This weekend, Coachella came back for the first time since Joe Biden was just the former VP and no one could’ve told you what COVID stood for. The biggest music festival on the planet returned for the first time since April 2019, headlined by Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, and The Weeknd x Swedish House Mafia (after Kanye fell through).
As per usual, it was the singular hub of music, American culture, capitalism and pretty much everything else for three days in the California desert. Full of surprise guests, the hottest trends, and both expected and unexpected hijinks of every variety, SPIN was out in full force throughout the festival’s first weekend, experiencing all of the highs and lows firsthand so you don’t have to.
Here’s The Best, The Mess & The Rest of everything to do with Coachella’s (mostly triumphant) return.
Billie Eilish — There’s no one quite like Billie Eilish. As the world’s most-together 20-year-old, she’s managed to successfully navigate the early segment of her career seamlessly while making the points she needs to make on stage, while also threading the needle of appealing to all generations. Look no further than what she did on Saturday. She brought up Khalid for a surprise performance, and then her brother Finneas for a not-so-much-of-a-surprise. However, the main stage’s collective jaws dropped when she brought up Blur/Gorillaz/The Good, The Bad & The Queen frontman Damon Albarn for a pair of songs. Add to that an appearance by Posdnuos of De La Soul for a rendition of “Feel Good Inc.” and a mention of how important Gorillaz were to her career, and it became a move that felt genuine and satisfying in the moments and after. Oh, and she’s got some pretty good songs herself as well. (Daniel Kohn)
Phoebe Bridgers — Does Phoebe Bridgers count as a pop star? I still haven’t figured that out, and no one seems to be able to answer it for me. If she does, then she’s my favorite current pop star. Not only did she put on one of the best sets of the weekend on Friday night (complete with a full backing band wearing her signature skeleton suits), but she also brought out Arlo Parks for a portion of her set (and then returned the favor during Parks’ set the next day). While her music isn’t quite as peppy as the seemingly endless stream of DJs performing during the weekend, it was an incredible change of pace that left everyone singing “I Know the End” while walking to their next destination. (Josh Chesler)
Turnstile — We told you last year they were the real deal. Now ask anyone who saw their set if we were wrong… didn’t think so. (DK)
The Do LaB — The Sahara tent earned its reputation as the biggest party stage at Coachella, but now that it’s primarily shifted from its EDM roots to become the home for most mainstream rappers (and oddly enough, the nostalgia trap known as Emo Nite), it’s a very different vibe. In its wake, the Do LaB has stepped up as the new go-to spot for those looking for a (slightly) more intimate full-blown raging experience with a wide variety of unexpected special guests and appearances. Hell, even Diplo dropped by for a surprise set this year. (JC)
The Cup — For those who didn’t get to meet the biggest celebrity at Coachella this year, SPIN convinced Chris Farren’s “The Cup” to attend as our special correspondent. Needless to say, artists and fans alike were stoked to meet him, and we spent much of the weekend making sure his needs were met so he could provide the best coverage possible. (The Cup’s Handler)
The Food — Since Woodstock ’99, everyone who’s been to a festival knows they’re gonna get gouged. But, $25 for a fake chicken sandwich?! Three menu options at each place?! Yes, I understand that there needs to be a limited menu because of all costs incurred and blah blah blah, but c’mon. It’s tough enough to get B- food at a festival, but to cost you your firstborn? Yeesh. (DK)
The Indoor Stages — The Sonora tent is only a handful of years old, and the Yuma tent only a few more than that, but both of them were absolute clusterfucks this year. Sonora had some of the best punk and hard rock bands on the planet, like Mannequin Pussy and PUP, yet it seemed like nearly every act in there had massive audio problems. Considering there wasn’t a ton of rock at the festival to begin with, it wasn’t exactly ideal. Yet it was somehow still better than Yuma, where lines wrapped around the entire tent for several of the stage’s biggest sets, because someone decided it was reasonable to only have one entrance/exit door while the rest should be blocked off. By Friday night, fans had already torn down some of the barriers creating the line, setting the tone for the rest of the weekend. (JC)
Dust in the Wind — It wasn’t nearly as chaotic as 2013, but the wind and dust were pretty intense. Walking through it is challenging enough, but with tens of thousands of your new closest friends plus the people who are fake famous? It’s a bit much. Mother Nature, don’t you know it’s Coachella? Give us a break! But hey, at least it didn’t rain, right? What would happen to all of those flower crowns? (DK)
Unforgettable Experiences — I haven’t been around that long (I’m 3 months old), but Coachella was the best weekend of my life. Everywhere I went, I heard people screaming “The Cup! It’s The Cup!”. I rode my first Ferris wheel, crowd surfed to Fatboy Slim, and was filled with the finest of liquids. But beyond all the incredible influencer events, light nights in the jacuzzi and swag bags — you know what I’ll always remember from this weekend? The people. I met some of the most wonderful fans and was honored to hear how I’ve touched so many lives. To the musicians, the hardworking crew members, the fans and, of course, the brands: Thank you. I raise myself to you (because I’m a cup). (The Cup)
Expanded Layout — Maybe I just forgot how big the Empire Polo Club was after spending a couple of years away from it for the first time in almost a decade, but everything seemed so much more spread out than I remembered. That’s definitely not a bad thing though, as the extra space between the stages made it a lot easier to maneuver around massive crowds and actually get to where you were going. Hiking from the main stage to the Mojave or the Do LaB in a timely manner required some serious planning, but there were moments where the chaos subsided and the grounds felt borderline empty (or at least uncrowded) and peaceful. (JC)
Being Old — It’s one thing to be old, but it’s another thing to feel completely aged out of the event. That’s necessarily age-required, but it’s a state of mind. For worse or better, or better or worse, Coachella has evolved from an alternative festival into an event of what people think pop culture is in America (or as one A+ tweet called it, “the Influencer Olympics). That’s not bad! But…there’s also a point when you feel like you’ve gotta pass the baton to the next generation. It’s been moving in this direction in the years since Dre and Snoop headlined but became more pronounced in the three most recent iterations. Phone cameras and striking/grabbing the perfect pose has never been more important (especially at the Golden Hour). Meeting cool people and discovering new artists is always fun and rewarding (though seeing Rage Against the Machine kick off their reunion here would have attracted a far different crowd and energy), but knowing when to fold ’em is as well. I guess this is growing up… but yet… (DK)
There’s Always Next Year! — I say that with the caveat of knowing that Frank Ocean (at this stage of the game) is confirmed to headline next year’s festival. It’s quite the get for Coachella (and that’s saying something), considering Ocean’s limited appearances are always an event unto themselves. Yes, he was supposed to headline in 2020, but even so, knowing that he’s on the horizon is good enough to brave the dust, heat and wind. It’s not quite Michael Corleone’s quote of “Once I think I’m out, they pull me back in,” but rather Jim Carrey’s Lloyd Christmas in Dumb and Dumber saying, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!” See you next year definitely (maybe?). (DK)