Coachella 2022: True to tradition, or a TikTok makeover? Festival undergoes new generational shift
Up until a few years ago, it may have seemed unthinkable that One Direction boy-band alum Harry Styles would headline the festival. Times have changed
How many people will, unironically, be wearing One Direction T-shirts at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio this weekend and next weekend?
How many of the 125,000 daily attendees at the sold-out event will post videos of themselves on TikTok using a free commemorative Coachella NFT as a prop?
Both questions would have been almost unthinkable in 2019, the most recent year the world’s most popular and lucrative annual music festival was held before the COVID-19 shutdown.
As the sold-out festival gets set to kick off its latest edition, we chat with Coachella veterans and a newcomer to get their take
Three years later, after canceling its 2020 and 2021 editions because of the pandemic, Coachella is set to return, bigger and more immersive than ever.
And, my, how things have changed, even though the recent arrival of the BA.2 variant underscores that the more than two-year-old pandemic hasn’t disappeared. (The festival’s website states that attendees “voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19").
The 2020 and 2021 editions of the world’s largest and most lucrative annual music festival were both pushed back by the pandemic. This year’s edition will be held April 15-17 and April 22-24.
Regardless, the pop-music landscape feels at least a decade away from 2019. Three of Coachella’s four 2022 headliners — Harry Styles, Billie Eilish and The Weeknd — epitomize how a festival that once thrived on its indie cool and underground credibility has embraced pop music for a new generation.
“Starting in 1999, Coachella changed the landscape for music festivals in the United States,” said Lollapalooza co-founder Marc Geiger. “But if you are appealing to a Gen Z, Spotify and TikTok audience, you’re dealing with a different landscape.”
Is festival going in one direction?
The 2022 edition of Coachella, whose six-day annual run will draw 750,000 people, once again sold out well in advance. As in the past, most tickets were snapped up before a single performer had been disclosed.
Moreover, many 2020 ticket buyers opted to hold on to their three-day passes until the festival could resume. There is no better indication that the event itself has become the biggest draw. That’s a far cry from 2008, when Prince was a late addition to the lineup to boost ticket sales. (In 2010, Coachella stopped selling single-day tickets, opting instead for three-day passes. Attendance at the event, which consistently sells out in advance, has grown incrementally with the expanding size of the festival, which now covers more than 650 acres.)
No longer dismissed as a former boy-band lightweight, ex-One Direction heartthrob Styles has become an arena-filling solo act with a 2021 Grammy Award vocal win for Best Pop Solo Performance to his credit.
His appearance as a Coachella headliner, which might have been laughable just a few years ago, seems well-timed now, commercially, if not artistically.
Perhaps even more notable is the impact on Coachella of TikTok, the video-sharing social network app that allows users to create and share video clips and now has an estimated one billion monthly active users.
While TikTok is known primarily as a vehicle for users to post videos of themselves dancing and lip-syncing, it has also become a prime launching pad for young performers seeking musical stardom.
TikTok’s prime beneficiaries include recent Grammy winner Olivia Rodrigo, Lil Nas X and such 2022 Coachella performers as Texas hip-hop sensation Megan Thee Stallion, Los Angeles singer-rapper Doja Cat, Italian glam-rock band Mäneskin and singer-songwriter Conan Gray, who grew up in Texas but was born in Lemon Grove.
In another shift that reflects changing trends and preferences, there will be well over 100 solo acts at Coachella this year but only 39 bands.
The lineup includes a plethora of young artists who weren’t born when Coachella debuted in 1999 with headlining sets by Beck, Tool and Rage Against the Machine.
Among the rising acts on this year’s bill are Mexican rapper Natanael Cano, English singer-songwriter Arlo Park, American rapper (and 2022 Grammy-winner) Baby Keem, English-Filipino bedroom-pop troubadour beabadoobee and Argentinian rapper-singer Nicki Nicole. They are all 21.
Close behind, at 22, are Indonesian rapper Rich Brian and Texas vocalist Alaina Castillo, who has 850,000 YouTube followers.
Castillo first earned online attention with her hushed, “sing you to sleep” cover versions of hit songs by Eilish, The Weeknd and others, which she performed in a format known as ASMR (short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response).
Whispering and the audible turning of pages are major trigger points designed to help ASMR viewers and listeners relax and fall sleep. If the inclusion of Castillo, who sings in English and Spanish, at Coachella might have seemed like a prank a few years ago, it doesn’t now.
Neither does the inclusion of yoga-DJ Cole Knight, bedroom-pop singer Still Woozy and South Korean hip-hop trio Epik High. Then there’s Bollywood-inspired soul singer Raveena Aurora, San Diego neo-surf-punk trio Beach Goons, Tijuana ranchera and banda band Grupo Firme and the Los Angeles R&B duo Emotional Oranges.
These are just some of the 2022 Coachella acts that may be unfamiliar to many music fans who attended the first edition of the festival in 1999 — or during the decade that followed.
First a bust, then a boom
The debut iteration of Coachella was a two-day event. It drew about 25,000 people and lost so much money that the festival was not held in 2000.
It returned in 2001 but only sold out for the first time in 2004. The exceptionally well-curated festival only became profitable in 2005. It expanded to three days in 2007, when San Diego’s Nickel Creek was part of the lineup.
By 2012, Coachella had grown to two consecutive three-day weekends. Attendance that year was 158,387 and the festival grossed $47,313,403, an amount dwarfed by the $114.6 million Coachella grossed in 2017 (the last year for which figures have been released by its producers).
There were a number of turning points that illustrated the event’s broadening appeal. Performing at Coachella could instantly confer a cachet of hipness on artists. So could simply being in the audience.
An early example was Madonna, who performed in the festival’s Sahara dance tent in 2006. She was followed, offstage, by socialite-turned-TV-star Paris Hilton, who — starting in 2007 — became a regular attendee.
Other celebrities and Hollywood stars followed, along with a horde of paparazzi. In 2011, YouTube began livestreaming some of the festival’s performances, as it will again this weekend. In 2015, H&M debuted its Coachella-inspired clothing line (think: affluent neo-hippies), followed by the introduction of an H&M boutique on the festival grounds.
For Mission Hills mom, dad and their two teenaged sons, attending the festival in Indio is an annual tradition
Realizing that many young Coachella devotees had not attended a concert by rock legends their parents grew up on, Coachella’s producers brought headliners whose appeal inspired some parents who attended the festival for the first time.
Those legends included Prince and Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, both in 2008, Paul McCartney in 2009, AC/DC in 2015, and the reunited Guns N’ Roses in 2016. Having a heritage rock act in the festival’s 2022 lineup would almost seem jarring.
Avid fans Seth Gomez and Angie Palmer didn’t take any chances when it came to staking out prime spots to watch Paul McCartney’s headlining performance last night at the 10th annual Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.
Madonna returned in 2015 for a cameo during Drake’s headlining performance. Coachella’s turn to pop, at least for its headlining acts, solidified with Lady Gaga in 2017, followed by Beyoncé in 2018 and Arianna Grande in 2019. That same year saw South Korean trio Blackpink became the festival’s first K-pop act.
Prior to the pandemic, Coachella became an ever-larger commercial blockbuster that grew year by year. It now draws a mass-market audience quite different from the obsessive music nerds and hipsters who constituted much of the festival’s initial audience.
A key distinction is that the first decade of Coachella preceded the explosion of such social media phenomena as Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch and the increasingly popular TikTok. YouTube, which began livestreaming portions of the festival in 2011, reported getting 82.9 million live views during the 2019 edition of Coachella, the most recent to be held before the pandemic shutdown.
If, for many, the event and the experience have become a bigger draw than the performers, well, that’s a sad reality. And if the music now too often serves merely as a backing track while posing for selfies, the same is true at concerts, large and small, almost everywhere.
But no matter. Because for young people now — as in 2001, 2019 and every year in between — attending Coachella has become a prized rite of passage that comes with major bragging rights. Some things never change.
2022 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival
When: Friday through Sunday, and April 22-24
Where: Empire Polo Club, 81800 Avenue 51, Indio
Tickets: Sold out
Remote viewing: YouTube will be livestreaming both weekends of this year’s festival, via desktop, mobile and the YouTube Music app starting at 4 p.m. Friday and running through Monday evening. The livestreaming hours for the second weekend have not been announced yet.
COVID-19 protocols: As of this writing, there are no vaccination, testing or masking requirements at the festival. However, the event’s website stresses such requirements could “change at any time” and that various measures could be enacted, including a possible reduction in capacity. The website also states: “By entering the festival, attendees voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.”
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