The headliners for Coachella’s 19th installment have been swirling in rumors for the past couple months. Beyonce was a given, since she had canceled her 2017 appearance due to pregnancy and vowed to return triumphantly in 2018. The Weeknd was also strongly rumored from early on, a choice that makes sense when you consider that Coachella was the first major music festival to book him in 2012, where he made his US debut at the Outdoor Theatre under the blazing hot sun, only to follow that up with a sub-headlining appearance in 2015 where he actually performed after the headliner (Jack White) and invited Kanye West out for a surprise appearance. Lastly, Eminem was a later name to enter the rumored fold, with the festival apparently looking beyond the cold reaction to Revival for a sort of legacy act that will hopefully lean on his older material.
What’s missing is obvious and has been bemoaned by vocal naysayers: Where are the rock bands? It doesn’t take a One Direction member to point out that Coachella’s rock roots cannot be understated. The first year was topped by two of the more burly members of the rock community — Rage Against The Machine and Tool — and this will mark the first year in its history where none of the headliners are rock acts. It’s particularly interesting when you consider the long-standing relationship that the festival had with local radio station KROQ, who would often help promote the lineup announcement and form a noticeable alliance in terms of hyping the event. This time around, the station’s employees were forced to reconcile with the fact that their own brand has lost its foothold into the zeitgeist.
The lack of a rock headliner at Coachella 2018 shouldn’t be hard to believe. Sure, you only need to go back to 2013 to find a time when Coachella offered four (!) rock headliners — The Stone Roses, Blur, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Phoenix. And, in fact, last year was the first time that only one of the three headliners was a rock band. For many, the shift seems sudden and from that angle, they aren’t wrong. But anyone that actually goes to Coachella knows that the shift has been coming for years.
2013 was a notable year for the criticism Phoenix received for not really feeling like legitimate headliners (that is until they brought out R. Kelly) and for a complete lack of interest that the attendees showed for both Blur and The Stone Roses. Recent years have once again seen the turnout for big rock acts like Muse, a reunited LCD Soundsystem, and even Radiohead wane, while sets from the likes of Drake, Calvin Harris, and Lady Gaga truly capture the interest of the general attending public. When an artist like Ryan Adams shows up on the lineup, even a plush sunset outdoor slot hasn’t enticed many of the teens that attend this thing to check him out. It’s a pretty simple chicken and egg scenario — Coachella’s audience lost interest in big rock bands long before Coachella gave up on them.
For the first time ever, looking at the Coachella lineup reveals three headliners that will unquestionably attract the fashionable, selfie-taking masses, and create the sort of unifying moment that music festivals are great for. There is no weak link among the three, each own numerous songs that have become ubiquitous to our culture — even in 2018. And maybe that’s what makes for the best headliners, not necessarily the most beloved artist, but the ones that strike the most curiosity. If someone wasn’t already indoctrinated in LCD Soundsystem, it’s doubtful they would have had much curiosity in the band at all. But whether or not you listen to Beyonce on the regular, if she’s playing a concert within a few thousand feet of you, you’d probably go check it out.
Rock fans that do go to Coachella will still have plenty to enjoy. Artists like St. Vincent, The War On Drugs, Fleet Foxes, David Byrne, A Perfect Circle, Haim, Alt-J, King Krule, and Angel Olsen all offer up wildly different takes on the genre, some swinging into pop territory while others find their landings at more idiosyncratic locations. Further down the lineup, artists like Moses Sumney, Priests, Japanese Breakfast, Cherry Glazerr, Oh Sees, Greta Van Fleet, Big Thief, and FIDLAR will all show variations on guitar music, many of which have offered up the most acclaimed albums of the last year.