5 Takeaways From Coachella's 2018 Lineup: Big-Budget Headliners, Absent Bands and More
It's the one thing music fans have to look forward to in the first work/school week of January post-holidays -- the glut of festival lineups revealed for the warmer-weather months ahead. The daddy of 'em all led the way on Tuesday night (Jan. 2) with Coachella's announcement of its 19th roster for this coming Apr. 13-15 and 20-22.
The lineup was met with the traditional mixed response of jubilation, outrage and confusion, as fans tried to make sense of the new festival landscape reflected by music's preeminent three-day destination getaway. Here are Billboard's five biggest takeaways from this year's poster of names (and its infamous font-size hierarchy).
1. Break-the-Bank Headliners. Counting Destiny's Child, this year's three headliners have 18 Hot 100 No. 1 hits between them -- just five fewer than the combined 23 that the 27 headliners at previous Coachellas this decade had at the time of their sets. It'll be very hard to find a festival anywhere on the planet this year that can boast three names as big as The Weeknd, Beyoncé and Eminem at the top of the marquee, and perhaps as a result, it's a pretty big drop-off from there to acts 4-6 on the docket: There aren't the sort of long-established, smaller-fest-headlining vets that you'd normally expect to see in the second line of Coachella per-day lineups.
It's something of a gamble for the festival organizers, who have never invested quite this heavily in star power before, and who traditionally have favored an alternative bent to their headliners, which has now entirely disappeared. Will audiences be dazzled by the big names, or will they recoil from the wattage?
2. Save the rock for the next Desert Trip. One other thing you'll notice about those three names atop the Coachella poster: There's not a rock act among them. That doesn't exactly mark a huge outlier in 2018, where rock has long been decentralized from music's mainstream, but it's a first for Coachella, who was trotting out a top-line of Stone Roses/Blur, Phoenix and Red Hot Chili Peppers as recently as 2013. But last year, Radiohead was the sole headliner holding it down for rock, and this year, the closest thing is Eminem, who at least sampled Joan Jett and The Cranberries on his last album.
Which isn't to say that there's not rock to be found this year at Coachella -- St. Vincent, The War on Drugs, David Byrne, Portugal. The Man, HAIM, Fleet Foxes, Alt-J and A Perfect Circle are all decent-sized names from the rock world to be found towards the top of the fest's three-day billing. But clearly, it's just one of many genres represented under the fest's umbrella rather than its foundational core, a jarring shift that even some former boy-banders are feeling the whiplash from.
3. Where are the DJs? Perhaps more surprising than the lack of big-name rock acts on the Coachella lineup is the seeming absence of superstar DJs. Whereas rock's presence had been slowly dwindling at the festival over the course of the decade, EDM was seemingly, at least for a few years, the biggest draw of all, with huge names like David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia, Kaskade and Calvin Harris (a 2016 headliner) attracting some of the biggest and most fervent crowds of the weekend. However, look at the 2017 lineup and dance is perhaps even a smaller piece of the pie than rock: Kygo and ODESZA are the only two huge dance names on the lineup, and perhaps only the former is one who would be recognizable to the fans primarily there for Beyonce and Eminem.
An explanation would be that, well, the past few years haven't produced the kind of star dance producers to replace those of the older Guetta/Harris generation -- aside from Marshmello, who played last year, and The Chainsmokers, who played the year before (and might now be too expensive for a non-headliner). Meanwhile, veterans like Soulwax and Chromeo are a little too disconnected from 2018 to really carry the torch, while still-growing acts like Louis the Child and Alan Walker aren't quite household names yet. It's something of a transitional moment for dance in the live world, and it'll be interesting to see if the next few years can produce a new headlining class, or if dance will join rock on the festival fringes moving forward.
4. Running out of reunions. Past Coachella lineups have given fans the chance to see legacy acts for the first time in a while, if not ever -- acts that maybe even feel a little out of step with the current day, but still feel right in context. (Perhaps the fest even leaned a little too heavily on those earlier this decade, resulting in that Blur/Stone Roses headlining fiasco in '13.) This year, a couple of those acts are there, but perhaps overextended: Jamiroquai and A Perfect Circle, both second-line acts on the Coachella poster, no doubt have their fans, but only really managed a handful of true Stateside hits between them, and have both been absent from the American mainstream for at least a decade.
Elsewhere, Chic featuring Nile Rodgers is sure to be a blast, as are Japanese metal heroes X Japan, and Jean-Michel Jarré could provide a useful makeshift chillout tent for goers in need of a quick comedown, but that's about it for the big blasts from the pasts. (Sorry, '90s alt-rock alums hoping to do some tree-feeding on Friday -- that's the Canadian rapper Belly halfway down the day's lineup, not the long-underrated Boston band of the same name.) At least last year had Hans Zimmer.
5. RapCaviar and R&B for days. For all the things the lineup feels short on, one thing Coachella went long on is streaming-friendly (read: extremely popular) rap. Three of hip-hop's most Spotify-dominant breakout crossover acts of 2017, Migos, Post Malone and Cardi B, will perhaps serve as the most exciting names on the lineup outside of the headliners, while most of the others will come from the R&B world (SZA, Miguel, Daniel Caesar, Kelela, Kali Uchis) or acts that overlap the two spheres (6lack, Russ, Blackbear).
It's not what's traditionally been thought of as festival-friendly music in a space that's been so historically rock- and dance-dominated, but given how pop music is trending in 2018, it's almost certainly a smart investment. And while it doesn't exactly solve the fest's longstanding issues with gender representation -- of the 21 acts listed in the top two lines of the daily rosters, only 5 are female or female-fronted -- shifting the balance from the rock and dance world to hip-hop and R&B should ensure a greater diversity in general, and make it unlikely the fest ends up with only white male-led headliners, as Coachella had as recently as 2016.