Saturday evening at Coachella, after the phenomenal Tame Impala gig and a bit of the surprise Major Lazer DJ set, I was contemplating going to catch the 1 a.m. showing of Childish Gambino and Rihanna’s Guava Island over in Camping Lot 7. Then I heard the exit security yell something over the crowd: “If you are leaving, you might want to sell your wristband!”
I thought this was so strange. After only two-thirds of the action? Before Bad Bunny and Ariana Grande and one of only two Coachella weekend chances to scream along to “FDT” with YG at the Sahara Stage in 2019 (in and of itself, worth it). But then I remembered, Coachella has been doing this for 20 years. There is a science to getting the most out of the price of admission – getting in, getting out, getting away clean. The experience has been documented, and now it’s time to move on.
All to say, waking up Sunday morning, you find out who the real Coachella diehards are.
I got up 15 minutes earlier and made it to the shower line before it grew to absurd proportions. As 7 a.m. rolled around, the shower gates opened, and young men exploded through the line, as they did for main gates two days before, rushing to find an empty stall. A security attendant yelled over the bustle, “Do not shit in the shower! That’s pretty much the only rule at this point.”
After the mobile shower units reportedly catching fire earlier in the weekend and thousands of scuzzy humans passing through the dusty lot between trailers, there’s no delusion of grandeur left to uphold in this part of the experience.
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Once showered and ready, attendees had plenty to look forward to on Coachella’s last day. The Ariana Grande anticipation was spread across the grounds, with a “7 Rings” photo-op set up over by the KROQ tent and different merch drops all available at different places around the festival (I particularly liked the NASA-stylized line).
But there was also plenty of musical gold to experience before then as well. After Coachella’s own Alf Alpha put down the day’s inaugural DJ set, Nigerian singer Burna Boy brought the crowds out into the sun for a vibrant afternoon set of his internationally acclaimed material. Dubbed the African Giant tour, Burna’s set kicked off with a Star Wars scroll detailing his rise to fame and glory, culminating in this moment, his biggest American spotlight yet.
Rico Nasty’s DJ Miles kicked off the party about 10 minutes early, playing a set of hype tracks to get the crowd energized before Rico took the stage. One of these, notably, was “Old Town Road,” which made me realize that among all the surprise cameos in the world, no one at Coachella had brought out Lil Nas X. Given that last year’s standard for internet hype making it to Coachella was Walmart yodeler Mason Ramsey, I guess it surprised me that record-shattering streaming numbers weren’t enough to get the young rapper on stage in a last-minute Hail Mary.
It’s a fascinating web of politics, timing, and existing relationship. There’s always weekend two!
Once Miles was thoroughly satisfied with the crowd’s hype level, he brought Rico Nasty out to massive applause. Rico kicked her set off with “Trust Issues,” wearing a Disney princess dress with Cinderella’s Castle booming against the backdrop. As she moved into “Bitch, I’m Nasty,” stage hands emerged to take the princess dress away, and the gloves came off. Rico proved why she is one of the most formidable rappers around with an all-punches set and fantastic crowd energy.
Rico kicked off an array of fantastic rap sets Sunday. On the main stage, Pusha T performed in all white, in front of an iceberg, with snow dancers in tow, while backing visuals moved between whited-out Mortal Kombat fatalities, glacier footage, and wolves in snow bearing sharp, pearly teeth. All to say, Pusha T knows his subject material and his crowd, and the DAYTONA-heavy set held no punches.
Meanwhile, over on the Sahara stage, YG played one of the best sets the stage saw all weekend. Bringing out Big Sean, 2 Chainz, and Tyga, he burned through one banger after another before announcing that a new record will drop on May 3, delayed from a surprise release to mourn the passing of friend and collaborator Nipsey Hussle.
Among many other things, Nipsey put down an all-timer verse on “FDT,” and hearing that track rattle the stage foundations here this weekend felt special, even if the majority of attendees were present for YG’s party sensibilities above his message.
Once again proving to be the best place for quality rock 'n' roll all weekend, the Sonora stage hosted Danish act Iceage for a scorching 40 minutes. The group is on tour with Shame right now (they will be at Rebel Lounge this Wednesday), and between the two, you have some of the absolute best post-punk going.
Iceage's lead singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt is a dead-ringer for the tenuous, wasted-youth frontmen of the early '80s. He moves to and fro across the stage, equal parts despondent and incendiary, playing off every ounce the crowd gives him. Fittingly, his only vocal direction to the crowd or to his band beyond the lyrics was “louder.” Iceage collaborator Sky Ferreira watched the set from the side of the stage. While her featured track “Pain Killer” didn’t make it into the set, it was still fun to see the mutual respect for this incredible performance.
In a turn for the day, some of the festival’s most notable electronic producers were given highly competitive set times on Sunday. Dance duo Sofi Tukker were placed in almost direct competition with French house producer Gesaffelstein. Jon Hopkins felt the pain of running parallel with CHVRCHES. Finally, Kaytranada, the Canadian producer responsible for some of the best work behind Anderson .Paak, Ty Dolla $ign, and others, was set squarely against Ariana Grande. All three of these sets deserved far more preference than was given.
The Dangerous Woman-style bunny ears served dual purposes for Sunday's crowd.
A massive turnout for Puerto Rico's star Bad Bunny witnessed a young star in the making. Bad Bunny's debut LP X100PRE (pronounced por siempre) is exemplary in that it showcases true global star power. With reggaeton production alongside pop punk and spots from the likes of Diplo (he just keeps popping up here, doesn't he?), Bad Bunny has something for everyone, and his mainstage set proved that. The singer has made a name for himself as a feature on tracks like "I Like It," but the first 40 minutes of his set was starkly singular, as if to prove the range and dynamic that he can accomplish without any aid.
And to the crowd's great pleasure, Bad Bunny welcomed J. Balvin onto the stage for the last two numbers, closing out his set with "Sensualidad" back to back with an all-raps rendition of "I Like It." Watching Balvin and Bad Bunny trade bars on stage in real time was a Coachella all-timer. To go from almost zero música urbana representation two years ago to Balvin and Bad Bunny here sharing a hug on stage in front of 100,000 people, this was a true moment for everyone involved.
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Still, Sunday’s hype belonged squarely to Ariana Grande, and she absolutely made good on anticipation. Burning through a massive set of hits from Sweetener and thank u, next, Grande proved, after a few difficult personal years, why she's one of the most talented and deserving pop stars out there. Furthermore, surprise guests *NSYNC and Nicki Minaj sweetened the deal that much further. In a four-act presentation, each wave of Grande’s set felt more grandiose than the previous. By the time she was finished, it truly felt like Coachella had little else to give.
From Burna Boy’s set earlier in the day to Ariana’s big reveal moment with Nicki Minaj at the finale, sound issues plagued the main stage, as if to keep its heavenly ascension tethered to the ground. There, at the stage’s base, the polo field grass so green on Friday morning is now thoroughly dead, trampled by hundreds of thousands feet going every which way to survey or be surveyed. The photo-ops have slowed, with a knowing recognition that the Day 3 camping look may not be quite up to the bar set by the same shot taken on Day 1.
The real reason it’s hot at Coachella is because, like Sisyphus, its attendants knowingly fly close to the sun. For a weekend, you get to take on a completely new corporeal form beyond that of the one you occupy chained to a desk the rest of the week.
Maybe for some, it’s a Being John Malkovich-type moment of understanding, as everything else in life now sits in perspective to the grandiosity of this Indio escape. No matter how authentic or how much the experience really does or doesn’t belong to you isn’t the point. You put it all on the line for a chance to feel beyond yourself.