Twenty-five minutes late to his headlining set, Drake took a few moments to warm up the crowd with a handful of songs — “Trophies,” “Legend,” “We Made It” — before delivering his mission statement for the final performance at Coachella on Sunday night (Apr. 13).
“Tonight is different because before I came out, I got a call from my mother,” he said. “She said, ‘You know I love you, but I need a favor. I need you to go on that Coachella stage tonight and kill that motherf—er.’ You ’bout to get your wish tonight.”
But the set was far from career-defining, and the YMCMB rapper made a hit-and-miss debut at the fest. During his 75-minute set, he notably leaned on the softer, more emotive side of his catalog, dotting long stretches of songs with a few cuts that revved up the massive crowd.
When he was at his best, he connected with his anthemic fare. Songs from his latest mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, which was released in Feb. 2015, were strong, but it was his bigger hits that stirred the audience. “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” “Over” and “Headlines” breathed life into the surprisingly docile audience, which stretched back to the end of the main stage lawn.
But it wasn’t Drake that was the highlight of one of his biggest gigs to date. After performing his recent mixtape cut “Madonna,” singing next to a digital fireplace, he exited the stage, bringing out the night’s sole guest: Madonna.
It all began when Drake surprise-released If You’re Reading and named a track after the Material Girl, prompting her to give a response to Us Weekly: “The lifelong ambition I still want to fulfill is to go on a dream date with Drake — and only kiss him,” she said.
So it’s fitting that he would tap the iconic singer, who recently released her latest Rebel Heart, as his big reveal. The crowd erupted when Madge emerged from the wings to an empty stage, dragging a chair behind her. She began her mini-set with “Human Nature” before ripping off her dress for “Hung Up,” when Drake took a seat and Madonna circled him before going in for a kiss. “Bitch, I’m Madonna,” she said, strutting off the stage.
It’s confounding, then, that he didn’t enlist more star power to give make his set more iconic — a level that Madonna achieved, and he’s yet to do. And he easily could have. Rumors circled that Rihanna and Jay Z, both collaborators, were watching from backstage, while The Weeknd, who was spotted in the VIP pit at Gesaffelstein 20 minutes before Drake began, didn’t show up. Same goes for PartyNextDoor, Big Sean or iLoveMakonnen, whose collabs were performed without them.
What Drake didn’t seem to realize is that, frankly, he’s got a long way to go when it comes to his live shows. His pacing felt off; he’ll chase a truly energetic moment by abruptly transitioning into downtempo, murky tracks. Part of what makes him so special is that he’s one of the few rappers who isn’t afraid to express his emotions, and that’s what makes those songs headphone favorites. But as for how they translate with a crowd on the coveted final set of Coachella, where artists like Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre put serious thought into how to deliver their best, he pumped the brakes so strongly that the audience regularly fell into slumps.
For such an enigmatic rapper who consistently raises the bar with his records, he surely has the ability to focus some of that energy into improving his stage show. When fireworks erupted and rain showered down during a ballad rendition of “Legend,” it felt anticlimactic. That’s not what we’ve come to expect from Toronto’s finest.