In October, rumors began that claimed to identify the three headliners of Coachella. The source of the speculation came from HITS Daily Double, but anyone close to the music industry heard similar rumblings. They stated that Childish Gambino, Kanye West, and Justin Timberlake would close out respective nights at the Indio, California event, and fans quickly voiced concern about 2/3rds of the reported headliners.
While Donald Glover is following a remarkable year that included dominance in music, film, and television, the others weren’t so lucky. Timberlake is coming off a year that largely felt like a flop, with his 2018 album Man Of The Woods quickly forgotten and failing to notch a hit despite his Super Bowl appearance.
West, for his part, also had a down year musically, with his newest album Ye album also becoming the worst reviewed of his career. Plus he also made a name for himself with his support of President Trump and unhinged tweet storms, finding even many longtime and loyal supporters wanting to distance themselves from the music icon. For a festival that has its own precarious relationship with the right wing, giving West a stage to say whatever he wanted on a national YouTube stream and booking Timberlake despite his tenuous relationship with and recent criticism from the Black community felt like the opening of floodgates for unnecessary controversy. It certainly would have sparked headlines, but at what cost?
But since these reports, things have changed dramatically. It began with Timberlake suffering from bruised vocal cords and being forced to postpone a number of tour dates, including some in Southern California. And while it made for a funny trip to Fallon, when Timberlake revealed his makeup dates for 2019, one couldn’t help to notice that he now had SoCal appearances of his Live Nation-promoted tour just weeks before Coachella, and appearances on the east coast during the festival. The logical spin was that he was now off the festival lineup, but many questioned whether this was solely because of a contractual obligation to Live Nation or whether the negotiations had soured long before.
The same questions come up around Kanye West, whose appearance at Coachella was reportedly canceled due to West not wanting to work within the confines of Coachella’s stage. A report today on TMZ, using a source close to West, says as much, with the lineup expected to drop at any moment. But if we know anything about West of late, it’s the desire to follow his Trump inclinations and spin any story to his own advantage. Though the main stage at Coachella generally doesn’t have limitless flexibility for alterations, that hasn’t stopped artists like Beyonce and Arcade Fire from changing it to include massive catwalks, satellite stages, and other customizations. West called out the festival stages for being as antiquated as the platforms they performed on in Shakespeare’s time (which, if you’ve seen the massive curved screens and how artists have innovated within Coachella’s confines, is completely laughable), ignoring the fact that even he managed to perform on a giant forklift last time he headlined the event in 2011. If the lineup was about to drop without West’s name at the top, it’s not surprising that he’d want to make sure people knew it was his decision (delivered through his favorite media outlet), and not because of his unpredictable antics.
This whole turn of events calls into question what the benefit of having these lineup leaks really is. Almost all music festivals prefer to have the ins and outs of their bookings happen behind closed doors for simply this reason, because lineups go through countless iterations before they are finalized. They are fluid and are only set when they become public, and anything beyond that is speculation, regardless of sources or educated guesses. Whether or not Kanye West and Justin Timberlake were in negotiations is beside the point, the fact is they were never confirmed for the festival. Reporting on festival lineups before they are finalized ultimately does no one favors, be it the publication, the festival, or the artists. There was a reason that Timberlake and West were never announced as Coachella headliners — because they never were completely in place. And if the lineup comes out and they miraculously are on the lineup, it’s just a reminder that the reports that Timberlake and West are not playing Coachella are not from official sources, either.
Regardless of who Coachella actually gets to headline their event (UPDATE: the 2019 lineup was announced late Wednesday night), both Timberlake and Kanye feel like fortunate misses for them, ones that will spare them unneeded drama and pave the way for them to get artists that align better with the ideology of their guests and the music of the moment. There’s no saying if their absence from the eventual lineup is the effect of the backlash that their floated names caused, but either way, it seems like the best case scenario. Frank Ocean is one name that’s being flung around now, and it would be poetic justice if he did perform considering Kanye stepped in to sub when Frank Ocean canceled FYF in 2015. Rihanna, Mumford & Sons, Lana Del Rey, Florence + The Machine, and Travis Scott have all seen their names speculated on as well. Even Ariana Grande has some rumors attaching her, despite announced tour dates that would make her appearance seemingly impossible. Regardless, until Coachella tweets out a poster, there are no such things as confirmations.