Everything that's wrong with the Coachella 2018 line-up

It’s that time of the year again. The first ray of light that symbolizes the dawn of music festival season - and it always begins with a buzz about the lineup of the Californian big daddy of ‘indie’ music festivals - Coachella, which in 2018 will go down April 13-15 and April 20-22 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California as usual, for the 19th time.

The lineup is officially out. But looking at the poster for this year, in it’s usual format, with the headliners emblazoned in big, bold font, followed by the rest in descending order of font size - as if that font size instantly determines your place in the current music scene - we can’t help but wonder, are all these music festival posters slowly starting to look the same?

Maybe they are. The three headliners this year are big star-studded names, as usual - Beyonce, Eminem and The Weeknd. Of course, Queen Bey is no surprise. A year after her pregnancy postponed her 2017 headlining appearance, it was more or less expected that she’d fill one of the three big font brackets.

Image Source: Twitter

But if you haven’t realized yet, not a single one of the headliners is a ‘band’. For the first time ever, all the headliners are all solo R&B or Hip Hop acts. This coming from a music festival that has its roots set in a location that was picked in ’93 because of Pearl Jam’s rejection of venues controlled by Ticketmaster. Funnily enough, these days Coachella tickets get sold out within an hour (as it did on Friday, January 5) and the only way to get tickets is to end up on secondary sites like Ticketmaster!   

Through the years, Coachella, which once used to boast a lineup of solid guitar-heavy-organic-sounding alternative and indie bands, has been seeing fewer and fewer guitar bands. The fact that Eminem and The Weeknd are the other two headliners is like a final nail in the coffin of rock.

Social media hasn’t taken kindly to the fact either. Even One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson is pissed off about it. ‘Where the fuck are all the bands?’ he tweeted. We hear you, Louis. But it’s not as if the bands are ‘not there’. The poster doesn’t say ‘rock is dead’.

It’s more like they’re there, but they're buried in the fine print. So squint harder at the lower billed artists and you’ll find a host of bands including The War on Drugs (whose fabulously mature 2017 album A Deeper Understanding is up for a grammy), Fleet Foxes, Alt-J, Portugal the Man and even A Perfect Circle.

So rock is not really dead - it’s just buried under the fine print while R&B and Hip Hop, which are clearly leading the music industry’s market and even the numbers on streaming services are basking in the limelight. With more and more music festivals echoing the numbers game from streaming services, it seems like the two have turned into a symbiotic self-sufficient organism. Add to this the fact that you can live-stream the entire music festival and the point is pretty much proved.  

Let’s start with the headliners and also give away credit where it’s due. Beyonce is one of the best performers in the industry. No solo artist arguably puts on a show with such earnest energy and sheer magnetism. Her return after last year’s pregnancy postponement should also keep fans happy. Great. But that’s pretty much it. The other two choices seem like a strange misfit in 2018. 

Beyonce's return as the headlining act after last year’s pregnancy postponement should keep fans happy at Coachella 2018. (Image Source: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Weeknd is still riding the wave from 2016’s at best slightly-above-average release Starboy. Why he’s headlining now and not two years ago is a good question but it seems like he’s turning his semi-regular status on the roster to more-regular.

The only way he can salvage his spot on the roster a day ahead of Queen Bey is if he drops a masterpiece of an album between now and April or somehow gets Daft Punk to come along. Or maybe even if they do appear magically against all odds and recreate the magic of their scene-changing 2006 performance, it can’t make The Weeknd seem relevant at the top of the billings.

Why The Weeknd is headlining now instead of two years ago is a mystery. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

That leaves us with the third big name - Eminem. Coachella’s headliners are always big names that are currently relevant either in the political scene or generally in the canon of music, heavily featuring reunion acts - think Rage Against the Machine in 2007, OutKast in 2014, or both LCD Soundsystem and Guns N’ Roses two years ago - and newsworthy, meaningful artists.

Sure Eminem has been spitting fire against Trump and touring heavily trying to rekindle the anger of the good ol’ Slim Shady days. But while he still remains sort of relevant, it feels wrong for him to headline so long after his heydays, especially after he dropped 2017’s Revival, which fell flat with its inability to stir up the revolution of the old Em.

And in the year focused on finally booking and celebrating women in music and the arts, closing out the festival with the guy who wrote the lines "Bitch I'm a kill you! You don't want to fuck with me. Girls leave, you ain't nothin' but a slut to me“ for a chorus (that’s Kill You from the Marshal Matthers EP by the way) feels a little tone-deaf if not plain stupid. All in all, the headliners can just be summed up as Queen Bey and these other two big generic out of place hip hop artists. 

But of course Coachella, being Coachella will pull its usual stunts - a surprise guest act or two that'll make the crowd lose it, perhaps a secret gig like the one Mogwai played last year where they performed their album in entirety. But it's not hard to see through the posterity of the music festival, which is slowly getting too big for its shoes and leaning towards the numbers mantra by signing more and more crowd pleasers like Post Malone and Portugal, The Man for instance, which are straight outta the Billboard hot 100 list.

Kendrick Lamar, the final headliner for last year, closed Coachella in 2017. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)

Around a decade ago, Coachella was that one music festival that was assured to blow your mind. You could trust the bands in the second line of the poster, or even the ones lost in the fine print to surprise you and leave you spellbound.

The Chemical Brothers are one such act, that have gone on to be so called Coachella favorites. Wilco, New Order, Bright Eyes, Weezer, Underworld, The Jesus and Mary Chain - are all acts that were never headliners, but nevertheless made the music world stop and notice.

Indie's poster-children Arcade Fire, of course, have gone form their medium-font billing in 2007 to headlining twice - once in 2011 after their grammy-winning album The Suburbs shook the music world and once more in 2014 after the instant hit of their dance-heavy 2013 release, Reflektor.

And then of course, there is the mythical year of Coachella that was 2006. Seven years after the festival's debut in 1999, one definitive moment changed the festival for good. Daft Punk, after previously refusing to play the festival, came in all their futuristic chrome glazed glory and made the rock-world finally realize what all the noise about electronic music was about, changing the tone and preferred genres of the festival forever. Daft Punk has never since performed at the festival. Somehow, it seems that the new Coachella could never make floor your jaw like that anymore. 

Daft Punk's lazer filled LED pyramid gimmick during their mythical performance at Coachella 2006 changed the festival's tone forever. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)

If Coachella is trying to keep a finger on the pulse of the time, then a lot of exclusions need some serious explanations. For instance, it’s been 10 years since rumors of an imminent My Bloody Valentine appearance at Coachella 2008 kicked off one of the most surprising (and successful) reunions in indie rock history.

With an album coming out this year, MBV would be perfect for the festival, yet they find no mention on the posters. Vampire Weekend and Frank Ocean definietly deserved to be on the list too. And the fact that Foo Fighters have never headlined Coachella seems more like a statistical anomoly, a rip in the space-time of the music-festival world, than an actual fact that you have to some how rationalize.

Foo Fighters, who released the well-received album Concrete and Gold in 2017 are surprisingly not on the roster for Coachella this year.  (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

The festival might have gotten some of it right - former Talking Heads guitarist David Byrne is performing this year, with a highly anticipitaed album just around the corner. We're sure it'll be a delight to see what eccentricities he whips up on stage. Jean-Michele Jarr and St. Vincent are also bang on target for they are probably producing the best material of their careers currently. But that's barely it.

St. Vincent is one of many female artists who will be taking the stage this year at Coachella. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella)

The names in the fine print, which traditionally come from the North American underground, will of course get their big chance to go from barely-known to unknown-somebodys to the-guys-who-killed-it-at-Coachella like every year, and it remains to be seen how the crowd responds to the massive number of these artists, who come from a wide spectrum of genres this year.

So what’s the final verdict? On paper at least, this Coachella looks far from perfect, with several missed opportunities. The most obvious thing about the line-up of course, is the strong presence of female artists. Even the billing small-font stars such as Japanese Breakfast, Cherry Glazerr, and Alvvays apart from established female centric acts like St Vincent, Cardi B and HAIM proves this fact. But putting Eminem and The Weeknd in the headline slot might dilute the message that the festival is trying to set.

Perhaps Coachella is just one of several music festivals that are slowly losing their significance and purpose in today’s instant streaming age. Especially when music festivals are starting to echo the numbers game of online streaming more and more, the whole notion that a music festival is a great place to discover new artists might be slowly getting irrelevant. Meanwhile, there have been rumors for several years now that the entire multi billion dollar music industry is a bubble about to pop.

With this line-up of headliners, one must wonder for how long music festivals can go on crowd-pleasing like this. Of course, come April, we might be proved wrong (we sure do hope so) or worse, we might be right on the money!

If you have any views or stories that you would like to share with us, drop us an email at writetous@meawwworld.com

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Suraj Prabhu


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