular than you might think. I truly thought we were out of the A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie moment, but there he is, line one. Other placements feel way more triumphant than that one. For a while, Tobe Nwigwe felt like the best-kept secret of the Christian YouTube art-rap world, but now he’s up there, resplendent in big font size. Wet Leg’s placement isn’t a surprise, exactly, but it’s an affirmation. The same goes for Charli XCX, whose cult stardom looks more and more like actual stardom every day. Yves Tumor, MUNA, Yung Lean, Yaeji, Christine And The Queens, Weyes Blood, and Alex G are all doing great for themselves. Good for them.

12. Some people are way less popular than you might think. I feel personally insulted by the Breeders’ font size. Maybe the Deal sisters are happy just to be there, but I violently reject the idea that the women who made “Saints” should be relegated to the squint-real-hard rows. By that same token, Saba, the Comet Is Coming, Snail Mail, Ethel Cain, Horsegirl, Noname, and Sudan Archives will be at Coachella, but they might be off in the early-afternoon wilderness. We have collectively failed them. (Sleaford Mods are in a tiny font size, too, but I don’t feel bad about that one. If a band’s whole thing is “Jason Statham yelling at you over laptop beats,” that band is lucky to be on this poster at all.)

13. The pit might actually open up. I could make the same tiny-font-size complaint about Knocked Loose, Soul Glo, and especially Scowl, but I’m honestly just psyched that they’re all playing Coachella. After last year’s triumphant Turnstile set, someone apparently remembered that Goldenvoice got its start booking Social Distortion shows, and we’ve got some hardcore representation up in this poster. It would be cooler if Coachella tried to go all Sound And Fury, if they booked Rotting Out and Terror or whatever, but it’s just nice to see that the Turnstile effect is real.

14. They should’ve just had Turnstile in back-to-back years. Turnstile rules. It doesn’t matter that they don’t have more music out. I want to see those guys on the main stage. Coachella has a policy of not booking artists in back-to-back years, so that’s probably why this bill doesn’t have people like IDLES, the Marías, Japanese Breakfast, Caroline Polachek, J.I.D, and non-boygenius Phoebe Bridgers. Any of them would’ve made sense on this lineup.

15. This year is looking… vibey? The existence of Euphoria must’ve made this year’s festival easier to put together. You’ve got Labrinth, the person most responsible for that show’s soundtrack, and you’ve got actual Euphoria cast member Dominic Fike. I’m sure the rest of the Euphoria cast will be all up in the VIP section. That show’s whole atmosphere of elegantly zonked-out brooding feels like it’s informed many of this year’s booking choices. That’s fine, but it feels like this year might be a little light on bangers. I eagerly await the jacked-up 4 Loko revival that’s presumably right around the bend.

16. Why are we still trying with some of these motherfuckers? Do people actually like YUNGBLUD? Like, does he have fans? Or is someone still trying to make fetch happen? By that same token, I know Willow Smith actually does have fans, but it’s only after years of people trying to make her happen. Her presence on this bill feels like a capitulation. Maybe the backlash against nepo babies won’t really manifest until next year’s lineup.

17. Everyone needs to chill with the all-caps names. I still feel stupid hitting caps lock to type “BLACKPINK,” but they’re legit headliners, so sure, fine, they get the MF DOOM treatment. But TESTPILOT! MUNA! YUNGBLUD! BENEE! SOFI TUKKER! EARTHGANG! DPR LIVE! DPR IAN! UMI! DRAMA! NIA ARCHIVES! BRATTY! Stop yelling at us! You’re all special! There’s got to be a better way to make your name stand out on a festival poster!

18. Where’s Alvvays? The critic hive-mind ultimately isn’t that important to the whole festival circuit, and maybe nobody should be too mad that they won’t get to hear “Belinda Says” in a big tent in the middle of the afternoon. But this year’s lineup is actually pretty heavy on critical favorites, so it seems a little strange that the band who made one of last year’s most lauded records won’t be at this year’s Coachella.

There are a few other noteworthy absences, too. I’m sure the 1975 got an offer. I’m certain Steve Lacy got an offer. Maybe the offers weren’t high enough. But what about Big Thief? Tems? Ice Spice? Kelela? PinkPantheress? Wednesday? Fever Ray? Tomberlin? Militarie Gun? High Vis? Drug Church? The returning M83? Any of them would’ve made sense here.

Personally, I’m a little sad that we won’t get to see Chat Pile send kids running away with their hands over their ears. That would’ve been a good time.

19. LOL Idris Elba. Look, I know Stringer Bell has been moonlighting as an EDM DJ since forever, and I know that he always gets booked at festivals like this one. It’s still funny to see his name in there between BENEE and Magdalena Bay. Booking dot yeah.

20. No more film-score composers. It’s sad, but I understand. Coachella was booking one film composer per year for a little while, but you’re not going to top the sheer giddy spectacle of shirtless jacked ecstatic 68-year-old theater nerd Danny Elfman playing the Simpsons theme to a rapturous roar. It’s just not possible. What’s Nicholas Britell going to do after that? Nothing. That’s what.

21. Some of these sets will be fun as fuck. On a personal note, I am 86 years old, and you probably won’t find me at the Empire Polo Club this April. If I did go to Coachella, though, I would make damn good and certain to be at some of these sets. Some of them are obvious, like Bad Bunny and Rosalía. Others are a little less so. But if you do join the sweaty masses this spring, keep a mental note to see these ones: Burna Boy, Charli XCX, Wet Leg, MUNA, GloRilla, Kenny Beats, Sudan Archives, Ethel Cain, Scowl. Maybe those are all obvious, too. They’re definitely familiar names if you read this website. Still, I feel like special things could happen at all of those.

Honestly, though, if you’re going to Coachella, go where the energy is. Don’t be like me the one time I went, leaving the Weeknd’s main-stage performance to go see Drive Like Jehu play to crickets in an empty tent. If you’re walking around the grounds and you notice a big mob of people who are all fired up for something that you’ve never heard of, go see that thing. Coachella exists specifically to get big crowds of kids all amped about some random thing. You don’t have to love the whole music-festival institution to acknowledge that the Goldenvoice bookers are good at their jobs. If that means booking Bad Bunny and BLACKPINK to headline instead of Arctic Monkeys and the Smile or whatever, that’s what they’re going to do. If you don’t like it, go get a bunch of friends together, obtain some massive corporate backing, and book your own festival.

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