On Jan. 1, just two days before Coachella co-founder Paul Tollett was set to announce Kanye West as one of the stars headlining the desert festival, West sprung a last-minute surprise on the concert promoter. Instead of performing on the main Coachella stage, West asked Tollett to construct a giant, custom-built dome in the middle of the festival grounds. The dome would be designed by West collaborator and set designer John McGuire.
When senior executives from Coachella parent Goldenvoice explained that the dome would be impossible to build in four months and would require the AEG-owned concert promoter to rearrange the entire festival site and remove a large section of portable bathrooms, West became irritated, declaring that he was an artist with a creative vision who shouldn’t be spending his time talking about port-a-potties.
A source tells Billboard that West had taken the call while on vacation with his family and said it was Goldenvoice’s responsibility to deal with the bathrooms. He then hung up abruptly, sources said.
Before the day was over, Tollett and his team at Goldenvoice were in talks with SB Projects’ founder Scooter Braun to have his client Ariana Grande replace West on the lineup. Braun had terminated his professional relationship with West in early December, Billboard has learned, marking the second split in 2018 between the mega-manager and the rapper. Less than 24 hours after West pulled out, Grande was confirmed for the final night. Australian rock band Tame Impala was elevated to the top headliner slot in December to replace Justin Timberlake, who dropped off the lineup after his rescheduled tour dates due to bruised vocal cords conflicted with Coachella’s radius clause.
The two late cancellations underscore the frantic nature of finalizing a headliner for one of the biggest festivals in the world, with top-tier artists capable of pulling in between $2 to $5 million per performance and festival promoters increasingly reluctant to give into artist demands. The two-weekend festival, April 12-14 and April 19-21, is celebrating its 20th season this year and has enough brand power to push back against the demands of stars like West and still sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tickets without three marquee headliners. This year’s festival once again sold out its initial release of tickets in one day (selling out in six hours in 2019, versus three hours last year) with plenty of buzz for the deep lineup, which includes 2018 breakouts like Bad Bunny, Pusha T and all-girl K-Pop phenoms BlackPink.
West’s participation in the festival has been in the works for several years, and as the Jan. 3 lineup announcement approached, his representatives had been pushing Goldenvoice to build the dome for West, away from the main stage and large enough to house a big portion of the 125,000 fans who flock to the Empire Polo Fields in Indio, Calif. every April. West would play in the center of the dome in an in-the-round format, and the dome would be tricked out with high-tech production and immersive video, topping the flying stage he took on tour in 2016 and the floating glass box he shared with Kid Cudi at this year’s Camp Flog Naw in L.A.
West complained that the main stage at Coachella was not big enough for his performance, but Goldenvoice officials told him past headliners like Beyoncé and Lady Gaga had been able to stage stunning performances with hundreds of dancers and musicians on the main stage. They also pointed out that is one of the largest stages in North America.
Shortly after the Jan. 1 call concluded, Goldenvoice decided to end talks with West, who did not have a signed contract for the headliner slot and hadn’t collected any payment from Goldenvoice. Coachella wasn’t the only festival where Kanye had disagreements with the concert promoter: Billboard has learned that West was close to landing a headliner slot at Governors Ball in New York, only to have promoters turn down his last-minute dome request and part ways a day before the lineup was announced.
Billboard reached out to representatives from Kanye for this story, who declined to comment.