Despite the dust, the douchebags and the expense, Coachella might be the best one-stop-shop for contemporary music in the world. Even if you’re watching from home via YouTube’s livestream, it’s rare that more than a few minutes goes by without hearing or seeing something at least a little interesting — a favorite moment last year actually came between performances, when a DJ played Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” and a couple thousand voices sang, “I make MUNNN-EY moves!”
So whether you’re in Indio or Coachell-and-chilling from home, here are 12 sets we’re excited to see — from some artists we’ve seen multiple times and others we’ve never seen before (and yes half this list would be different if we were doing it on a different day or hour). Hopefully in some small way it will help the reader achieve the ultimate goal of all this: finding something new to love.
Childish Gambino — While Donald Glover’s “last tour as Childish Gambino” keeps getting longer, it’s well worth witnessing while you can. We saw him twice in two nights last fall (at Rihanna’s Diamond Ball and Madison Square Garden), and not only is he a captivating performer who can command an arena stage all by his shirtless self, each time it felt like we were witnessing a zeitgeist-capturing moment — particularly when the “Na-na-na-na” chorus of “This Is America” kicks in and the crowd erupts.
Janelle Monae — The Divine Ms. M always goes in for the Big Concept, so it’s surprising that her most conceptual album to date, the Grammy-nominated “Dirty Computer,” is also her most musically loose and fluid, with her best batch of songs to date. She’s been touring the album for nearly a year so any kinks (at least any bad ones, heh) were worked out a long time ago — and the crowd’s reaction when she sings the sexy “Pynk” will be worth the price of admission alone.
Kacey Musgraves — “Golden Hour,” Musgraves’ most pop-leaning country album to date, ushered her into the mainstream and won her Grammy Album of the Year. But even though she’s been playing the entire album on tour, make no mistake — her shows are down-home and intimate, and her between-song banter is every bit as funny as her lyrics.
Rosalia — Over the course of two albums and two years, this 25-year-old Spaniard has almost singlehandedly revitalized flamenco music, and she’s become a badge of credibility for the artists alert enough to catch her on the come-up (like collaborators Pharrell and James Blake). While we’re a little worried that the ethnicity of her sound will bring out the worst in Coachella’s frat-boy contingent, its innovation and imagination should win the day.
Aphex Twin — A towering figure in modern dance and electronic music, Richard D. James has only performed in North America a handful of times in the past two decades — which is reason enough to hunker down near the speakers in the Mojave tent and let his bruising aural assault have its way with you. Bring earplugs.
Billie Eilish — Aussie alt titans Tame Impala are technically the headliner on this night, but this 16-year-old sudden superstar is likely to be the real draw. Her just-released debut album, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?,” is probably the strangest and almost definitely the creepiest-sounding album to top the charts in recent memory. Now is the time to say you saw her.
Juice WRLD — Even before Lil Peep and XXXTentacion met their untimely ends, Juice WRLD (aka 20-year-old Jarad Higgins) was looking like he could be the one to bring SoundCloud rap into the mainstream. His second album, “Death Race for Love,” streamlines his sound and his delivery without sanding down the rough edges or lyrical content.
Sheck Wes — Foul-mouthed and forceful, this New York rapper’s haunting sound recalls vintage Wu-Tang while his powerful flow pushes the songs along as steadily as the trap beats underpinning them. If you’re easily offended by the B-word this isn’t the set for you, but that’s just one element of his skill at using words for the way they sound and feel as much as what they mean.
Bad Bunny — Most people know him as a featured performer on Cardi B’s summer smash “I Like It,” but a far smaller number of people know that he released one of the best albums of the past year, “X 100PRE” (at least partially because he dropped it on Christmas Eve, 2018, which probably didn’t win him friends at his record label). Be that as it may, the Puerto Rican wonder combines, reggaeton, trap, pop, R&B and even alt-rock into a remarkably fluid combination — sung almost entirely in Spanish. Will he pull it off onstage? We’ll see …
Ariana Grande — The reigning princess of pop may have been a last-minute headliner (replacing Kanye West because the festival couldn’t accommodate the stage he wanted to perform on), but she brings no shortage of hits — and backstory — to Coachella. She’s released two albums and a stand-alone single in the past eight months, and she’ll be on tour for most of this year, so the setlist and the performance will be tight — as will her meme game, we have no doubt.
H.E.R. — Who’d have predicted that one of the breakout stars of 2018 — and winner of the Best R&B Album Grammy — would be a young female soul singer with a guitar? H.E.R. is the real deal, and while her set might be a bit quiet for Coachella (hopefully it won’t be drowned out by beats from the Sahara tent), it’ll also be a welcome change of pace for anyone looking to cool down as the festival draws to a close.
SECOND SUNDAY / SUNDAY / SATURDAY
Kanye West’s Sunday Service / Pusha T / Kid Cudi (Sunday, April 21/ Sunday / Saturday) — Kanye’s much-vaunted Sunday Service will only be taking place during the second weekend — on Easter, no less — but it’s hardly outside the realm of possibility for America’s second-greatest attention slut to jump on sets with two of his favorite collaborators on both weekends. He made albums with both of them last year — Pusha’s “Daytona” was by far the best of the five Kanye-helmed albums that dropped in five weeks last spring — and he made an eye-popping performance inside a giant glass booth with Cudi at last year’s Hangout Fest. The sheer possibility that he might perform guarantees giant crowds for both of these performers.