The Coachella lineup just hits different this year. Traditionally, the early-January announcement has marked the start of the American festival season, much like the event’s arrival in Indio, California each April. Who Coachella books matters not just symbolically but also chronologically, since it’s the first major U.S. festival to reveal its full bill. But Bonnaroo beat them to the punch this year, announcing a lineup led by Stevie Nicks, Tool, and J. Cole earlier this week. Before the pandemic, perusing the Coachella lineup poster was an annual parlor game, where fans and pundits could puzzle over font sizes to glean insights into who was up and who was down by the industry’s estimation. That seems a bit quaint now, doesn’t it?
In 2022, Coachella’s official lineup confirmation matters for merely existing. Two years ago, it was one of the first major music events to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2020’s gathering was eventually canceled. Plans for an April 2021 installment, too, were shelved due to the coronavirus. As recently as last summer, Coachella organizers floated the idea of bringing back the planned 2020 headliners: Travis Scott, Rage Against the Machine, and Frank Ocean. Of course, that didn’t happen: Billie Eilish, Harry Styles, the artist formerly known as Kanye West, and Swedish House Mafia are officially headlining instead. But as other early lineup announcements (like Primavera Sound and the smaller Big Ears Festival) have shown, the long wait can lead to a strong slate. Similarly, Coachella’s lineup looks pretty good overall, in its vast and money-scented way.
Here are four observations about the 2022 bill. Coachella takes place April 15-17 and April 22-24.
Clearly, headliners for a festival known to bring 250,000 people to a former polo club in Southern California need to have large fanbases, but Coachella’s lineup is usually worth dissecting because it feels like it says something artistically too. Whether controversy-sparking (2012’s 2Pac “hologram,” presumably now smiling down us from somewhere in the metaverse), career-crowning (2018’s Beyoncé tour de force, later documented in her Homecoming live album and film), and stubbornly cultish (2013’s Stone Roses, anyone?), Coachella’s choice of headliners generally has a way of percolating across pop culture. In 2022, such reverberations are more difficult to discern.
Frank Ocean, as Coachella co-founder Paul Tollett said in an interview last year, won’t be headlining until 2023. Rage Against the Machine are touring this spring, but they’re likewise off the bill. And Travis Scott has stepped back from live performances after last year’s Astroworld tragedy, pulling out of November’s Day N Nite festival, which is organized by Coachella promoter Goldenvoice. So that leaves Eilish, Styles, Ye, and Swedish House Mafia in the awkward position of being ostensible replacements, unified by their arena-filling credentials.
Eilish, as a Los Angeles native, a returning Coachella performer, and an award-festooned star whose work is also fairly idiosyncratic, makes sense and seems like a surefire bet. Styles fulfills the fest’s perhaps KROQ-addled UK tilt and should endear himself to the crowd with a celebratory vibe (and looks); his arena shows are one big party—costumes encouraged. Ye is honestly the infuriating pick: Yes, he’s impossibly famous, he’s headlined before, and he’s not opposed to a career-spanning set, but last year’s Donda was an album only Grammy voters could love—and more to the point, he apparently has been working to subvert U.S. democracy on behalf of Republican paymasters. The choice is up to attendees, seeing as EDM megabots Swedish House Mafia play the same night as Ye. Corporate raves still suck, but so do billionaire edgelords.
It’s almost disorienting looking at the Coachella lineup in a year when Bonnaroo’s lineup has been floating around for a few days. (Or maybe that’s just the shrinking Willy Wonka fine print after a two-year break.) The fests still have decidedly different flavors, with Bonnaroo’s rootsiness showing through in such bookings as Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, its yen for instrumental improvisation in jazz heroes from Herbie Hancock to Sons of Kemet, its druggy haze in spacey rock groups like the War on Drugs or King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. But given Coachella’s sheer scale (about 180 acts to Bonnaroo’s 110-ish, by a rough count), often when you see a name you like on the Bonnaroo bill, you’ll find it on the Coachella lineup too—plus something else that you might recommend to its fans. Japanese Breakfast? Yes, and Phoebe Bridgers. 100 gecs? Yes, and Rina Sawayama. Denzel Curry? Yes, and Vince Staples. Disclosure? Yes, and Caribou, DJ Koze, the Blessed Madonna, Peggy Gou… you get the picture. Alas, only Bonnaroo has the Chicks—but Coachella has Danny Elfman.
Look, let’s just reiterate that for whatever criticisms anyone could have of particular acts, following so many months of stops and starts, this thing is stacked. Of-the-moment stars who aren’t even headliners? They’ve got Megan Thee Stallion. They’ve got Doja Cat. They’ve got Spotify-dominating Eurovision winners Måneskin, for whatever that’s worth. Does the second-line placement for Ari Lennox indicate a follow-up to Shea Butter Baby could be on the way? Let’s hope. Same goes for new music from Carly Rae Jepsen, who’s hiding in the fourth row. Even in those middle columns, there’s (cue the “Losing My Edge” voice) Spiritualized, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Caroline Polacheck, Floating Points, Run the Jewels, Turnstile, Jamie xx, Honey Dijon. Fatboy Slim? Why not!
Not to keep going on breathlessly like this, but it’s also striking whose names you’ll find in the tiniest letters. I might happily attend a festival solely comprising the artists from the bottom few lines of Saturday’s lineup alone: J-pop star Kyary Kyary Pamyu, stripped-down UK singer-songwriter Holly Humberstone, jazzy indie-rock bard Nilüfer Yanya, dream-punks Mannequin Pussy, maybe topped off by those madcaps in black midi? Don’t mind if I do. There’s also Canadian club phenom Jayda G, Philly noise-rockers Crumb, and Atlanta R&B tinkerer Mariah the Scientist. It wasn’t clear at first if the Griselda referred to on the second-to-last line of Sunday’s listing is gritty rap trio Griselda, but what other festival could have them billed so low? Coachella ain’t perfect, but after three years away, the return of the iconic throwdown—in all of its font-size frivolity and promise for the festival season ahead—could hardly be more welcome.