You can say what you want about Childish Gambino — actually, he doesn’t really care what you have to say. The multi-hyphenate has been subject to criticism throughout his musical career as he ebbs and flows through various genres. But at the start of his stunning headlining set at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Friday night (April 12), he revealed that none of that seems to have much of an effect.
Gambino, a.k.a Donald Glover, opened his performance with a video compilation where fans and non-fans alike were asked to comment on his artistry. Some were enthusiastic (“I’m thankful to be here while he’s creating art”), but most were quite dismissive. “He’s great at a lot of things, but a master of none,” one festival-goer exclaimed. Another boldly said, “Nobody’s coming to Coachella to hear that.”
With that final statement, the main stage was quickly overcome with ocean-blue light just moments before Gambino unexpectedly popped up in the middle of the festival grounds. Surrounded by stark white lights that jutted all around him like daggers, the singer/rapper began his set with “Algorhythm” — the same hair-raising song that kicked off last year’s This Is America Tour. There is no joy in sorrow, no truth untold,” Gambino crooned as he slowly descended towards the stage.
Then, the artist (who still has remnants of blonde patches in his beard following the Grammys) took everyone to church. We’re just a day removed from Nipsey Hussle’s memorial at Los Angeles Staples Center, so Gambino’s usage of an all-black choir along with the almost tangible passion in his voice made his performance all the more powerful. He made the crowd aware of this, calling out those who chose to scroll through their phones instead of engaging with the songs. “We really need to feel each other… this is not a concert, this is church.” Gambino said after relaying his concert rules.
The stage lightning reflected every facet of Gambino’s personality: romantic fuschia for “Summertime Magic,” a warm orange for “Have Some Love,” a mellow yellow as he went into the crowd to share a blunt with a fan (before checking his ID, of course) and a fireworks display for “Boogieman.”
— Coachella (@coachella) April 13, 2019
At one point, the artist stopped to reflect all of the loss he’s experience: Mac Miller, Nipsey Hussle and his own father who passed away last December. “All we really have are memories at the end of the day,” he muttered into the microphone while crouching down on stage. “The problem with millennials is that we have too much date, we’re too afraid to plant a tree we know we’re not going to eat from.” He continued: “Some of y’all won’t make it to next week. While we’re here, feel something and pass it on.”
He then rushed into an intense rendition of “Riot” while the surrounding lights shined just as electric as the performance. Following the premiere of his anticipated Guava Island mini-film prior to his headlining set, many fans were hoping that Gambino would also debut a new song to add on to the day’s excitement. The multi-hyphenate surely didn’t disappoint, dropping an electronic-based party-starter that fit right into the light-hearted vibes of last year’s Summer Pack EP. He later ended his set with — no surprise here — the record and song of the year Grammy winner “This Is America,” and Awaken, My Love mainstay “Redbone.”
The artist looked more confident throughout his Coachella set than he’s ever been in his career, and not because he enjoys performing shirtless nowadays. But he has all the reason to feel this secure: After scoring four Grammy wins for a political song that rattled the industry, the release of a new mini-film and the anticipation of Atlanta season three, this performance more than proved to be a testament to just how significant Childish Gambino’s work has become to not just music, but pop culture as a whole.