Five Takeaways From the 2019 Coachella Lineup: More International Hitmakers, Fewer Rap Stars & One Surprise Headliner
Hope you stayed up late watching West Coast basketball (and/or the Masked Singer premiere) last night -- otherwise you might've missed the quasi-surprise drop of this April's entire Coachella lineup at 11:28 p.m. ET. After unveiling a handful of acts one at a time, the official Coachella Twitter account unexpectedly blasted the entire three-day roster, headlined by Childish Gambino, Tame Impala and Ariana Grande.
The lineup has understandably been the source of much debate and discussion in the hours since, with fans debating the finer points of what looks to be one of the most interesting Coachellas of recent years. Here's the five things that stick out to us most immediately about the 2019 Coachella roster here at Billboard.
1. Tame Impala, huh? Chidlish Gambino had been one of the three long-rumored headliners for this year, while Ariana Grande makes total sense as a fill-in for the previously reported Justin Timberlake, who's been suffering from vocal cord maladies that have forced him to delay much of his Man of the Woods tour, filling the Big Pop slot among the three headliners that went to Lady Gaga and Beyoncé the last two years. (Grande also mercifully saves the lineup from being toplined exclusively by males, as it would've been in its originally reported incarnation, though female artists are still greatly outnumbered on the poster's top lines.) But Tame Impala? There probably weren't a lot of people who saw the acclaimed Australian rockers coming as the lead act for Saturday.
It's not a bad choice, by any means: Tame Impala feel like a true Coachella band, an endlessly imaginative psych-rock outfit with an increasingly genre-bending sound and a foot in both the underground and the mainstream worlds, the latter largely thanks to ingénieur Kevin Parker's collaborations with hip-hop stars Travis Scott, A$AP Rocky and Kanye West. They'll sound fantastic under the desert moonlight -- and given the timing, it's not unreasonable to hope that they'll have a new album to draw from by then, their first since 2015's rapturously received Currents. But what kind of crowd they'll draw is a slightly different matter: Interstellar indie is hardly the most festival-friendly genre at the moment, and despite his work with hitmakers, Parker and Tame Impala have never really scored any major crossover success of their own.
Speaking of Kanye, though: His reported late bowing out of the festival's top three (due to an "artistically limiting" stage setup) may have left the spot open for Tame Impala to level up, following headlining slots in the past few years at the artier Panorama in New York and Pitchfork Festival in Chicago. Given the slight uncertainty with them as headliners at a festival of this size, however, it wouldn't be a surprise to see organizers Goldenvoice hedge their bets a little by booking one of Saturday's other major performers -- perhaps Solange -- to play simultaneously, essentially co-headlining, as the fest did with Jack White and The Weeknd in 2015. In any event, how Tame Impala does in their slot may be an indicator of how viable rock bands are as Coachella headliners in the years to come, when there'll be fewer and fewer radio-approved rock acts to draw from.
2. Where are the rap A-listers? Given rap's increasing dominance over both the festival market and mainstream music in general, you'd think hip-hop would be ubiquitous across the lineup of the country's preeminent music festival. But while it's hardly absent on any of the three days, the genre isn't quite as pervasive as you might expect -- particularly towards the top of the bill. None of the three days have more than a single rapper listed among the top eight names, and the only hip-hop headliner is Childish Gambino, who (with one rather notable exception) has been mostly dabbling in '70s throwback psych-funk for the last three years.
There are still plenty of rap names of note to be seen across the three days, of course: Kid Cudi, YG, Juice WRLD, Playboi Carti, Jaden Smith, Sheck Wes, Wiz Khalifa, even Tierra Whack. But compare that to last year, which boasted Cardi B, Post Malone, Migos and Tyler, the Creator -- none of whom were even headlining -- and the genre's star wattage feels a little low. (Of course, having Kanye as one of three headliners would've helped some in this respect.) Diversity in sounds and performers seems more important to this year's Coachella lineup than a proportionate reflection of hip-hop's streaming supremacy, and while it's sort of hard to argue with that conceptually, it'll be interesting to see what Coachella's core young audience thinks of the genre's relatively light representation.
3. Going global. One of the major musical trends of the past few years in pop has been its trending towards globalization, with the impact of K-pop and Latin trap in particular on the American mainstream market becoming more profound and less ignorable. That impact can now be seen on this year's Coachella poster, which lists both a pair of Asian pop acts (the Japanese pop group Perfume and Korean chartbreakers BLACKPINK, the latter getting in on the line below Friday's headliner) and several high-profile Latin acts, including crossover stars J Balvin and Bad Bunny, critical favorite Rosalía and veteran norteño act Los Tucanes de Tijuana. It's a smart expansion of the festival's core to include acts that are becoming more and more relevant to its core audience, acts who may draw some first-timers to Indio this year as well -- and may even be due for higher slots on the lineup in the years to come.
4. Even fewer legacy acts. Coachella was already starting to trend in this direction with last year's relatively comeback/reunion-free lineup, which at least still boasted a pair of headliners in Eminem and Beyoncé, whose catalogs extended back to the turn of the millennium. This year, none of the headliners have discographies that go back much past this decade, while below them, the only acts in the top three lines of any day with roots in the 20th century are Weezer (who had their biggest year in a decade in 2018), Aphex Twin and the previously mentioned Los Tucanes de Tijuana. It's a bit staggering, given how big a part legacy acts used to play in the festival's brand. But given how modern the rest of the fest's lineup is skewing these days, there just might not be much of a place for the Steely Dans and Jamiroquais of the world to fit in.
5. Pretty good 2019 lineup! While debating the minutiae of the 2019 Coachella poster, it's also worth zooming back out a little bit and taking it in as a whole -- at which point, it's hard to really find much to complain about with this year's roster. It really is one of the most diverse Coachella lineups in recent memory, but few of the acts or placements really feel forced -- with the possible exception of Tame Impala at Saturday's very top, there's none of the "Really? How'd they get there?" sort of names that might've popped up in the top few lines in years past.
There might be the usual complaints about rock/alternative not being as integral to the lineup as in festivals past, but with Tame Impala headlining, and Weezer, The 1975, CHVRCHES, Maggie Rogers, Mac DeMarco and Billie Eillish coming in behind them on the poster, you can't really argue it's not well-represented -- though you may have to expand your genre definition a little bit past the radio heroes of the '90s and '00s. This is a Coachella for 2019, and as such, it seems to have mostly nailed it with this roster.