Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Home of flower crowns and perfectly curated Instagram photos. A sanctuary for artists and drug-using music lovers. Above all, an escape from the mundanity of everyday life — at least for those lucky enough to be able to afford a ticket.
Coachella’s decades-long history is perhaps the most interesting in contemporary festival culture.
Beginning as a rock festival hosting headliners like Beck and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Coachella quickly evolved into a cultural phenomenon. It was commodified, from art installations acting as backdrops for influencer marketing posts to the profound recognition an artist receives after performing on one of the five main stages. Despite its injection into pop culture, Coachella remains a wonderfully human experience.
This year’s show was nothing short of revolutionary. Its headliners — Childish Gambino, Tame Impala and Ariana Grande — were each unparalleled in their own ways. None of the three was initially well-received as a headliner of the prestigious festival. While Grande’s performance faltered, the two others broke new ground and silenced naysayers.
Gambino took an intimate approach to his set, literally hovering over the audience before engaging with them directly, even offering a joint to a lucky fan in the front row. What followed was a string of his biggest hits and most vulnerable deep cuts. Similarly, Tame Impala’s performance saw frontman Kevin Parker hiding behind mind-numbing visuals that gave the music space to breathe.
Surprisingly, it was the smaller acts from this year’s roster that shone the brightest.
Indie rock and EDM were the main draws of the festival with acts Rüfüs Du Sol, Gesaffelstein, Polo & Pan and King Princess drawing huge crowds to their sets. Bringing with them a sense of individuality, charisma and charm, each artist was able to completely captivate audiences for hourlong sets that often felt like a passing moment.
One of the biggest breakthroughs, however, was rising hip-hop rapper-singer Lizzo. Through songs about self-love and positivity, the Minneapolis-based artist incited a euphoric frenzy — one that only grew louder throughout the duration of the set. Lizzo was able to get her message across to the audience loudly and clearly, despite minor technical difficulties.
She even asserted, “When I’m headlining next time, I’m gonna need my motherfucking ears to work.”
After this performance, a headlining set from Lizzo at any other festival should be welcomed with open arms.
In the audience was fan and peer Janelle Monáe, who brought out Lizzo and Philly rapper Tierra Whack during her own spectacular set on Friday. Monae’s performance was akin to that of Beyoncé’s at Coachella 2018, blending her immaculate vocals with moves reminiscent of a Bruno Mars show. At the same time, Monáe’s performance felt innovative, original and inspiring. Both her set and Lizzo’s converged thematically, drawing upon ideas of unity and transcendence.
Coachella is not what it has become because of the glossy Instagrams and the endless pot of ticket revenue. It is not measured by likes or by the beautifully assembled outfits. It is a memorable experience simply because it brings hundreds of thousands of people together for a shared desire of togetherness and escapism.
Lizzo herself encapsulates the message of the festival best, saying: “I want people to feel that closeness, because if you can love me as much as you do without knowing me, and without me being like this archetype of modern beauty in media, then you can love yourself.”
This year’s Coachella, as is the case in most years, was a bop.
Kieran Sweeney is a senior writing about music. His column, “Bop or Flop,” ran every other Friday.