Coachella is an event that has always seemed to do its own thing. Negative connotations persist — the flower crowns, the endless dust, the influencers who care more about snapping a selfie by the big tower than any of the bands— but it still remains one of the most distinctive and talked-about events of the year, right up there with Glastonbury as a sign that an appearing artist has ‘made’ it. Maybe it’s the Beyoncé ‘Homecoming’ effect, but Coachella has seemingly never been bigger, streaming around the world via YouTube and drawing the kind of sponsorship budget that would make most festival organisers weep.
After taking pandemic hiatus in 2020 and 2021, Coachella proved that they could dominate discussion in 2022; Billie & Hayley’s ‘Misery Business’ moment, Harry Styles singing with Shania Twain, Anitta making a big splash on the mainstage. But in 2023, they appear to be going even bolder, leaning into the pull that they have as a globally recognised brand. With their first-ever set of all-POC headliners, straightforward pop and rock are firmly out, and colourful, diasporic subgenres are in, recognising the changing tide of streaming-era interest.
First up is Benito Ocasio, aka Bad Bunny, the Puerto-Rican prince of Latin Rap. Breaking through into the US mainstream in 2018 by featuring on Cardi B’s ‘I Like It’ with J.Balvin, he was already huge in Spanish-speaking domestic markets, but has made significant global inroads in recent years, topping the Billboard album charts in both 2020 and 2022. Breaking records at the same rate that Matty Healy gets through cigarettes, he became the first non-English language act to top Spotify’s most streamed artist lists in 2020, defending this title in 2021 and 2022. Late last year, his most recent album ‘Un Verano Sin Ti’ became the first ever Spanish-language album to earn a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year, celebrated for its creative blend of reggaeton, indie-pop and traditional latin-cumbian sounds. From Coachella’s perspective, the numbers he is accruing make him an absolutely-no brainer booking, the kind of catchy, danceable artist who will make even those who were previously unfamiliar with his music move. On a lesser note, the huge stage will also be a good way to connect with his US fans from a more comfortable distance — recent footage of him flinging a fan’s phone after feeling disrespected has already become the stuff of legendary meme, indicating at best a sense of ‘anything might happen’ theatricality.
Taking to the stage on Coachella’s Sunday night will be Frank Ocean, a surefire sign that we can expect his first new album since 2016 at some point in the near future. Unpredictable and enigmatic, Ocean is not necessarily the most comfortable mainstage performer (as anyone who saw his headline set at Lovebox 2017 can attest), but by accepting the opportunity to headline Coachella, you can’t help feel that he must have some pretty exciting tricks up his (Homer branded) sleeve. In many ways, he feels like an obvious Coachella fit; lo-fi chill enough to enjoy from a distance, but a rare-enough booking to spark proper excitement for the hardcore fans, his biggest US gig to date. Like Bad Bunny, there is also significant opportunity for collaboration; mates with a whole bunch of heavy industry hitters, there is no knowing exactly how his set will play out. Fans are already manifesting a potential collaboration with Jai Paul, the cult-legend UK-based producer who will be performing for the very first time at Coachella 2023, but there is also a (very) slim possibility that we might see an Odd Future reunion, or at least a cheeky appearance from either Tyler The Creator or Syd.
Sandwiched between these two rap titans is perhaps Coachella’s most talked-about headline booking in years; BlackPink. Having appeared at Coachella in 2019 as the festival’s first ever K-Pop booking, the four women — Lisa, Jennie, Jisoo and Rosé — have become unofficial ambassadors for the Coachella brand, spotted in attendance even when not performing, and arguably opening the door to other big Coachella K-pop bookings; aespa in 2021, Jackson Wang this year. Their music — edgy, EDM-tinged R&B/pop — is heavy with the kind of dance-break choruses that get a crowd going, challenging outsider perceptions of K-Pop as a sweetly-saccharine form. While recent reviews of their ‘Born Pink’ world tour have at times been a little shaky, their elevation to US headline status feels like a win not just for the group but for K-Pop in general, recognising the phenomenal growth that the subgenre has experienced in the last decade. With several months still to go before Coachella flings open its doors, expectations of the show are already high; with all four members having recently released solo material (or poised to do so this year), Blinks should be in for a show of real multi-layered dynamism.
Lower down the line-up, the surprises keep coming. While representation of women is unfortunately down from 2022 (38% from 40%), several sets stand out as moments in the making, shifting things even further away from the festival’s noughties’ focus on male-heavy indie. The live return of both Blondie and Bjork feels like a particular vindication, acknowledging their pioneer status in the past, present and future of music. Becky G, GloRilla and MUNA all feel set for huge crowds that will confirm their crossover appeal, while appearances from NoName, Weyes Blood and Ethel Cain also feel like must-sees, contrasting nicely with the usual fulfilment of Coachella DJ’s and EDM. And then of course, there is the inclusion of a small supergroup named boygenius; having neither explicitly confirmed nor denied the possibility of a second album, Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus’s fated desert reunion quietly suggests that a comeback is underway, surely with glittering results.
Of course, no festival line-up will ever leave all its fans entirely happy. But as a commitment to reflecting our ever-diversifying times, Coachella ‘23 does feel like it offers something thoughtfully curated for the masses. Will it top Glastonbury? At this stage in the game, potentially not just yet. But as a commercially-minded enterprise, with at-home viewers from all around the world to please, their forward-thinking, genre-widening approach definitely feels like something to support. With streaming data so readily at their disposal, why wouldn’t they deliver the event that global fans seem to want?
READ MORE: Read our BIG review of Coachella 2023